Ben Coley landed a winner last week and now looks to end the season on a high with four selections for the DP World Tour Championship.
3pts e.w. Robert MacIntyre (w/o McIlroy, Rahm, Fitz, Hovland) at 18/1 (Sky Bet 1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1.5pts e.w. Antoine Rozner (w/o McIlroy, Rahm, Fitz) at 40/1 (bet365 1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1.5pts e.w. Sam Horsfield (w/o McIlroy, Rahm, Fitz) at 40/1 (bet365 1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Adrian Meronk (w/o McIlroy & Rahm) at 50/1 (Sky Bet 1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
In horse racing, it's often said that you don't run scared of one horse — a fact underlined at Champions Day, when Baaeed was beaten, and at the Breeders' Cup where Jackie's Warrior again fluffed his lines.
But what about two? Three? Four? How many of Europe's best golfers have to be in a field before it feels like one will surely win? Because at the DP World Tour Championship, we have just about all of them.
It's no wonder bookmakers rate it about a 6/4 chance that either Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm captures this title, which is worth as many Ryder Cup points as any event from now until next September. Rahm has won here twice in three tries and McIlroy, champion in 2012 and 2015 and almost always a threat in Dubai, is the best golfer in the world right now.
Then there's Matt Fitzpatrick, also twice a winner of this and runner-up when defending champion last year. Fitzpatrick's first victory at the Earth Course came at Tyrrell Hatton's expense and the latter has also looked in better touch lately. Shane Lowry won the last Rolex Series event and performed well at the CJ Cup behind McIlroy.
Viktor Hovland? Yes, him too. Hovland was third in 2020, his sole appearance to date. It came after he'd jetted in from Mexico having won his first big PGA Tour title just days before this event began, which explains the slow start that ultimately meant he had to settle for third. He's since won down the road at the Dubai Desert Classic for good measure.
That we have not yet reached someone you could reasonably call a DP World Tour regular, such as Ryan Fox, and that to get to him we still have to pass the man who beat him in South Africa, Tommy Fleetwood, tells you all you need to know about the final event of the DP World Tour season. By the end of it, players like Fox might feel like the back-up goalkeeper who plays in every round of the cup except the final, when the number one is back.
Here return numbers one, two, three, four, five, six and seven in European golf. The likely backbone of next year’s Ryder Cup side; the ones whose success means that they feature only in select DP World Tour events yet still have a vital say in the Race to Dubai. The ones who are just that bit better than the rest — or at least have been so far.
Does the market have any of these fabulous players priced incorrectly? I doubt it, but there's a case to be made for Rahm at 11/2, especially as each-way backers won't lose if he's fully inside the top six. Rahm's strike-rate in non-major DP World Tour events is a staggering seven in 21 or one in three. You can throw in seven place payouts for good measure and those who've followed him blindly at this level are reaping the rewards.
My preference though is to do something I rarely do and look to the 'without' markets, which do vary from bookmaker to bookmaker. Sky Bet take out the big two or four, bet365 the big two or three depending on which market you choose, with Betfred and BoyleSports removing all of McIlroy, Rahm, Fitzpatrick and Hovland. Readers may of course be dictated to by the decisions of their preferred bookmaker.
By removing McIlroy and Rahm at the very least we open up some opportunities and I'd generally be content to do that, although throwing in Hovland and Fitzpatrick and accepting slightly shorter odds is no less appealing. It's very much about doing what you can with whatever accounts you have and the hope is the below analysis allows readers to find the way that suits them best.
Taking on the two at the very top of the betting is certainly not something that can be done with great confidence and the claims of Fitzpatrick and Hovland are also strong. In contrast, Hatton hasn't had the best of years and Fleetwood was exhausted before he teed off last week, so who knows what shape he'll be in. With Fox right in the mix for season-long honours for the first time, there's certainly scope to get all bar the truly elite players beaten here.
