After exciting tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Qatar, the European Tour completes its “Desert Swing” this week with The Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher is aiming for three wins in a row in this prestigious tournament.
There’s always a strong field for this event and the list of past winners confirms how highly this title is prized by the top players. First contested in 1989, Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and Tiger Woods have all been champions here.
Last season, defending champion Stephen Gallacher took a two-shot lead over Rory McIlroy into the final round. The Scot looked to have played himself out of contention with a poor front nine, but he bounced back with four birdies on the run for home to move back in front, as Rory stumbled. In the end Gallacher won by a single stroke from Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.
The history of the Dubai Desert Classic dates back to 1986 when His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum approved the construction of a golf course in the desert – the first all-grass course in The Gulf. 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.)
Four things to watch for at The Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week:
1 – Rory McIlroy.
The young Northern Irishman is a strong favourite to win this week and few would argue against the possibility of him lifting the trophy. He was second on his last European Tour start, two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, and his last six finishes in European Tour events have been: 2nd, tied 2nd, tied 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st. He won this tournament in 2009 (his first European Tour victory) and has never finished outside the top-10 since then. He had a chance to win last year before a disappointing final round.
2 – The supporting cast.
Rory is not the only star teeing it up this week in Dubai. Henrik Stenson (above, the World No. 2) has won the last two DP World Tour Championships in Dubai and was winner of this event in 2007. He’s finished in the top-10 here five times. Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood are also on the start-sheet. Kaymer will be looking to make up for the massive disappointment of his final round in Abu Dhabi. The German had led by 10 shots early on Sunday but crumbled to lose by two strokes to Gary Stal of France.
3 – The form horses.
With so many big-name European Tour players in the field this week, there are some lesser-known guys on top-form, who are coming in to the event under the radar. Last week’s winner Branden Grace (above) is playing some superb golf at the moment and, as a renowned streaky player, is definitely one to watch this week. Bernd Wiesberger of Austria was third last week in Qatar and finished in the top-10 in last year’s Dubai Desert Classic. Emiliano Grillo, who lost out to Stephen Gallacher by a single shot in this event last year, was tied fifth last week in Doha.
4 – The course.
The Majlis Course at the Emirates Club (above) was the first all-grass layout in the Gulf and it’s still recognised as one of the finest tracks in the Middle East. When it was first constructed in the late 1980s, it was surrounded by nothing but desert. Now, it is overlooked by towering skyscrapers and is wholly surrounded by futuristic developments.
Travelling through the desert dunes, the fairways here 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.