Dubai Desert Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis
FOR the second successive week, Collin Morikawa and Rory McIlroy head another all-star cast as the DP World Tour heads to the Emirates Golf Club for the Dubai Desert Classic, with Paul Casey defending his title.
Viktor Hovland, who became the first Norwegian to play in the Ryder Cup last year, will make his second appearance at the event, alongside teammates Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Bernd Wiesberger. Hovland played some superb golf in Abu Dhabi and would have won had it not been for two poor holes during his final round. You can be sure that the young Norwegian will not be dwelling on his failure to win last week.
The 2019 Open Champion Shane Lowry, who also made his Ryder Cup debut at Whistling Straits, will join Europe’s all-time leading points scorer and fellow Major winner Sergio Garcia in the field, with the Spaniard aiming to lift the famous Dallah trophy for the second time.
Danny Willett is seeking to achieve the same feat, with the Englishman setting the precedent for Garcia by winning just months before securing the Green Jacket.
It promises to be a memorable anniversary for another former winner at Augusta National, with the 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott returning to the event exactly 20 years after his last appearance in 2002.
The tournament, which is a Rolex Series event, also has a new title sponsor in Slync.io, the logistics technology provider that is revolutionising the way global supply chains work.
Among those teeing it up are 2016 Open Champion Henrik Stenson, victorious European Ryder Cup Captains Thomas Bjorn and Colin Montgomerie, Spanish Ryder Cup star Rafa Cabrera Bello and the evergreen Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher - the only player to have lifted the trophy in consecutive seasons. With two-time DP World Tour winners Lucas Herbert and Li Haotong also in the field, 10 of the 13 winners from the past 15 years will be playing this week.
The Dubai Desert Classic will also provide a unique opportunity for one up-and-coming star, with Texan Sam Bennett claiming a sponsor exemption as the top-ranked player in the PGA Tour University Velocity Global Ranking.
The tournament is the second of back-to-back Rolex Series events in the Middle East, with the tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Dubai also part of the European Tour’s traditional ‘Desert Swing’ which annually attract the sport’s leading players. Celebrating its 33rd edition in 2022, the tournament has been won by some of golf’s biggest stars, including Seve Ballesteros, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazábal, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau.
Twelve months ago, Casey put one of the unhappiest years of his golfing career behind him by capturing his first title since 2019 with a four-stroke win.
The Englishman admitted struggled to adapt to what he described as the “soulless” playing environment during the pandemic, with his only top-10 finish in 2020 coming at the US PGA Championship when he tied for second behind Collin Morikawa.
He travelled to Dubai having not played on the European Tour since the end of 2019 and, aided by a new driver and a new mindset, enjoyed his 15th victory on the European Tour - 20 years after his first - after shooting a two-under 70 in the final round.
“It's something very cool because it’s not been great,” said Casey after his first win since the European Open in September 2019. "I didn’t enjoy my golf in 2020. I mean, I played well one week but that was about it.
“It’s been totally soulless. No emotion. A whole bunch of feelings. I’ve not enjoyed it. And I’ve realized how much I love doing what I do, but I love doing it in the environment with people watching and the crowd and the noise - it can be heckling, it can be cheering and seeing the emotion on people’s faces and some people are rooting for the guy standing next to you, and some people are rooting for you. It’s just everything.”
Just having some people beside the fairways at Emirates Golf Club made him feel more alive.
“From 2020 to now, here, I'm rejuvenated,” Casey said. “I feel totally different.”
Casey began the day with a one-shot lead over Robert MacIntyre, and built a five-stroke cushion with seven holes to play after his Scottish playing partner made four straight bogeys from No. 7. Walking down the 18th with a three-stroke lead, Casey could enjoy one of his favourite shots in golf - the approach to the par-five 18th with the backdrop of the Dubai skyline - and he two-putted for a birdie to finish the tournament on 17-under-par 271. It was a win that went a long way towards securing Casey's place in Europe's Ryder Cup team.
South Africa’s Brandon Stone shot even-par 72 to climb into second place. MacIntyre placed third after a 74.
The tournament was won in 2015 by Rory McIlroy, in 2016 by Danny Willett, in 2017 by Sergio Garcia, in 2018 by Haotong Li, in 2019 by Bryson DeChambeau, in 2020 byLucas Herbert and last year by Paul Casey.
The Emirates Golf Club measures 7,424 yards and is a par 72. Its signature hole is the par-five 18th. Built in 1988, it was the first proper grass golf course in the Middle East. It features a lot of bunkers and several water hazards, as well as some of the best putting surfaces on the planet, and an iconic clubhouse.
Rory McIlroy loves this part of the world. He is a two-time winner of this event and has also won the DP World Tour Championship twice. Moreover, he is in good form, with his confidence high. He will be there or thereabouts. Lucas Herbert is another former winner who has gone on to win on the PGA Tour. He hits the ball straight and is a terrific putter. It is also difficult to imagine that Collin Morikawa will not contend. He is the best iron player in the world and, like McIlroy, is a winner in Dubai, having claimed the DP World Tour Championship on his way to winning the Race to Dubai. He will not have enjoyed his performance in Abu Dhabi.
Rory McIlroy. Looking for a hat-trick of wins
Lucas Herbert. Underestimate the Aussie at your peril
Collin Morikawa. Impossible to ignore
Five to Follow:
Rory McIlroy. If he’s at his best he will win
Lucas Herbert. Has few weaknesses
Collin Morikawa. Brilliant iron player
Viktor Hovland. Another week, another good finish
Shane Lowry. Wondrous short game
Sam Bennett. Promising young American
Dean Burmester. Underrated South African who hits the ball a mile
Seb Soderberg. Showed some encouraging signs in 2021
Andy Sullivan. Capable of some sensational bursts of scoring
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Never a dull moment
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