Punter’s pointers at the DP World Tour Championship: Course and desert specialists to the fore

It’s the final week of the 2021 European Tour season and the best 50 players of the season are convening at Jumeirah’s Earth Course – well, most of them.

It seems something of a pity that, a week after the high falutin' announcement of the European Tour rebranding as the DP World Tour, some of the players who gushed about the idea can't be bothered to turn up at the DP World Tour Championship.

Two-time winner Jon Rahm? Not here. No Justin Rose or Viktor Hovland either.

Which is not to say the field is poor. It's not.

But Rahm could have won the top spot in the seasonal rankings. Now he's left it to be squabbled over by two Americans who've earned the top two spots more or less off the back of non-regular European Tour events.

Open champion Collin Morikawa enters the week ranked first and he'll be chased by compatriot Billy Horschel, who won the BMW PGA Championship.

So the pair of them have claimed the top two pots over this side of the Atlantic and they have bolstered their points haul by both landing World Golf Championship titles this year, too.

The European challenge will be led by Rory McIlroy, who owns strong course form, as does Matt Fitzpatrick.

Let's take a look at what the players have said about the distinct challenge of this week and then the highlights of a couple of golfers.

Quotes

Tommy Fleetwood on the week: "I think for all the guys that made it here, I think it's a great end to the year. I mean, individually, it's a massive event and then of course you've got the added part of the Race to Dubai on there, as well, which is massive."

It can be a tricky week for those golfers with two targets. Fleetwood has experience of that. Here's what he had to say last year: "The start of the week is way too early to think about rankings.

"You have to go out there and play the best you can. You can easily just by sort of overthink it, you can easily put yourself out of it after one round or just a few holes.

"Just concentrate on yourself, play your game, play to win this tournament, and the better you do, yeah obviously, it becomes harder and harder to focus on those things.

"I guess that's where experience comes into it, and that's when good preparation comes into it."

The course is often characterised as a big-hitter's test, but it's not quite that straightforward, as Matt Fitzpatrick explained last year: "When I got told it was for bombers before I ever came here and yet I've sort of played really well here.

"For me the greens are just always fantastic, and yeah, I love putting on greens that are this fast. The slopes, how fast they are down grain, I much prefer putting on those, just sort of set it on its way and you know it's not going to miss basically."

Course form

There have been 12 visits to the Earth Course and four two-time winners (Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Matt Fitzpatrick).

That's one pointer towards this being a good track for specialists.

Of the dozen, three were debutants (the first had to be, of course).

But the other nine? In addition to the four who had a win in their back catalogue, two had already finished third, two had been fourth and the fifth had been seventh.

That all rather suggests that we're looking for a debutant who will fit the test neatly or a player who had a top 10 in his course CV.

Let's be tough and note that eight of those nine had top fours. Who in this week's field has a top four?

Only Dean Burmester, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Patrick ReedBernd Wiesberger and Danny Willett.

He's the favourite - and a short price - this week, but McIlroy does get into contention here.

In five of his 10 visits he was top five after 18 holes. In seven of those visits he was top six after 36 holes. He's landed seven top fives, two of them wins.

Desert form

Winners here tend to have proved themselves in the desert in the past.

In fact all 12 of them already had a top five on a desert course and 11 of them had a top four on a Middle Eastern desert course (Jon Rahm, when he first won, had played no golf in the region, but had landed a top five at TPC Scottsdale and he played his college golf at Arizona State University).

No less than eight of the winners had already won in the Middle East so let's focus on that. Recent winners in the Middle East in this week's field -

Jumeirah (Earth): Matt Fitzpatrick, Danny Willett, Rory McIlroy.

Emirates: Paul Casey, Lucas Herbert, Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Rory McIlroy, Rafa Cabrera Bello

Abu Dhabi: Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Jamie Donaldson, Martin Kaymer, Paul Casey.

Doha: Justin Harding, Sergio Garcia.

Education City: Antoine Rozner.

Bahrain: Paul Casey

Jumeirah (Fire): Antoine Rozner, JB Hansen

On the Challenge Tour: Adri Arnaus.

Clearly, the big names have a great chance. McIlroy and Fitzpatrick are double winners. Lowry and Hatton are excellent on the course (but their form is so-so). Casey has maybe not played the course too well.

Let's go looking for some value and suggest Lucas Herbert.

He was a winner of the 2020 Dubai Desert Classic, a year after he had the halfway lead there and eventually finished tied seventh.

He's landed a second win on the European Tour this summer at the Irish Open and he claimed a maiden PGA Tour victory last month.

He's got the length for this course, too.

READ MORE: Rory McIlroy's quest for more Major Championship glory: Can more coaching changes turn the tide?

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