DPWT players make their way to Dubai for the third of four events on the Middle East swing, and as a Rolex Series event the quality is ramped up just a bit.
Whilst many, including stats site datagolf.com, would consider Farmers Insurance Open favourite Jon Rahm to be the best player in the world right now, the Official World Golf Rankings keep the name of Rory McIlroy at the top of their pile, and it is the Northern Irishman that graces the Dubai Desert Classic for the 12th time.
Away from McIlroy, the names Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett and Lucas Herbert scream obvious lovers of links golf, whilst other previous winners Alvaro Quiros, Stephen Gallacher, Thomas Bjorn and Mark O’Meara might be among those with their best days behind them but prove more than a nod to the likes of Vendura in Sicily, the Alfred Dunhill Links and, of course, The Open Championship.
Make no bones about it, McIlroy is entitled to win on class alone and he’s the same price as Rahm on the other side of the pond.
However, if there are claims to avoiding the most in-form golfer on the planet, then surely there is a case for opposing a player that has let a few of these go over the years, who hasn’t played for two months and who hasn’t actually won an official sole DPWT event since 2016, his last win coming in Shanghai at the HSBC Champions, with all his latest five victories coming on the PGA Tour.
*Prices subject to fluctuation and availability | 18+ BeGambleAware.org
Robert Macintyre Each-way
First up on the ‘oppose the jolly’ train is one of last week’s main selections, Robert Macintyre.
The 26-year-old will know that this spell in the desert is a significant chance for him to move up from 77th in the world, and challenge for a top-50 and a place in the majors. However, in Ryder Cup year, he had made no secret that wants to be in the European team come the last week of September.
The Scot’s pair of top-10s at both Royal Portrush and Royal St. George’s may be a hint that he’ll do well at the regal Royal Liverpool this season, but it’s still a big clue to his play in the right conditions, something he should face here over the next week.
Ironically, Macintyre’s two wins on the DP World Tour have come away from the ‘obvious’ targets – at the island venue of Cyprus and in Italy.
At the latter – hosted by the Marco Simone club, venue for this year’s inter-continental match, – he beat reigning U.S Open champion and two-time Dubai winner Matt Fitzpatrick, Victor Perez, McIlroy, Lucas Herbert and Tyrrell Hatton, everyone more than proven on links, with form boosted by the victory of Perez at last week’s Abu Dhabi Championship and the final two names continuing to perform where you would expect.
The tee-to-green game is bang there, ranking in the top 10 in half of his last 10 completed starts, but they’ve also seen him rank an average of around 40th for the flat stick.
11th, 15th and 7th over the first three rounds in Abu Dhabi for his tee-to-green, he found no reward in being rated 108th, 94th and 56th for putting.
Let’s take encouragement from his efforts here in 2020 and 2021, where he again put up terrific ball-striking performances but completed the set with a pair of top-30 putting displays – the return to the Emirates may well be what he needs.
Lucas Herbert Each-way
2020 Dubai Desert Classic winner Lucas Herbert can not only further improve on the solidity of that Italian Open form, but can also become the fifth player in 35 years to win this event more than once.
Everything about the 27-year-old Aussie suggests windy desert and related conditions are where we see him best, with a win at Mount Juliet backed up with the following year’s 1-2 (Adrian Meronk and Ryan Fox) both having the right formlines.
Top that second victory with a win in Bermuda, 4th (twice) at the the Renaissance Club and again at Walton Heath, and top-10 finishes in Portugal, Sicily, Bay Hill, the Dunhill Links, Pebble Beach and at the Emirates when in seventh on debut.
Key to Herbert’s chance will be that this event doesn’t get away from him and penalises those without a decent short game. With that aspect proven in his play-off win against master scrambler Christiaan Bezuidenhout in tough conditions – the winning score of 9-under being the highest in the event’s history – he has continued his prowess with the finer elements of the game.
Herbert led the field for putting at both Bay Hill and at the PGA Championship last season, whilst ranking in the top 10 at Bay Hill, Wilmington and when fifth in Italy. Such is his prowess with the flat stick, he was ranked outside the top-25 for putting in just five of the recorded 15 starts in 2022.
Herbert ended his year with a top-10 finish at his home Open, when finishing on the tail of the front page, behind winner Meronk, Adam Scott and Min Woo Le, all of whom speak for themselves in these conditions.
