It’s the final leg of the European Tour’s “Desert Swing” this week as Rory McIlroy defends the Dubai Desert Classic against a strong field featuring Henrik Stenson.
After excellent tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, a strong field has assembled in the United Arab Emirates, where Rory McIlroy defends the Dubai Desert Classic. The Northern Irishman won his first European Tour event here back in 2009 and won again last season. He’ll be a strong favourite to capture a third title this week, particularly after a good performance in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.
The Northern Irishman will face strong competition though with the likes of Henrik Stenson in the field. The Swede is a former winner of this event and has twice been a winner of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (2013 and 2014.)
“I feel like I know this course inside out, and had the success in 2007 and another couple of high finishes,” said the Swede. “So, it’s really an enjoyable week for me in Dubai.”
This will be the 27th running of the Dubai Desert Classic. The history of event goes back to 1986 when His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum approved the construction of a golf course in the desert. The Emirates Club opened two years later and the next season Mark James was winner of the inaugural Karl Litten Desert Classic (the competition was originally named after the designer of the course.)
Since then, there have been some great champions. Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and Tiger Woods have all lifted the trophy.
The Majlis Course at the Emirates Club was the first all-grass layout in the Gulf and it’s still recognised as one of the finest tracks in the Middle East. Travelling through the desert dunes, fairways pass seven lakes, desert areas, indigenous flora and the “Majlis” themselves. Arabic for meeting place, these tent-like structures are a distinctive feature sitting between the 8th and 9th holes.
The weather looks set fair but it could be a touch breezy at the start of the tournament.
Venue: Emirates GC, Dubai, UAE
Date: Feb 4-7
Course stats: par 72, 7,319 yards
Defending Champion: Rory McIlroy (-22)
Rory McIlroy on how he became a champion:
Thursday 4 – Sky Sports 4 from 4am
Friday 5 – Sky Sports 4 from 7.30am
Saturday 6 – Sky Sports 4 from 9am
Sunday 7 – Sky Sports 4 from 8am
Player watch: McIlroy will be favourite and Stenson should also play a part. Who else might get into the mix in Dubai?
Bernd Wiesberger – He’s played solidly if unspectacularly for the last two weeks in the desert, but his game is obviously in pretty good shape and he has the ability to step it up a notch. This is an event he has enjoyed success at in the past. He was tied fourth last season and was ninth in 2014.
Andy Sullivan – He was going well in Abu Dhabi with two opening rounds of 67. Although he faded on the weekend, he’s clearly playing well at the moment. He was second in the DP World Tour Championship at the end of last year and he was also tied fourth in this tournament in 2015.
Alex Noren – The Swede was runner-up in this event last season and he has been a consistent performer on the European Tour since coming back from injury. Other than last year’s U.S. Open, he hasn’t missed a cut in a European Tour event since 2013.
Key hole: 9th. At 463 yards it’s one of the longest par-4s on the course. Add the complication of the water waiting all down the left side to an awkwardly shaped green and you have a real brute.
Skills required: Course management. There are a number of water hazards and bunkers to contend with as well as desert areas around the Majlis course. The winner will plot his way round employing a blend of power and accuracy.