Dubai Desert Classic Odds: Paul Casey to go back-to-back in Dubai?
Resident golf tipster @JWorsley89 struck again last week. A fantastic second placed finish for Tom Hoge at The American Express meant we got a full place return at 125/1! This week he has four picks for the Dubai Desert Classic which starts on Thursday.
Dubai Desert Classic Tips
What a thrilling event we witnessed at Yas Links in the Abu Dhabi Championship last week, the first event of 2022 on the DP World Tour. It saw windy conditions throughout the week, particularly tricky in round two and caused all kinds of problems. Not least the way it helped dry the course out and add firm, fast conditions to an event already playing difficult because of the wind.
Thomas Pieters ultimately came out victorious, picking up his 2nd title in four stars. Few players on this tour possess the level of ability Pieters does and he’s showing that he still has what it takes to be a real force on the world golf scene.
Onto this week and back in more familiar territory with the Dubai Desert Classic. An event that has its roots in the late 1980’s, and barring 1999/2000, has taken place here at Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis Course on every other occasion since its inception.
The Majlis Course is a water-laden par 72, measuring 7424 yards, water is well in play on close to half of the holes. It has generally been a tough driving course, particularly over recent years, with fairways hard to find. All the more problematic as there’s thick rough, trees and sandy areas (as well as that water) waiting for errant tee-shots.
The greens are big, though can still prove tough to hit as it is typically set up to play firm and fast, meaning if you’re playing from the rough, you’ll have trouble keeping your ball on the green.
Having said all that, there’s enough scoring opportunities here if you’re playing from the fairways and birdies have generally been easy to come by over the last decade. With the event boasting an average winning score of just under -19 over the last 10 years, four times exceeding -20.
With those aforementioned difficulties off-the-tee, quality driving has proven the key ingredient to success here over recent years.
In last year’s edition, won by Paul Casey in a score of -17, all 5 of the best drivers in the field finished in the top 6 on the leaderboard, with fairways proving hard to find.
Jump back a year to a much tougher year, where Lucas Herbert got the better of Christiaan Bezuidenhout in a playoff after both finished at -9 after 72 holes. Herbert drove it excellently whilst also doing well around the greens, and though runner-up, Bezuidenhout relied largely on his short-game, the top of the leaderboard was littered with strong drivers.
Bryson DeChambeau drove it excellently as well as having the putter fired up when hammering the field by 7 shots in 2019. Lots of strong driving types, Sergio Garcia and Alvaro Quiros to name two, appearing at the top of the leaderboard once again.
Even when going back to the incredibly low scoring 2018 edition, which saw Haotong Li triumph by a shot over Rory McIlroy with a score of -23, we have strong driving performances aplenty and the same story in 2017. With both the top two, winner Sergio Garcia and runner-up Henrik Stenson, both driving it well over the course of the week.
There is the potential for some tricky conditions over the week. It starts off pretty mild on Thursday, with the wind currently predicted to get up from Friday and we could reach winds of 20mph by Sunday. Not as bad as last Friday in the Abu Dhabi Championship but certainly strong enough to cause problems.
We have an even stronger field teeing it up than last week, as Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Rory McIlroy all stay on from their exertions in Abu Dhabi. They are joined by past champions: Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia. With Lucas Herbert also deciding to come here, to the scene of his 2020 victory, instead of playing in the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour.
Dubai Desert Classic Odds
With such a strong field, much like last week I suspect we get another top class winner.
The trio of Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa once again head the betting. Rory a more than worthy favourite as a two-time winner here. Though I’m going to kick off this week with a player who started his year elsewhere last week – in the Singapore Open on the Asian Tour and just happens to be the reigning champion here, England’s Paul Casey.
After a poor start out in Singapore, that had Casey well below the cut line after round one, he responded well over the rest of week, rising the leaderboard to finish 16th. He actually played better golf than anyone over the final three rounds, barring eventual winner, Sadom Kaewkanjana, one of the brightest prospects currently plying his trade on the Asian Tour. Casey closed there with a 66, the joint best round of round 4.
That encouraging start was a continuation of his finish to 2021, where he finished 9th in the DP World Tour Championship. The final event in a solid 2021 for Casey. That saw him finish no worse than 26th in the four majors, including two top 10s - at the US Open and PGA Championships. Whilst also finishing top 5 at the Olympics.
The only victory on his 2021 C.V came at this very event at the Majlis Course. A convincing three shot win for Casey over South Africa’s Brandon Stone, as he took control of the event in round three with a superb 64, leading by 1 heading into that final round and seeing it out in convincing fashion. Thanks to a superb ball-striking performance, in which he ranked 2nd in approach and 6th off-the-tee.
The quality of his tee-to-green game was and is always the key to Casey, so much so that he only had to produce an average putting performance to win last year.