First on the list is ANTOINE ROZNER, who has done as asked and not quite peaked before arriving at an event I think is absolutely ideal for him.
Rozner hasn't quite shown that as yet, but his debut here in 2020 came days after his breakthrough win and was always going to be a big ask. Despite that he struck the ball in his customarily strong way and finished mid-pack on his first look at the Earth Course, despite carrying a cold putter.
A year later and he had to play here days after defending a title for the first time, something he of course hadn't been able to do even at Challenge Tour level having raced through that grade. Again, a mid-pack finish probably tells us little about his potential suitability to the course, but a couple of rounds of 68 offer some hope in that regard.
Certainly, it's a good fit on paper. Designed by Greg Norman, this particular layout at Jumeirah Golf Estates is long on the scorecard at 7,706 yards, and some of the best ball-strikers in the sport have have won here: Collin Morikawa, Rahm and McIlroy among them more recently, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood before.
Rozner has been among the best in Europe since the start of summer, twice leading the field in strokes-gained tee-to-green and ranking inside the top 20 on a number of other occasions. His iron play lately has been matched only by Eddie Pepperell and was red-hot in Portugal two starts ago, and it's fair to say that a good putting week there or in Switzerland and he'd likely have added a third DP World Tour title to his collection.
The good news is that his putting seems to be turning around. Five of his last six starts have been either good or serviceable, Portugal the exception, and he's produced positive statistics three times in five. That includes last week where he did everything well on his Nedbank Challenge debut, except driving. Rozner lost strokes off the tee for the first time in 15 starts and my view is that we should treat the anomaly as exactly that.
Twice a winner in the Middle East, don't forget, including right next door at the Fire Course which Norman also designed, Rozner has the right conditions and the right game. By contrast he has never really featured in South Africa and it was therefore not a big surprise that he failed to on his first try at Sun City, a course which clearly takes quite a bit of knowing.
He's capable of winning the tournament and vaulting into Ryder Cup contention, but removing at least two of the players at the very top of the market is preferred. It wouldn't surprise me were Rozner right in there amongst them come Sunday as he looks to bag a Dubai double and underline his status as a desert specialist.
SAM HORSFIELD is another fine driver of a ball who looks like he might prove himself particularly effective in this part of the world going forward, for all he failed to show it in a recent LIV Golf event.
Before signing up with the breakaway league, Horsfield had been enjoying a fine season on the DP World Tour, despite some injury troubles in the spring. Now, he arrives in Dubai having played six events on the schedule outside of the Open, and his results are impressive: 12-4-21-1-18-18.
The first two in that sequence came in the Middle East, latterly finishing right behind McIlroy, Richard Bland and eventual winner Hovland in the Dubai Desert Classic, and if we widen the lens to the back-end of 2021, he was ninth in this event, contending all week. That means we're looking at a player whose DP World Tour results over the past year show nothing worst than 21st, a win over the circuit's 2022 star, and a high-class top-five finish nearby.
Enter our World Cup giveaway and you could win a Smart TV in time for the World Cup. Simply answer the question below, using your Sporting Life, Sky Bet, ITV7 or Super 6 login, and you'll be entered into our prize draw.
Last week, Horsfield finished 18th on his second start in the Nedbank, improving markedly on 46th place four years earlier. He wasn't quite at his ball-striking best but that's okay, and he's got his putting boots back on having impressed with that club throughout all his recent starts away from the LIV Golf circuit, which doesn't publish reliable statistics.
It is undeniably difficult to get a firm handle on players who've spend so much of their time playing LIV Golf events, which means that Horsfield hasn't played enough rounds to figure among DP World Tour statistical rankings. However, if we isolate those six regular events he's played, he's gained two strokes per round on the field. That would put him above every single player in this field who does feature, albeit Rahm, McIlroy and a small number of others do not yet qualify.
