Dubai Desert Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE Dubai Desert Classic traditionally marks the proper start of the European Tour season, always attracting the strongest field of the early part of the year. And this year’s tournament is no exception. We will get to the household names later, but one young man who is sure to attract a lot of attention is Viktor Hovland.
The 22-year old Hovland is destined to become a star and it will surprise nobody if he should make Padraig Harrington’s Ryder Cup team later in the year. He finished 12th at the US Open and 11th at the BMW PGA Championship on what was his first appearance on the European Tour. But it was an extraordinary burst of scoring on the PGA Tour that made everybody sit up and take notice, when he recorded an incredible 19 successive rounds in the 60s from June to October.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to come to Dubai,” said the Norwegian, who has made to secret of his desire to make his Ryder Cup debut this year. “One of the great things since turning professional has been playing so many events and courses that I have watched growing up as a kid and the Dubai Desert Classic is no different. There have been so many iconic moments there and I can’t think of a better place to kickstart 2020 than at Emirates GC in a couple of weeks.”
Look out, too, for Shugo Imahira, who has enjoyed some sensational form on the Japan Golf Tour and has climbed as high as 31st in the world rankings. “I’m excited to be coming to Dubai for the first time to make my European Tour debut,” said Imahira, who won the Japan Golf Tour Money List in 2018. “I have not played much outside of Japan, so this is a great opportunity to see.
They will be joined by former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, who heads to the event looking to build some momentum after an injury-hit 2019. The South African, who struggled with a wrist injury for much of the last year, will arrive in Dubai looking to rediscover the form that has seen him claim 11 European Tour victories - including the 2011 Masters.
The first champion was Mark James. Since then, the Dubai desert Classic has been won by some legends of the game, including Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Rory McIlroy, Colin Montgomerie and Tiger Woods.
This year’s field includes defending champion Bryson DeChambeau and former champions Thomas Bjorn, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Sergio Garcia, Li Haotong, Henrik Stenson and Danny Willett. They are joined by multiple European Tour winners Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Matt Wallace, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Abu Dhabi winner, the resurgent Lee Westwood, plus Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington.
Miguel Angel Jimenez will be making his 26th appearance. He won it in 2011 and at the age of 55 still believes he has the game to add another title to his name. “I first played in this event back in 1991, so it has been amazing to come back virtually every year and see how much the place has changed,” said the Spaniard. “I have some amazing memories from my visits to Dubai and my win here is a stand-out for me. I still enjoy coming out and proving I have what it takes to keep up with the young guys, so I’m looking forward to doing just that.”
Jimenez has never been one of the biggest hitters and he remains a ferocious competitor. Since turning 50, he has enjoyed huge success on the Champions Tour in America, but he would be coming back to Dubai unless he genuinely believed he had a chance of contending.
Fitzpatrick is a current star who has proved that you don’t have to hit the ball 320 yards to become a superstar. The Englishman is a serial winner with one of the best short games in the world. He had a series of near-misses in 2019 and was hugely frustrated not to add to his five victories. He has worked extremely hard on his game in recent weeks and proved in Abu Dhabi that it has paid off. It would be a major surprise if he is not there or thereabouts in the desert.
Harrington has plenty on his plate this season, with his focus firmly on trying to steer Europe towards another Ryder Cup success. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t taking his own game seriously. This will be his eighth appearance at the Dubai Desert Classic next year and he is confident that, even at the age of 48, he can still land a 16th European Tour title. But he will be assessing the form of those playing in Dubai whom he expects to be playing for him in September.
“The Dubai Desert Classic is one of our most iconic events and one I cannot wait to return to,” said Harrington, who finished in a tie for second alongside Tiger Woods at this event in 2001, two shots adrift of Thomas Bjorn. “There is a lot of golf to be played between now and Whistling Straits and, in that time, I hope to play with everybody who is in contention for the team. I can think of no better place to do so than Emirates Golf Club, so I’m looking forward it.”
Bjorn, of course, knows what it takes to beat the Americans and is looking forward to returning to the UAE. “I always love coming back to Dubai and the Desert Classic has so many great memories for me,” said the 2018 European Ryder Cup Captain. “To go toe-to-toe with Tiger and come out on top is not something many people can lay claim to, so it is a moment from my career that I will never forget. The Majlis Course is always in impeccable condition and it will be great to get out there again in January.”
A rejuvenated Danny Willett has fond memories of this tournament. He won it in 2016 and just a few months later was being helped into the Green Jacket after Jordan Spieth collapsed at the par-three 12th hole in the final round of The Masters. Willett has endured a miserable time of it since then but is now back to his best. He is fit again, possibly for the first time in almost four years, and, more importantly, he has rediscovered his very best form.
It is to be hoped that, should he find himself in contention again, DeChambeau doe snot repeat his performance of 12 months ago when his funereal pace of play attracted widespread criticism from his peers. Thankfully, the European Tour have new guidelines in place and all the indications are that if they need to make an example of DeChambeau they will be prepared to do so.
It was won in 2014 by Stephen Gallacher, in 2015 by Rory McIlroy, in 2016 by Danny Willett, in 2017 by Sergio Garcia, in 2018 by Li Haotong and last year by DeChambeau.
Dubai Desert Classic Picks & Tips
Danny Willett. Why not?
Tommy Fleetwood. As consistent as they come
Tyrrell Hatton. Mercurial talent
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Dubai Desert Classic Fantasy Picks
Danny Willett. Back to his very best
Tommy Fleetwood. Another week, another big pay cheque
Tyrrell Hatton. Which Hatton will turn up?
Ian Poulter. It’s a Ryder Cup year. Enough said
Matt Wallace. Hugely talented Englishman
Matt Fitzpatrick. Always seems to go under the radar
Lee Westwood. In great form
Bryson DeChambeau. Love him or hate him, but it’s hard to ignore the American
Sergio Garcia. Could do with finding some consistency
Li Haotong. Former champion, playing well
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