Dubai Desert Classic preview and tips from Ben Coley

Ben Coley previews the Dubai Desert Classic
Ben Coley previews the Dubai Desert Classic

Golf expert Ben Coley previews the Dubai Desert Classic, where it's worth keeping faith in Tom Lewis following his top-10 in Abu Dhabi.

Recommended bets

4pts win Bryson DeChambeau at 11/1

1pt e.w. Tom Lewis at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Alexander Bjork at 66/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Jordan Smith at 60/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Scott Jamieson at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

Analysis paralysis. It's a horrible affliction, and it's one which hit me again when looking through the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, where world number five Bryson DeChambeau makes his return to the Middle East. More on him later.

Top of the list before prices hit Oddschecker was Martin Kaymer, last week's headline selection. He made a sparkling start in Abu Dhabi only to stutter to 22nd, but still it's easy to argue that it represented another step in the right direction. I wrote prior to that event that Kaymer's long-game looks to be back and he ranked first in greens hit to underline the suspicion; something similar could see him contend one week later.

Then I remembered that, for all his quartet of top-fives at the Emirates Golf Club, Kaymer does take every opportunity to remind us that it's not quite perfect for him. He's far from alone in making the point that this is a venue made for a high-ball draw, patented here by Rory McIlroy, and it's a black mark against his chances.

Kaymer could of course make a mockery of the notion that hitting it right-to-left counts for more on the Majlis Course than most places but ultimately you have to be ruthless when whittling down a shortlist and, his gradual return to form depending so much on that stock fade, it's a fade from me, too.

The second most common symptom on a Monday involves value and that devilishly difficult battle to keep the right side of it. This is where Louis Oosthuizen comes in. Right-to-left drives are no problem for the South African, who boasts some high-class form here, and I feel like he ought to have been there to pick up the pieces as Richard Sterne and Shane Lowry took lumps out of each other on Sunday.

But he's priced like he won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship convincingly, rather than finishing a frustrating fourth. You can argue of course that there's little or no difference in the value of first versus fourth pertaining to the following week - fourth might even be considered advantageous - but 14/1 from 22/1 represents quite the cut. Kicking and screaming, he's dragged out of the staking plan.

These are new circumstances - this is a different field on a different course - but to my eye Oosthuizen has been found in the market in a way which Tom Lewis, just maybe, has not.

Lewis is 40/1 from 66/1 himself, but he's entitled to be even more comfortable here than he was in Abu Dhabi, where ninth place saw him enhance a previously modest record. The fact that he's made all five cuts at the Majlis, often appearing without a totally functioning game, tells you much about how well he plays it.

It's also very difficult for any of us to really keep up with his ascent, particularly with memories of his malaise so fresh. Lewis in the here and now is totally transformed from even 12 months ago, more so perhaps than any other player in this field, and that makes for a curve which even the sharpest model will struggle to plot.

I'm of the view that this is no Indian summer - it's lasted far too long, and the results have been far too solid, too consistent, too securely founded. Lewis is simply hitting the ball like that world-class player he was always meant to be, and when the long-game does desert him he can now place faith in improved skills around the greens and a course-management maturity built slowly during years of toil.

We saw as much last week, as he climbed to ninth without having his best stuff, and if Lewis can improve even modestly for those 72 holes then he's sure to go very well out here in Dubai, where he's spent so much time trying to figure things out.

While the field is very strong, I'm slightly less fearful of the top of the market than I was in Abu Dhabi and there's no doubt he has the tools to take it down and keep climbing those world rankings.

Back to the favourite, and DeChambeau is impossible for me to leave out at double-figure prices.

Here we have a player whose last eight starts show three wins, all in high-class, PGA Tour fields. When he's not been winning, he's been either contending or staying on for a top-20 and finishes of seventh and 10th since the year began confirm that nothing much has changed since he dominated the autumn.

In total, DeChambeau has six wins in 88 events which have been awarded world ranking points. Eleven of those appearances came when he was an amateur, and while 2016 was the year in which he secured a first victory on the Web.com Tour, it was also a year of education as he struggled for prolonged periods.

Take a view from the start of 2017 and you have five wins in 58 starts, immediately enough to create interest in his price, and it goes without saying that he's got better and better since landing the John Deere Classic that summer, the first half of the year having produced only one good week.

In 2018 alone, he climbed from 94th in the world to fifth and this is absolutely where he belongs. DeChambeau is an elite golfer and ought to be priced like one. Remember, McIlroy has gone off 3/1 here in the past and a slightly out-of-sorts DJ wasn't much more than twice that last week.

Without disparaging the European Tour, it goes without saying that the PGA Tour is more competitive and while it's fairly common for US stars to play well without winning events here in the Middle East, the likes of Chris DiMarco, Mark O'Meara and, of course, Tiger Woods, have picked up silverware.

DeChambeau isn't one to come for the appearance fee alone - he is totally focused on reaching the top of the sport and returns to a course where he managed to finish 18th as an amateur three years ago.

When last playing a European Tour event he looked for 54 holes like winning it, only to collapse at the European Open. Since then he's become one of the most prolific players on earth and I think he's entitled to start an event like this at around the 6/1 or 7/1 mark, rather than 10/1 or 11/1.

Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson fought out the finish here in 2017 and both are respected along with fellow course lover Rafa Cabrera Bello, who seems bound to give his running, while Shane Lowry can't be dismissed having held his form well following his previous professional victories.