What does this tell us? Simply that Horsfield's form on this circuit stacks up with some of the best around, and given how well he played last week, I'm hopeful he can reproduce it. Last year he featured in the final group alongside McIlroy so he's rubbed shoulders with the best on this golf course, one that plainly suits, so from a low-key opening two-ball perhaps he can threaten to be a real headache for Keith Pelley and the DP World Tour.
At really big prices, Sweden's Sebastian Soderberg arrives here full of confidence but like the impressive Marcel Schneider, he doesn't have much of a record in the desert. Both are therefore overlooked in favour of someone who very much does: ADRIAN MERONK.
Though disappointing on the face of it last week, Meronk only really played poorly in round one, and it was notable afterwards that playing partner Fox didn't think the young Pole had done a lot wrong. From there, Meronk progressed each day and come the final round his game looked in really good health, hitting 15 greens and showing clear signs of improvement with his irons.
They've been the problem lately, on paper at least, but as much as anything I wonder if his schedule explains some iffy results. As touched upon in last week's preview, Bermuda and Valderrama were never likely to bring out his best and while I was prepared to chance him at Sun City, again it has its quirks and there are calculations which just don't apply out here in the Middle East.
For now, this is much more Meronk's thing, as he showed when fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic and sixth behind Fox in the Ras al Khaimah Classic earlier this year. Prior to these two he'd been going well in Abu Dhabi before he was forced to withdraw, and in four previous visits to the region his Gulf record showed second, eighth, and a good 32nd on debut here.
Meronk opened with a rock-solid 68 on his first try at the Earth Course and closed out the week going a couple of shots better than that, so already we've ample evidence that it's a layout he likes. So it should be, as he's a brilliant driver of the ball whose power and shot shape are somewhat reminiscent of McIlroy, a player he featured alongside when contending over at the Majlis.
Form-wise he now has a bit to prove, but remember he's best of the rest in terms of the Race to Dubai, sitting just behind Lowry in ninth place. His ranking also means he avoids those marquee groups which head out last, playing instead with a fellow 2022 winner in Jordan Smith, and if he picks up where he left off on Sunday he could go really well.
Further up the betting, ROBERT MACINTYRE has made my staking plan for this event twice before and I do consider him the biggest threat to those seven Ryder Cup players he seeks to join in Rome.
MacIntyre is the only other player in this field who is odds-on to make Luke Donald's side, and a win here would all but guarantee he justifies his position in that market. He beat Fitzpatrick in Italy, with McIlroy just behind, to take the next step up the ladder and it's not beyond him to go and capture this prestigious title.
Last year, MacIntyre briefly hit the front during Sunday's final round only for a wayward drive to cost him, but he's made huge progress since and particularly in the months following a change of coach.
Victory in Italy had been on the cards for a while and he's held his form well, sitting close to the lead in his next three events, shooting four sub-70 rounds in Portugal, and then just going through the motions a bit following a slow start at Sun City.
I don't mind that towards the end of a busy campaign, and MacIntyre will know this is the event that could really make all the difference. It's one in which he shot weekend rounds of 68 and 69 when warming to his debut, then contended when 23rd soon after his Cyprus breakthrough, and was never outside the top 10 before ultimately finishing fourth behind Morikawa.
Throughout these last two visits he's spoken of how much he enjoys the Earth Course and the Scot can underline it, potentially going as far as toppling the big names to demand a place in Rome. Whether or not that happens, he looks the best of the rest by far and should go well.
Paul Waring is another fantastic driver of the ball with form here and he can feature, but the best way to back him might be in a Thursday two-ball against Hao-tong Li, these two having sneaked into the field despite ranking 52nd and 53rd in the Race to Dubai in an event where organisers would ideally want only the top 50 to come along.
The absence of defending champion Morikawa, the injured Will Zalatoris and Thomas Pieters, who is awaiting the birth of his second child, might not be ideal, but on balance this field is a result. This is the climax of the DP World Tour season, and the best players from Europe are virtually all here for the first time since 2019. They ought to serve up a treat.
Posted at 0935 GMT on 15/11/22
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.