The conclusion to last week’s Dubai Desert Classic was almost perfection.
The scant amount of viewers on a Monday morning would have been treated to a surely scripted play-off between world number one Rory McIlroy and his LIV nemesis Patrick Reed, bar that damned 13-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole. It was, of course, a fitting start to the year for the world number one, and an ending that the week deserved after ‘Tee Gate to Tree Gate,’.
With our main man, Lucas Herbert, playing some sublime golf in behind and finishing strongly in third despite the absence of luck on the Saturday greens, it showed the DP World Tour in a cracking light.
It’s a shame this week doesn’t.
We move from the quality of Dubai to a standard DPWT field and, while favourite Adrian Meronk is improving fast and now up to 52nd in the rankings, the long,wide, forgiving nature of Al Hamra makes this nothing more than a bosh-it, find it, hit it, putt it, competition. Links-like it may be, but with no wind forecast, this won’t hit anywhere near the heights of the previous two weeks.
Previous DPWT winners here – Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard – suggest length is the one factor that separates the medalists from the also-rans and is the key factor behind high-level tee-to-green numbers, certainly rather than accuracy.
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Julien Guerrier, Tapio Pulkkanen and Jack Senior to finish in top 20 (inc ties)90/1
Either Victor Perez or Callum Shinkwin to win the event19/2
There isn’t really any option but to look at the handful of true links players at the top and it’s only narrowly that Victor Perez gets the vote.
Splitting last year’s winners (for there were two Al Hamra events in 2022) Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard is tough but I’ve always felt the Frenchman is capable of a higher level of play and he is the selection in front of favourite Meronk, even if they both have similar course and recent form.
I rarely get him right – backing him twice over the last six months – even if he has won two titles in the space of seven months.
Still, this is another day for the Frenchman (and me) and for a winner of the Dunhill Links, the Dutch Open and three weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, he may actually be overpriced at 16/1.
It’s tough to find any better ‘standard level’ links form lines than beating the likes of Matt Southgate, Joakim Lagergren, Tommy Fleetwood, Tom Lewis and pals in Scotland, and beating Fox in a play-off at Bernadus Golf. However, he was at it again at Yas Links, leaving behind the names Min Woo Lee, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren and Tyrrell Hatton – all synonymous with the test he faces this week, on the same paspalum greens and with opposition of higher class than three-quarters of this week’s field.
Perez looks to have produced evidence that a golfer is at their peak at 30-years of age producing an outstanding bunker shot to win his latest trophy, with a sound coming off the club reminiscent of his play at Wentworth in 2020, when splitting Hatton and Patrick Reed.
Watch Perez trophy-winning shot here!
Although this is his first outing here on the DPWT, he has a seventh and second place from two outings on the Challenge Tour and he is in the right form to take those figures one better.
Third for total driving over the last six months, Perez ranks in the top-10 for ball-striking over the same period (11th over three months) and arrives here in confident mood, telling reporters:
“I’m looking forward to playing at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship for the first time. I got the season off to a great start at the Hero Cup followed by my first Rolex Series win in Abu Dhabi, so this is a great chance to keep the momentum going and secure more Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup points,” before adding:
“I’m playing great golf at the moment, and I’m hoping it continues in Ras Al Khaimah.”
Victor Perez to win the tournament (each way)16/1
Perez is a confident selection, but back him up with another proven rip-it merchant in Callum Shinkwin, who has come in a few points since the market opened but justifies the move after an excellent top five in Dubai.
First thing we know about the three-time winner is he hits it a mile, ranking in the top-10 for off-the-tee ten times since the start of the 2022 season, including being in the top three in the two events 12 months ago. That itself is worth noting, as are his best efforts away from the victories- at Fairmont, the Dunhill Links and last week in Dubai, all with pointers to this week’s test.
There was nothing wrong with mid-20 finishes here last year, the first just a couple of days after destroying the course in a fun Texas Scramble pairs, and he will surely take comfort in lying up there with Rory McIlroy last Monday, matching those final two birdies.
Another around that ‘magic’ age, this is a course that will give Shinks every opportunity to play shorter irons into the targets and, with last week’s top-10 ranking for putting, this may be the time to go with the Moor Park magician.
Callum Shinkwin to win the tournament (each way)22/1
Julien Guerrier top 109/1
Julien Guerrier top 204/1
Tapio Pulkkanen top 107/1
Tapio Pulkkanen top 2016/5
Jack Senior top 1010/1
Jack Senior top 204/1
I can’t see a shock result here this week – the top lot have perfect conditions in which to show their class – but I’ll be looking at the top-10/20 markets for the following:
Tapio Pulkkanen – Trilby-wearing Finn that hits the ball a country mile. Trouble is, half the time he does not know in which direction it’s travelling. Here, with accuracy not a factor, he can take inspiration from last season’s seventh place in the first of the back-to-back events, when a three-over back-nine cost him a place in the medals.
20th just seven days later shows he can play the track, whilst best efforts over the last 12 months include a third place at the Czech Masters, 10th at the Dunhill Links and third in Portugal, again all events with a leaning to the type he’ll take part in this week. Given his tied-second in Prague a year earlier, we can surmise he repeats form at tracks that suit.
It isn’t impossible he suddenly finds his form on tour, and with an inkling he’ll ‘do a JB Hansen’ and go crackers for a spell. This would seem the perfect place to start.
Julien Guerrier – Third at Hillside and Celtic Manor last season show the former winner of The Amateur Championship (at Royal St. George’s) still has what it takes to compete at this slightly lower level. Add top-15 finishes at Denmark, Spain, Germany and Mauritius – all with front-rank putting stats – and it’s easy to see the two-time Challenge Tour winner having some effect in the top-20 market.
A sixth and eighth-placed finish at the Rocco Forte in Sicily behind Lagergren and Alvaro Quiros (both who turn up when they sniff links from a mile away) reads well, and his repeat performances at his home country, Portugal, Spain and Prague show he performs where he has good memories.
With four outings here, split between the Challenge Tour and the DPWT, the Frenchman can continue an improving course record of 19/13/9.
Jack Senior – I’m convinced that 34-year-old Senior is a better player than his current ranking outside of the top-500 in the world, and although it has been a while since his win at Galgorm Castle in 2019, he has racked up top-10 finishes at Gran Canaria, the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club (behind Min Woo Lee, Thomas Detry and Matt Fitzpatrick), Mallorca and on the Spanish mainland.
Back at Galgorm, he was tied-13th last year, a repeat result that sits nicely with his 23rd in Mallorca, and top-20s in Prague and Denmark, courses already highlighted as associates to Al Hamra.
I’m happy to ignore last week’s missed cut as it was his first outing since October, and he’s of enough interest back on a course on which he has a sixth, 11th and 19th place finish in three tries at the lower level.
I’m expecting one of the top eight or 10 to prove too good, but these events often throw up names on a surprise leaderboard, and it will take just one hotter-than-normal week with the putter for that to happen.