That said, it's easy to pick holes in all of these at the prices and I'd rather back Alex Bjork each-way and take it on the chin if he's not quite up to winning such a prestigious title just yet.

The Swede has an exceptional record in the Middle East, with big performances here, at the DP World Tour Championship, Abu Dhabi Championship, Qatar Masters and Oman Open, as well as several more on the Challenge Tour.

Of the various courses used, the Majlis here at Emirates Golf Club might just be the one which suits him best and he hinted as much last year, when fifth after the first round and fourth at halfway before finishing in a massive share of sixth.

"I played a few practise rounds and really, really liked it," he said. "It's a little shorter than some of the other courses we play, but it suits me quite well and a lot of fun holes. I like it."

Bjork ranked sixth for driving accuracy and 15th for greens hit, very much his stock formula for success, and his aggressive, precise iron play is an excellent way to make up for a slight lack of power. So too is a sharp short-game and he still looks to be improving.

Since finishing sixth here 12 months ago he's become a European Tour winner in China and, while taking a little time to adjust to his newly-held status, he ended last year with second in the British Masters, 14th in Turkey, 12th in Dubai and a rock-solid 28th in the WGC event held in China.

Granted, Bjork will have been a little frustrated not to build on an opening 66 in Abu Dhabi last week but it was nonetheless a solid return to action, again ranking sixth for fairways and 18th for greens, and the 27-year-old is entitled to build on it having made 21 birdies and an eagle on his 2018 debut here.

Lucas Bjerregaard is way better than he's shown in this event so far and is tempting, not least because of a clear link with the Portugal Masters - which in turn further strengthens the case for Lewis.

However, at twice the price I'm keen to give Scott Jamieson the benefit of the doubt as he seeks to underscore that correlation himself, having once carded a round of 60 in Portugal and played well there on virtually every visit.

Jamieson opened with rounds of 65 here in both 2012 and 2013, his first two appearances in the event, and has sat close to the lead in each of the last three years with sub-70 rounds. Never yet has he failed to make the weekend in seven starts and it's a golf course he really enjoys.

Perhaps this time he'll be able to see the effort through, showing the benefits of a winter in Florida - rather than Scotland - which were on display when he finished 11th in Abu Dhabi last week.

Scott Jamieson
Scott Jamieson

That came on the back of third place in South Africa to end 2018 and having so many Race To Dubai points in the bank gives this underachieving talent an ideal platform on which to build throughout the rest of the year.

As well as being primed by warm-weather practice, Jamieson is buoyed by the improving health of his third child, who required heart surgery after birth last October, and after playing so well on a less suitable course last week he should tee off full of confidence.

"I think I'm certainly probably in a freer place mentally than what I was obviously with things going on at home and my situation on the Order of Merit," he said in Abu Dhabi, just an hour from this week's venue, and the Scot rates an interesting each-way play.

The Abu Dhabi leaderboard is always a good starting point - the two courses are broadly similar, being straightforward par-72s in the desert with occasional water hazards, risk-reward par-fives and some testing par-fours. Plus, they sit so close in the calendar that it simply stands to reason that certain players would ride the crest of a wave, just as Chris Paisley and Alex Levy did here last year.

That helps make the case for Lewis, Jamieson and even Bjork to some degree, and it earns Jordan Smith the final place in my staking plan ahead of some more speculative options which are mentioned further down.

Smith should be perfect for this course. His strongest club may well be the driver and he's capable of overpowering any relatively easy layout, just as he did for his first European Tour title in 2017 when Levy was his play-off victim.

It's been something of a waiting game since, with his health and that adjustment to becoming a winner both playing their part, but Smith took off again towards the end of 2018 and big things are expected over the coming months.

As for form here, he was an excellent 23rd on debut - that at the start of his rookie year on the European Tour - and it's easy to ignore last year's missed cut as he'd played poorly over the previous fortnight and would continue to struggle through to the spring.

Smith's first Challenge Tour win came on a similar par 72 in the UAE and, following an excellent share of 11th place last week, it's hoped he can take another step forward and hit the frame.

Finally, a mention for those outsiders of note, firstly Phachara Khongwatmai.

This 19-year-old Thai has turned a corner over the last few months, with finishes of 21-WD-20-18 split equally either side of Christmas. He was 57th on his debut here (all four rounds under-par) and could step up on that, especially having seen compatriot Jazz Janewattananond win the Singapore Open last week.

Gavin Green is another Asian youngster with huge talent and he's shortlisted too. Both players are entitled to take some inspiration from Hao-tong Li's victory over McIlroy last year and Green is a big-hitting potential star who started really well in Abu Dhabi before tougher conditions caught him out over the weekend.

JB Hansen has a round of 64 at the course to his name and should be considered in the first-round leader betting along with Nacho Elvira, while Justin Walters could ruffle a few feathers and makes some appeal to be the top South African.

There's a chance Sterne struggles after Saturday's blowout and that leaves very little for Walters to beat bar Oosthuizen and some erratic youngsters. He's made three cuts in three here and looked on course for a top-10 finish last week until coming home in 41, which might just mask what was an otherwise excellent start to the campaign, while he also boasts that Portugal link having been runner-up there before.

Walters is around the 33/1 mark in the top South African betting and while three places rather than four feels light, it's a reflection of how short the favourite is. Oosthuizen will likely be the pick of them, but Walters looks to have been underestimated and can emerge as a key threat.

Posted at 1845 GMT on 21/01/19.

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