This column was a fraction away from some decent returns last week at the Qatar Masters, with our headline pick Louis Oosthuizen (22/1) finishing 8th despite leading after the first round, our top ten finish play Bernd Wiesberger ending up 13th and Roope Kakko, a 300/1 shot to win the tournament and 6/1 to finish in the top 20, completing a fine weekend but ending up just short in 29th place.
Hopefully, with a bit of luck, we can return some tidy profit this week at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
What You Need to Know
This event is played at the Majlis Course at the Emirates GC club in Dubai, and so conditions will be similar – if a little less windy – than the last two tournaments played. This gives us a good insight into who should go well here.
The defending champion Rory McIlroy heads the market unsurprisingly, and the big question on every punters’ lips is whether a price of 5/2 is too short for a golfer who has never successfully defended a title.
Well, the Irishman has lifted this trophy twice in the past in 2009 and 2015, and then there were an additional four top 10 finishes between those victories. So nobody is better around this stretch than McIlroy. Indeed, his record in the Middle East in the past year alone reads 3-1-1-2.
Is he in form? He looked to be in the Abu Dhabi Championship a fortnight ago, finishing third behind an inspired Rickie Fowler.
Has he got any serious competition? Maybe, maybe not. Henrik Stenson is perfectly capable but could only manage a 13th place finish in this event last year; extending his winless run on the European Tour to more than a year. Martin Kaymer has only one top ten finish to his name in five attempts, while Oosthuizen faded so badly last week it is quite easy to oppose him. Byeong-hun An, so consistent of late, played a dire 72 holes on the Asian Tour last week too.
So, looking at the bigger picture, it’s easy to see why McIlroy is such a hot favourite. But at 5/2, and knowing that his putter isn’t all that hot right now, he is easy to contest with some well-researched each way picks.
Andy Sullivan (33/1 ew)
When picking out an each way play we’re looking for someone who has the pedigree to finish in the top five with no questions asked, but also somebody who has the game and the bottle to win. Andy Sullivan is that man this week.
The Englishman won three times on the Tour last season – and that’s put him in a select group of players instantly – and he seems to cope well with the warm and humid conditions in the Middle East too. He finished second only to McIlroy in the DP World Tour Championship in November, and a 22nd place finish in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago was horrendously skewed by a horrorshow third round.
Sullivan finished fourth in this event last year as well, which would have guaranteed an each way return, and after a week off he looks a fantastic mid-range pick to go well.
Thorbjorn Olesen (Top Ten Finish – 3/1)
The omens are good for this Danish talent who is just working his way towards his best form after a fallow 2015.
Olesen finished third here in 2013 and fifth in 2014, and while he missed the cut last year he was battling a hand injury that would seriously hamper his campaign. He’s fully fit now, and a third place finish at last week’s Qatar Masters shows how well he is striking the ball at the moment.
Robert Rock (Top Twenty Finish – 5/2)
Sometimes when researching these previews a name crops up that takes you aback somewhat.
Don’t be fooled; Robert Rock is a serious player. It’s just that he isn’t the first name many pundits turn to when discussing their picks for a particular tournament.
The reasonings for this tip are simple: Rock has finished fifth and ninth in this tournament in the last two years, and last week finished 20th in Qatar after a fine couple of rounds. There’s no reason why the flamboyant Brit can’t be in the mix here then.