Dubai Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
FRENCHMAN Antoine Rozner returns to the Fire Course to defend the Dubai Championship. It was his maiden success on the European Tour and he followed it up by winning the Qatar Masters four months later, and that means Rozner can relax this week, knowing that he will qualify for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, when the top 50 in the Race to Dubai will gather to play for much gold.
When he won 12 months ago, Rozner was ranked 204th in the world. He carded an eight-under 64 on the Fire Course at Jumeriah Golf Estates, with a tap-in birdie at the par-five 18th to set the clubhouse target at 25 under.
Overnight leader Andy Sullivan required a final-hole eagle to force a play-off but could only make a closing par, leaving him tied-second alongside Matt Wallace, Francesco Laporta and Mike Lorenzo-Vera.
Starting the final round four strokes back, Rozner opened with four straight pars before following a two-putt birdie at the fifth with a tap-in after the seventh having missed his eight-footer for eagle. Rozner rolled in a 10-footer at the ninth for the first of three straight birdies and moved ahead of Sullivan for the first time with a stunning ten-foot eagle at the par-five 13th.
The Frenchman bounced back from a bogey at the 15th to nudge in from close-range at the 16th, where Sullivan - playing in the group ahead - carded a three-putt bogey to drop back to 23 under.
Rozner then made a two-putt birdie from 25 feet at the par-five last to extend his advantage, with Sullivan - needing a hole-out from the bunker at the 18th to extend the contest - finishing his final-round 69 with a two-putt par.
Sullivan had led after 54 holes but let a two-shot advantage slip on the back nine to finish in the share of second, with Wallace also in that group after closing a four-under 68 with five birdies in his final seven holes.
Laporta birdied his last four holes to sign for a five-under 66 and Lorenzo-Vera also got to 23 under with a bogey-free 65, while Scotland's Grant Forrest fired a round-of-the-day 63 to end the week in sixth spot.
It was the first playing of the Dubai Championship and was meant to be a one-off but it is being played again after the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in South Africa was cancelled for a second time because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year, the tournament will be title sponsored by AVIV Clinics, the healthcare partner of DP World, which provides unique, personalised medical programmes to enhance the aging process by improving cognitive and physical performance in healthy aging adults.
It completes a new-look end to the European Tour’s 2021 season following the Mallorca Golf Open and Portugal Masters.
Next week’s DP World Tour Championship offers a prize pot of $9m, so there is plenty of incentive for those just outside the top to turn up here with their A-games.
Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s Chief Executive, said: “Last year’s tournament on the Fire Course, created to complete our 2020 schedule, was a great success and we are delighted to bring the AVIV Dubai Championship to our schedule as the final piece in our jigsaw this season. Once again, I would like to thank the leaders of Dubai, DP World, AVIV Clinics and Jumeirah Golf Estates for helping us to play this event and we look forward to a terrific fortnight as we conclude another Race to Dubai on the Fire and Earth Courses.”
So who are the players with most to gain - and lose - this week?
A number of PGA Tour players in the top 50 in the Race to Dubai are unlikely to make the trip to the World Tour Championship, which means that anybody finishing this week in or around the top 53 or 54 will probably be safe. Among those on or close to the bubble are some big names, including Alex Levy, Adrian Otaegui, Aaron Rai, Sebastian Soderberg, Matthias Schwab, Andrew Johnston, Brandon Stone and Andy Sullivan.
It defies all logic that Stone is on the outside looking in. In his defence, travel restrictions meant that Stone spent much of 2021 stuck in South Africa, but this is one of the most naturally gifted players on the planet. As good as his swing looks, he continues to struggle for consistency.
Sam Horsfield won twice in 2020 and looked like a certainty to make Europe’s Ryder Cup team but he has failed to kick on this year There have been some flashes of his best form but he has struggled to string together four rounds.
Soderberg will go to Dubai with positive feelings after successive runner-up finishes at the Andalucia Masters and Mallorca Open. It is an indication of his form leading up to those tournaments that he still hasn’t done enough to secure his place in the top 50. But confidence is everything in this game and the Swede is finally feeling good about his game. It says much for his resilience that he came so close in Mallorca after a dreadful final round in Andalucia.
The event was played for the first time last year and was won by Antoine Rozner.
The Fire Course was carved out of the desert and was designed by Greg Norman. It opened in 2010 and, unsurprisingly, it features a lot of bunkers and puts a premium on accuracy. It measures 7,480 yards. Last year Andy Sullivan negotiated it in 61 strokes. Expect to see lots of birdies.
Tommy Fleetwood has not had a great year but his recent form is encouraging - he finished second at the Italian Open, 12th at the BMW PGA and seventh at the Alfred Dunhill Links. He is ready to win again. After a couple of years of horrible form, Sweden’s Sebastian Soderberg has finally turned things around again. He should have won the Andalucia Masters but fell apart in the final round with a 76. But he bounced straight back the next week with another runner-up finish in the Mallorca Open. Paul Casey finished fourth at the US PGA and seventh at the US Open. The tougher the course, the better he seems to play. Would love another European Tour win.
Paul Casey. Has enjoyed an excellent season
Andy Sullivan. Can go really low - and needs to this week
Players to Follow:
Paul Casey. World-class ball striker
Andy Sullivan. Needs a top-10 finish
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Back to winning ways
Outsiders to Watch:
Tom Lewis. Trying to make his way on both the European and PGA Tours
Daniel Van Tonder. Has gone off the boil after a great start to the season
Padraig Harrington. There’s still life in the old dog
Mike Lorenza-Vera. Has had a poor year but can turn it around this week
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Tags: european tour