Dubai Championship Odds & Tips: Victor Perez one of six plays in the Middle East
With the small matter of the season ending DP World Tour Championship looming in two weeks, the European Tour fits one more event in before the finale. We won’t have to head too far away, as the Dubai Championship takes place on the Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Fire Course, the sister course to next week’s Earth Course, which hosts said finale.
It’s the second year on the bounce this event has provided a prelude to the big one, as it made its debut last year. Supposed to be a one off because of the pandemic but called back in again, once again because of other events being cancelled due to the pandemic.
The Fire Course is a Greg Norman design, like it’s more illustrious housemate and is a par 72, measuring over 7400 yards. The ten par 4s are scorable, with a number of them presenting risk reward opportunities. Amongst the four par 5s are two at over 620 yards and the four par threes offer some challenge. Two of them, the 2nd and 11th holes are a brutally long 250 yards.
Antoine Rozner won last year, with an incredibly low score of -25. The next six players on the leaderboard all shooting a score in the -20s. Much like last week’s test, we have an open golf course with wide fairways and big green complexes. Birdies were an emphatic order of the day last year and there’s no reason to expect anything different this time around.
Dubai Championship Tips
- Victor Perez 40/1 – 1/5 7 places (Paddypower) – 1.25 pts ew
- JB Hansen 50/1 – 1/5 6 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
- Lucas Bjerregaard 60/1 – 1/5 6 places (Betfred) – 1 pt ew
- Adrian Meronk 66/1 – 1/5 7 places (Paddypower) – 1 pt ew
- Shubhankar Sharma 70/1 – 1/5 7 places (Paddpower) – 1 pt ew
- Alejandro Canizares 125/1 – 1/5 7 places (Paddypower) – 1 pt ew
Rozner hit the ball excellently last year, ranking 1st off-the-tee and 8th in approach. Add in a good week with the putter, where he ranked 15th and you see a pretty fail safe way of going well in a birdie fest. I don’t necessarily think you’ll need to absolutely stripe it with the long game like Rozner did to win but you’ll need to be on form with at least one aspect of the long game and combine it with a good week on the greens.
We have some added quality in this year’s field, as the high-class English duo of Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood tee it up. Though we are missing last week’s Portugal Masters winner, Thomas Pieters, who’s taking a sensible week off before the DP World Tour Championship next week. We also see Antoine Rozner return to the scene of his first European Tour title.
The plan of attack looks pretty clear this week, quality ball-strikers and those capable of filling up on birdies. At his best, Victor Perez epitomizes this and after a tricky run through the middle part of the year, I’m hoping he can take confidence from his 8th place finish in Portugal Last week, where he shot the 2nd best score over the weekend and improve further, here in Dubai.
Perez had a poor last few months before last week’s result in Portugal but it’s easy to forget how well he was playing at the end of last year/beginning of this. He ended last season with a 2nd place finish at Wentworth in the BMW PGA Championship and a 7th in the DP World Tour Championship in his final four events. Two of, if not the two biggest events on the Euro Tour calendar.
Jump forward to the beginning of this year. We saw him finish 4th in a strong field in the Saudi International before seriously impressive back-to-back results stateside. Which saw the Frenchman finish 9th at Sawgrass in The Players Championship and following it with a run to the semi-finals of the WGC-Matchplay, all resulting in him rising to a career high 30th in the World Rankings. If still in that kind of form, he’d be close to half the price he arrives at this week.
Since, his results look disappointing, with more MCs than numbers in terms of finishing positions. His 8th place finish in Portugal providing him with his best finish in a strokeplay event since that 9th at Sawgrass, all the way back in March.
His performance last week was largely driven by the putter, where he ranked 2nd for the week. Though not at his scintillating best in terms of the long game, there was noted improvements, particularly off-the-tee, compared to recent starts.
He’s got a great record in this part of the world, in possession of a 2nd place finish in Abu Dhabi, 7th in the DP World Tour Championship and even a 2nd in the Challenge Tour Grand Final in 2018, played at Al Hamra Golf Club in Ras Al Khaimah. With further encouragement drawn from his solo European Tour victory to date, when winning the Dunhill Links, showing a proclivity for going low, putting up a winning score of -22.
Portugal also looks as good a guide to this week’s test, as an open, lengthy course that encourages aggressive golf. If able to find a little extra with the long game, he can kick on from his performance last week and follow countryman, Antoine Rozner in making it back-to-back French winners at the Fire Course.
Now a couple of Danes who also went well in Portugal, starting with JB Hansen. Unlike Perez, the Dane’s strong 17th place finish last week was a continuation of a consistently good run of form, and he can step it up even further this week in the Middle East.
Following a disappointing middle part of the year, that saw Hansen miss more cuts than he made, he has sprung into life over the last couple of months. He’s missed just one cut in his last seven starts and recorded top 25 finishes in each of his other six appearances. Managing to maintain a strong level of results across a variety of different courses. Indicating a player who has all parts of his game in great shape.
There’s been particular quality in his approach play in recent weeks. No more so than when ranking 3rd in the field in Portugal. Not far behind when ranking 8th in the Mallorca Open in an 11th place finish and a more than decent 21st at Valderrama in the Andalucia Masters, which helped him on his way to finishing 15th.
