Hero Dubai Desert Classic Preview: Can McIlroy go one better after second place last week

By Bryan Nicholson

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17 January 2024

We go from the second grass course designed and played upon in the Middle East, to the first, when we return to the Majlis course at Emirates golf club for the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. Expect a very similar test of golf in the desert as both tracks were designed by American Karl Litten. As always those who shook off the rust by pegging it up at the season opener will be at an advantage.

Rory McIlroy, 4.3, and Tommy Fleetwood, 13.0, have stayed in the Emirates following the Dubai Invitational and some big names have flown over from the US to join the field. Tyrell Hatton, 12.5, and Open Champion Brian Harman, 28.0, have made the trip from the Sony Open while one of the finest drivers in the game, Cameron Young, is also prominent in the betting at 27.0.

The Course

Strokes Gained tee to green (or ball striking) is the dominant theme around Emirates GC if you look at past editions of the event. Strong ‘total driving’ and efficient iron play is the recipe for success. Scoring year-in-year-out will depend on the variable depth of the rough and how strong the wind blows. The top three in strokes gained tee-to-green stat on the DP World Tour in 2023 were Dubai Desert classic market leaders McIlroy, Hatton and Fleetwood. The track at Emirates GC itself is a par 72 playing around 7,400 yards in length. The Majlis at Emirates GC is lined by desert scrub and there are plenty of sandy areas for stray shots. Water hazards come into play on several holes and dog legs are a feature along the fairways. 

The Contenders

Fourth in strokes gained tee-to-green in 2023 was Adrian Meronk (24.0 or 3.70). The four-time DP World Tour winner was unlucky to miss out on the Ryder Cup last season and he’s started 2024 where he left off last year with a top 10 already in the bag in Dubai. Meronk has course form with a t4 on the Majlis course in 2022. He was 6th in SG: tee-to-green last week and second in strokes gained off the tee with a clip of +1.11.

It's a “home” game for Thorbjorn Olesen (32.0 or 4.0) who looks like he has the bit between his teeth again. Olesen has strong form in the desert and has an excellent record at Emirates GC. His progressive form rating in my model reads a maximum 10.0 off the back of another top 10 last week. Olesen was 16th in SG: tee to green in 2023.

Yannik Paul (60.0 or 5.3) is a name that pops up in some of the key stats’ areas here. The German was eighth in strokes gained tee-to-green last year and finished in a tie for eighth last week in Dubai. He is also showing a high progressive form rating of 9.4 on the model. 2023 was an impressive season for Paul off the back of a win in Mallorca in 2022. Yannik was third in strokes gained approach in 2023 and was fourth last week in this area.

A shot in the dark perhaps but course form and course fit is never to be overlooked. Former Dubai Desert Classic winner Haotong Li (190.0 or 12.5), who took down Rory McIlroy here in a Sunday shootout to then break into the worlds’ top 50 finished 14th last week at Dubai Creek Resort. He calls Dubai his “second home” and I know he’s been putting in a lot of work on his swing behind the scenes so at a big price he might be worth a play in a few markets. The man from China ranked 13th in strokes gained off the tee and tenth in approach shot performance last week.

Recommended Bets

Back Adrian Meronk to win @ 24.0 or t10 @ 3.70
Back Thorbjorn Olsen to win @ 32.0 or t10 @ 4.0
Back Yannick Paul to win @ 60.0 or t10 @ 5.3
Back Haotong Li to win @ 190.0 or t10 @ 12.5

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