The Masters and Majlis connection: More to it than victories for Danny Willett and Sergio Garcia?

Can Viktor Hovland land a first Major Championship success this week – or maybe just make a fast start?

When Sergio Garcia followed Danny Willett in completing the Dubai Desert Classic-Masters double in 2017 there was plenty of chat about keeping an eye on who lifted the trophy on the Majlis Course at Emirates GC in 2018.

Most of this was light-hearted because at face value there doesn't appear to be a lot to connect performance on a resort course in the Middle East with Augusta National in Georgia, USA.

When the 2019 winner at the Emirates GC, Hao Tong Li, finished T32nd in the Masters the notion was swiftly forgotten, but were we too quick to throw aside notions of a mysterious Masters-Majlis Connection?

Willett and Garcia were not the reigning Majlis champions to triumph at the Masters - Jose Maria Olazabal did it in 1998/9 (the Dubai Desert Classic was at Dubai Creek in 1999).

If we dig deeper, might Li's performance actually have added to this theory rather than cast doubt upon it?! Let's have a closer look at how recent Dubai Desert Classic winners have fared at the Masters (if they played), starting 11 years ago

(Year - Dubai Desert Classic winner - Masters result)

2011 - Alvaro Quiros: T27th

At first glance, so what? But the big-hitting Spaniard opened with a 65 to share the first round lead with Rory McIlroy.

2014 - Stephen Gallacher: T34th

The Scotsman's Masters debut and solid enough. He was also T12th after 18 holes, three swings off the lead and just one shot out the places.

2015 - Rory McIlroy: tied fourth

This Augusta result remains the Northern Irishman's career-best finish at Augusta National.

2016 - Danny Willett - winner

Green jacket? Suits you, sir.

2017 - Sergio Garcia - winner

Ditto.

2018 - Li Hao Tong: T32nd

Like Quiros, he got off to a swift start, carding a 69 for tied fourth on Thursday evening.

2019 - Bryson DeChambeau: T29th

This is getting a bit silly: he shared the first round lead after a 66.

2021 - Paul Casey: T26th

Nothing doing, but here's an interesting detail - he'd been the first round leader (yes, again) at the delayed 2020 Masters just two months earlier.

2022 - Viktor Hovland: ???

Conclusion

Is there anything in this? If anyone had thought to back these DDC winners each way in both the outright and first round leader markets he or she would have been one shot away from getting a return every year bar one (and over the years would have trousered a hefty profit).

Is it, however, a prime case of being fooled by randomness?

One straightforward counter-argument would be that we're looking at golfers who have tasted victory so are high in confidence. Isn't it kind of obvious they'd thrive again sooner rather than later?

But does a win in this event and on this course holds genuine connections with Augusta?

Can Hovland top the Masters leaderboard?
Can Hovland top the Masters leaderboard?

Garcia wasn't impressed with the idea. Asked if there was any significance he answered: "I don't think so. It's coincidence."

Any similarities, he was pressed? "They both have 18 holes," he grinned. "Other than that ..."

Others beg to differ, however.

Let's start with the words of Thomas Aiken about the Majlis Course. "It's not really a golf course that's ever really fit my eye," he said. "I like to hit it left-to-right. Most holes go right-to-left, especially on the back nine."

Remind you of anywhere else?! A fader bemoaning the fact his shot-shape is unsuited?? It's a sigh that echoes around the Augusta trees every bit as mournfully as the cry of those freight trains on the distant railroad.

Let's see what Ernie Els has to say. He is, after all, a man who won three times at the Emirates and contrived never to win at Augusta despite being an obvious course specialist: "It's definitely a drawer's golf course. It's what my eye found back in the day, I could move it easily right-to-left and obviously Augusta is very similar."

Interesting. You might also argue that the particulars of the two back nines are similar, maybe not in exact design, but in requirements.

Because the three par-5s and a short par-4 on the Majlis back nine demand bold shot selection, commitment to it, the ability to believe in yourself under the cosh, and there are big rewards (as well as risk). The same could be said for Augusta after the turn, of course.

Let's end with Garcia and Willett - and how the pair agree that the Dubai wins represented a genuine boost ahead of the first Major of the year.

"Holing that putt at the last from 15 feet," said Willett of his first win in 2016. "Actually needing to do that to win a golf tournament, that hadn't happened to me before. To be able to stand up there and roll it in, it was big for my confidence and what went after it.

"You look at Augusta, I could draw on Dubai quite a lot: how I played under pressure and how I composed myself mentally, having to hole a few key putts at the right time. You look at Augusta on the back nine and it kind of typifies that perfectly."

The Spaniard concurs.

"The most important lesson I learned was mental," he said of Dubai. "Winning against Henrik Stenson, with Henrik playing well, and myself playing well, and keeping him off my back throughout the whole day. That helped me a lot. It gave me more confidence as I went on through the year. So that aspect, it definitely helped."

This year's winner in Dubai Viktor Hovland had to attack the course to apply pressure on the leader Rory McIlroy - and he did so in spectacular style.

It might be a simple form line, it's possible that they are similar tests, or it might be a mere boost to the golfing ego, but whatever it is, the Majlis-Masters connection might be worth keeping in mind this week.

READ MORE: The Masters method: Golfers who slip on a Green Jacket usually contended in a Major the year before

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