Further to this, he continues to putt well for the most part, which has typically been an asset of his. He currently ranks 22nd for the season in this respect and is a guy who makes plenty of birdies, ranking 31st in birdie average.
The combination of quality approach play and putting should see him go well this week. With a victory turning his merely good run of results into an excellent one.
I found it impossible to ignore the chances of the classy Lucas Bjerregaard this week. Who finally put it all together, after a year in which he’s looked close to a real return to form. Producing his best finish in three years when finishing 2nd in Portugal.
Lucas started the year in the similarly poor form that he’d shown the previous two years but appears to have found something after missing the cut in the Scottish Open back in July.
Since then, he’s played 11 times and made the cut in 8. Putting up a couple of good performances when finishing 10th in the Hero Open in Scotland and 11th in the Open de Espana, before that excellent 2nd last week.
The putter has been working well for most of the year, seeing him rank 52nd on tour but the most encouraging thing about recent performances has been the fact he’s finally starting to drive it well again.
If we ignore Valderrama for obvious reasons, as it’s never going to be a course in which you can attack off the tee, Bjerregaard has produced positive numbers off-the-tee in each of his last four starts. Added to that he produced his best performance in approach in almost two years in Portugal.
He missed the cut here last year, though I’m not concerned as his form then was nothing short of dreadful. This type of test is ideal for him, shown by his two wins coming in Portugal in 2017 and the Dunhill Links in 2018. Events played on wide open courses in which you can attack off the tee.
Despite not having his game for much of the early part of the year, he’s still managed to rank high in the birdie making stakes, ranking 26th for the year. Hopefully he can keep the momentum going from that performance in Portugal and make his return to the winner’s circle.
Very much like the previously mentioned Bjerregaard, Poland’s Adrian Meronk is a player who excels in what he does off-the-tee and on the greens. Making him the right fit for this week’s test in Dubai.
After a solid first year on tour in 2020, Meronk appears to have stepped it up a level this year. His form has been consistent throughout, missing 7 cuts in 21 events and he has not gone through a real down period. Appearing able to quickly respond to a couple of poor performances and arrest the slide.
He’s three times finished inside the top 3. His best a 2nd place finish in the Italian Open five starts ago, with two 3rd place efforts coming earlier in the year at the Tenerife Open, a birdie-fest on a wide open course, and at The Belfry in the British Masters.
Most recently seen putting up a couple of top 25 finishes in Spain. First finishing 20th in the Open de Espana and following up with a strong 25th at Valderrama.
Possessing huge quality with the driver, Meronk ranks 4th off-the-tee on the European Tour this season, owing to not only being long but also above average in accuracy. In fact, of the 21 starts he’s had on tour this season, he’s only failed to put up positive numbers off-the-tee on four occasions. Complimenting this with a solid short game, that sees him rank 46th in putting and 60th in scrambling.
Ranking 18th in birdie average, Meronk is not afraid of going low and looks to have a solid chance of picking up his first European Tout title at a course that should play to his strengths.
Though doing it in a different fashion to some of the players mentioned previously, Shubhankar Sharma is another player who knows how to make birdies and can go well fresh, after enjoying four weeks off following the Andalucia Masters.
2021 has represented a return to form for the talented Indian. Bursting onto the scene in 2017 and rising as high as 64th in the world in 2018. The previous two years had been a bit crash back down to earth but he’s responded well this year.
He’s played well throughout the year, missing 10 cuts in 27 but has really come to life in this latter part of the year. In ownership of just two missed cuts in his last eleven starts, finishing in the top 25 five times, three of them top 10s and the best a 3rd place finish two starts ago in the Open de Espana.
His biggest asset is his approach play, ranking 16th for the year and before a forgivably poor week at Valderrama, had produced quality performances with his irons in 9 of the previous 10 weeks. That 3rd place finish in Spain driven hugely by a week in which he ranked 2nd in approach.
Every other part of his game is solid, though he’ll need to bounce back from a few off weeks with his putter to really threaten, something of which he’s more than capable of.
Sitting in 67th on the Race to Dubai, he’s got his card sewn up for next year but still has incentive to perform this week, as he needs a good week to push himself into that top 60 and guarantee his spot at next week’s Tour Championship. If able to replicate the superb approach play that has aided his return to form in 2021, he’s capable of making the birdies needed to contend.
It’s been seven years since Alejandro last tasted victory, but he’s produced his best golf in years this year and is not afraid to go low.
Some of his best results in 2021 have come in the last five weeks. He finished 3rd in the Dutch Open in September and followed two missed cuts after that, with 25th and 16th place finishes on his two most recent starts in Spain.
The recent performances have predominantly been engineered by his approach play. He was 13th for approach in the field last time out when 16th in Mallorca and 5th in approach the start previous, when 25th at Valderrama. His approach play the standout part of his game for the year as a whole, where he ranks an impressive 12th on the European Tour.
He’s a streaky putter, but such are his good weeks that he still ranks 34th on tour in putting, despite some really poor weeks on the greens.
He can struggle to put everything together at the same time, but when it clicks and he’s able to match the putter with the quality approach play, we see what he can do with that 3rd place finish in the Netherlands. With his tour card for next year virtually secured, he can have a free swing at this week and attack the course.