Whilst I’m not entirely sure that minus 5-and-a-half shots equals 18th for tee-to-green, it’s clear his flat stick did most of the work, finding 7-plus shots.
Herbert has been working hard on his driving game, probably the part that requires a bit of attention and the reason he plays well on course with room off the tee-box.
After a warm-up shared victory at a home pro-am a couple of weeks ago, he said, “There are areas of my game a long way in front of where I expected them to be.”
With such a strong favourite, it’s tough to put up a case for that many to beat him. However, I’ll take three wagers in the ‘top’ markets.
"The course itself, the views of the surrounding buildings and even the little details, like the signage around the place, just brings those feelings of success straight back to the forefront of my mind."Lucas Herbert
Adri Arnaus Top-10
Adri Arnaus – yet another player that usually finds greens aplenty, only to be let down by his short game, most noticeable at the 2021 Spanish Open play-off and at the 2022 Saudi International and MyGolfLife Open. That won’t be the only time that hands cover eyes as the Spaniard reaches the vital stages of an event, but I reckon his price has now drifted enough to compensate.
It was only two starts ago that Arnaus was in third at halfway at close-by Jumeirah before finishing in ninth place, a position he has also filled in 2021, his third top-10 in three years at that classy closing competition.
Throw in his win at the Challenge Tour Final in Ras Al Khaimah from the likes of Perez (again) and sixth placed Macintyre and top-15 finishes in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and it’s easy to forgive that he may have needed the runout last week, his first outing for six weeks.
Top-30 here on debut, Arnaus improved to be third and ninth the next two years, ranking highly in virtually every aspect of his game. With one victory, a runner-up, third and four top-10 finishes in the last year, he’s too good to be dismissed.
Romain Langasque Top-20
For the more exotic, look at Frenchman Romain Langasque, who may be inspired by compatriot Victor Perez victory seven days ago (not him, again!?) and whose best form at the Scottish Open, in Denmark and that Challenge Tour finale read nicely.
Whilst his end figures are merely average, they disguise a solid tee-to-green game that saw him rank an average of 13th off-the-tee, 14th for approaches and 17th for tee-to-green in his last three starts of 2022. Add that to positive memories of the Emirates track – in second after the first round on debut, third and fifth through the opening two days of 2020, in ninth after day one before a disastrous Friday, and never out of the top 28 last year – and he’s worth a shot for a place on the first couple of pages.
Tom McKibbin Top-20
19-year-old Tom McKibbin will ‘win quick’ according to Padraig Harrington, something I thought might be the case when putting him up as one of the DPWT Players To Follow 2023 .
In truth, despite seeing the likes of the Hojgaard twins win early enough, and Ewen Ferguson win twice last year following a winless Challenge Tour career, getting the the front is tough, and here it may be even tougher, particularly as experience is a huge factor around the course.
Nevertheless, having been going off in double digits, this week’s quotes prompt a quick recap of the Holywood players prowess.
The club-mate of this week’s favourite, on his first season of limited status invites McKibbin recorded a 12th and 16th at Challenge Tour level before a 26th place at the higher level at Galgorm Castle (11th and 20th after the first two rounds). That gave McKibbin entry into a few of the better Challenge Tour events, and he took advantage, leading into the final day at the Cape Town Open a week before his second top-10 in a row.
The second half of the year was to be McKibbin’s highlight, with 14 events played from July onwards, rewarding him with six top-10s, including an almost repeat effort at Glagorm Castle, behind our own 2022 hero Ferguson, and three top-20 finishes.
To conclude his season, a sixth place at the Challenge Tour Grand Final would leave him in 10th place on the CT rankings and a full DP World Tour card, something he has already exploited, despite the promise of huge things to come in 2023.
In just four co-sanctioned DPWT events at the end of 2022, the rookie finished 18th at Joburg, 15th at the South African Open at vast Blair Atholl and 13th at Leopard Creek where at both he bounced back from average third rounds to rebound up the leaderboard on Sunday.
Punters will need to offer some forgiveness but it’s entirely possible to upgrade his finishing position of 40th at Mauritius as he was inside the top-20 at halfway, and forgive his first outing last week at Abu Dhabi after a month off.
He may not win this week, but he’s been dismissed far too early in a fledgling career, and we can advantage of increased top-20 prices.