Though back-to-back wins at the same event are uncommon, Casey himself has achieved this before, at the 2018 & 2019 Valspar Championships on the PGA Tour. If able to continue where he left off in Singapore he can repeat that feat here and get 2022 rolling in much the same fashion as 2021, by winning the Dubai Desert Classic.
We continue the theme of proven quality next with Australia’s Adam Scott. Possessing 29 professional wins, including picking up a green jacket in the Masters in 2013, along with 3 WGCs, 11 PGA Tour titles and 8 European Tour titles. Scott is one of the most decorated players in the field and kicked off his year in good fashion with a 10th place finish last week in Abu Dhabi.
That 10th place finish was one that saw the Australian constantly on the periphery of contention without ever truly getting into the mix. Engineered by a strong ball-striking performance, where he ranked 3rd in greens-in-regulation, 7th in approach and 22nd off-the-tee. Particularly encouraging as despite him being renowned throughout his career as a world class ball-striker, it has been inconsistency in this area of his game over the last 12-24 months, that has hindered him.
The resurgence of his ball-striking last week wasn’t a sudden improvement, as towards the end of 2021 he’d started to produce consistently solid performances both off-the-tee and with his irons, a poor week in Houston aside. He also continues to putt well, the former achilles heel has turned into a recent strength over the last couple of years and become the most consistently strong part of his game, though he is still liable to miss the odd short one.
He hasn’t played here since the early days of his career when starting out on the European Tour two decades ago. Both times failing to fire on these previous appearances but such is the length of time that has passed, I find it largely irrelevant. Though it’s certainly at least a small positive that he has been here before.
He has the game and proven class to win just about anywhere. If able to reproduce the strong ball-striking of last week, particularly off-the-tee, he looks set for another good performance.
South Africa’s strong driving Erik Van Rooyen enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2021. Already a DP World Tour winner after picking up the Scandinavian Invitational in 2019, he made the transition to now being a PGA Tour winner, when triumphing in the Barracuda Championship.
That victory, in an alternate field event, really kickstarted his year over in the States. As for much of the early part of 2021, he struggled to replicate the type of quality golf he’d shown on the other side of the Atlantic that got him onto the PGA Tour in the first place.
Something changed after that victory though. As he then performed excellently in the season ending FedEx Cup playoffs. Finishing 7th in The Northern Trust, 5th in the BMW Championship and then 16th in the Tour Championship at Eastlake. All prestigious events against the best players the tour has to offer.
More solid results followed for the rest of the year and he’s started 2022 in good fashion too. Beginning in the Tournament of Champions with a 25th place finish and subsequently finished 20th in the Sony Open, before returning back to the DP World Tour last week in the Abu Dhabi Championship. Playing well throughout the week to eventually finish 12th.
That performance was thanks to a good putting week but most importantly a strong week off-the-tee, that saw him rank 6th in the field. This has been his biggest weapon throughout his career, particularly emphasised recently, as he’s reeled off 6 positive strokes gained performances off-the-tee in a row and represents the thing that makes him hugely appealing this week, on a course where strong driving sees people go so well.
He’s played here twice before. First missing the cut on debut in 2019, though improved markedly in that tough 2020 edition to finish 37th. Which could be of further benefit to his chances this week if the weather makes it tougher.
Albeit his win on the PGA Tour was in a weak field, alternate event but in winning the Barracuda he achieved something which many players who take the leap over to the States have failed to do. After an encouraging start to the year he can rely on the quality of his driving and improve further on his 37th place finish here in 2020.
As a former #1 amateur, in which he already showed his potential in the professional ranks by winning in Japan before turning pro, Japan’s Takumi Kanaya caught our attention as a player with huge potential.
Since then he’s recorded two more victories in his native Japan and hit the top 10 both on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour. That top 10 on the DPWT coming last year at this event and after playing well last week in Abu Dhabi, finishing 25th, can draw on that experience here last year and impress at Emirates Golf Club once again.
His 9th place finish last year wasn’t just impressive because of his lofty finishing position but also because of how he did it – 5th for driving accuracy, 10th around-the-greens, 19th in approach and 20th in putting points to a player who appeared to have little in the way of weaknesses.
It was a similar story last week, where he ranked 9th off-the-tee, once again driving it super accurately but also appeared to have added some distance. He hit a bunch of greens and showed quality around the greens when he missed them.
The only negative was the putter, but he is forgiven that on those firm, undulating surfaces. Also, when looking at his record in Japan last year, we see a player more than capable on the greens, as he ranked 2nd for the season on the Japan Golf Tour in putting.
Kanaya has 5 DPWT starts to his name so far and has made the cut every time, recording finishes of 9th-53rd-17th-28th-25th, showing he’s more than at home at this level. With the winning experience he’s had in Japan, the quality he possesses all-round but particularly off-the-tee and his impressive 9th place finish at this course on debut last year, I’m expecting another strong showing from a player who has the scope to go to the very top.