The European Tour completes its three-week Desert Swing with this week's Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates.
Built in 1988 by American architect Karl Litten, the course has few undulations, generally flat greens that are quicker than average and plenty of water which comes into play on 10 holes,
Tiger Woods will be chasing a third victory at the Emirates where three of the world's top 10 players will be in attendance.
Another former champion teeing-up is Ernie Els who, 20 years ago this month, carded a stunning round of 61 over the Majlis layout which remains the course record.
The defending champion is Stephen Gallacher, who returns to a venue where he posted rounds of 62 and 63 last year.
The leading contenders (with Sky Bet odds)
Rory McIlroy (3/1): This event was the scene of Rory's first European Tour win back in 2009 when he got up and down from the back bunker at 18 to secure a one-shot victory. It's been the springboard to five amazing years which have included two major wins by eight-shot margins. His three starts here since 2009 have produced a sixth, a 10th and a fifth and in the latter two he was also the halfway leader. After his win in Australia at the back end of 2013 and runners-up finish in Abu Dhabi on his 2014 seasonal debut, Rory's confidence is right up again and he must have a golden chance.
Tiger Woods (6/1): Last year, Tiger mucked up his first start of 2013 by missing the cut in Abu Dhabi after a two-shot penalty put him the wrong side of the line but then returned to the US the following week to win at Torrey Pines. This year he'll be hoping for a reverse of that with a win in the Middle East to make amends for crashing out at Torrey Pines with a 79. To shoot the second worst round of his pro career on a course where he'd won eight times has to raise eyebrows although coach Sean Foley remains unconcerned, saying he likes what he's seen of Tiger in practice.
Henrik Stenson (12/1): After his extraordinary play in the second half of 2013 it's been a surprise to see Stenson start missed cut, tied 28th in the two Middle East tournaments. However, he looked ill-prepared for the opening event in Abu Dhabi and he did finish with a 67 last week to suggest he's starting to shake off the rust. He's a former winner of this event and had a run of five straight top 10s between 2006 and 2010 although he hasn't managed anything better than 20th on his last three visits. He won the DP World Tour Championship on his last visit to Dubai in November.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (25/1): The 29-year-old is likely to prove a popular pick this week as he's been in great form on the Desert Swing and won this event two years ago. The Spaniard kicked off his 2014 campaign with a fourth in Abu Dhabi and last week was third in Qatar after holding a share of the lead going into the final day. On both occasions he was undone by a third round 73. His greens in regulation stats are excellent (fifth in Abu Dhabi, second in Qatar) and either side of his win here in 2012 he's finished in the top 20 so he really likes the course.
Thorbjorn Olesen (25/1): Results suggest the Desert Swing is one of the Dane's favourite parts of the season. Last year he was runner-up in Abu Dhabi and third here while last week he took third place in Qatar after four rounds in the 60s. "I played some solid golf all week," said the 24-year-old in Qatar and the stats back that up (10th in Greens In Reg, sixth in Scrambling and 19th in Putting Average). He's being tipped in some quarters for a Ryder Cup spot this year and it would be no surprise to see him contesting victory again this week.
Joost Luiten (28/1): Another young player tipped for a Ryder Cup place, Luiten has started the season fast. He opened with a third place in the Volvo Golf Champions before adding a sixth in Abu Dhabi in the opening leg of the Desert Swing. His putting stats are excellent and he's hitting lots of fairways too. The one negative for the Dutchman is his course form. When he crashed out at halfway here last year it was the third time in four years he'd missed the cut while his other appearance resulted in a tied 33rd in 2012. There's no reason to suggest he can't function in this part of the world though as three of his last four starts in the UAE have produced top six finishes.
Jamie Donaldson (40/1): The Welshman finished fifth in last year's Race To Dubai and is expected by many to kick on again in 2014. He's been quiet so far though, with a 13th in the 36-man field at the Volvo Champions in South Africa - an event he'd qualified by winning in the Middle East last year - and a tied 56th in defence of that Abu Dhabi win. This is his 11th start in this event which so far haven't yielded a top 10. There are patches of form though, with an 11th, 13th and 16th (2012) on his CV.
Stephen Gallacher, the runner-up the previous year, went one better thanks to two two brilliant rounds mixed with two steady ones (63-70-62-71). The Scot, who often holidayed at this venue with his family, was winning for the just the second time on the European Tour (his first had come way back in 2004) and he achieved his three-shot win with stats of 34th in Driving Accuracy, 4th in Driving Distance, 12th in Greens In Regulation and 5th for Putts Per GIR).
PLAYERS with GOOD to REASONABLE FORM at EMIRATES
Last Eight Years
Player: '06 / '07 / '08 / '09 / '10 / '11 / '12 / '13
Thomas Bjorn: 47 / 10 / 44 / MC / 15 / MC / 9 / MC
Gregory Bourdy: - / 63 / MC / MC / 8 / 48 / 16 / 45
Rafael Cabrera-Bello: - / - / - / - / MC / 20 / Won / 17
Paul Casey: 16 / 20 / - / 4 / 11 / - / - / 37
Robert-Jan Derksen: 47 / 20 / 54 / 20 / 51 / 55 / MC / 30
Simon Dyson: 19 / 7 / 25 / 32 / 56 / 28 / 33 / 52
Ernie Els: 2 / 2 / 3 / MC / - / - / - / -
Ross Fisher: - / 5 / 10 / 13 / 11 / 10 / 66 / -
Marcus Fraser: 69 / Ret / 33 / - / 11 / - / 61 / 5
Stephen Gallacher: 22 / 44 / 44 / MC / 31 / 10 / 2 / Won
Ricardo Gonzalez: 28 / MC / 6 / 51 / MC / 20 / 66 / 30
Richard Green: 3 / 34 / Wd / 11 / 15 / MC / MC / MC
Peter Hanson: 72 / 6 / MC / 24 / 27 / 9 / 51 / -
Raphael Jacquelin: 11 / 34 / MC / 39 / MC / 20 / MC / 30
Thongchai Jaidee: 22 / 18 / 19 / 47 / 3 / MC / 42 / 64
Scott Jamieson: - / - / - / - / - / - / 5 / 26
Miguel Angel Jimenez: 4 / 10 / 54 / 7 / Won / 40 / 79 / -
Robert Karlsson: 28 / 10 / 19 / 4 / 44 / - / - / -
Rory McIlroy: MC / 52 / MC / Won / 6 / 10 / 5 / -
Edoardo Molinari: - / - / - / - / 4 / MC / 24 / MC
Francesco Molinari: MC / 48 / MC / 24 / 27 / - / 16 / -
Seung-Yul Noh: - / - / - / - / 44 / MC / 24 / 26
Jose Maria Olazabal: - / - / - / MC / - / 15 / MC / 17
Alvaro Quiros: - / 59 / MC / 13 / 6 / Won / 37 / -
Robert Rock: - / - / - / - / 20 / 20 / 51 / 7
Jeev Milkha Singh: - / 34 / 19 / 16 / 15 / 42 / 37 / 10
Henrik Stenson: 7 / Won / 6 / 3 / 8 / MC / 20 / 26
Anthony Wall: MC / MC / 19 / 7 / MC / 31 / 42 / 30
Chris Wood: - / - / - / MC / 20 / 10 / 20 / 30
Tiger Woods: Won / 3 / Won / - / - / 20 / - / -
PLAYERS with POOR to MEDIOCRE FORM at EMIRATES
Last Eight Years
(No Top-40 Finishes from three or more starts since 2006)
Player: '06 / '07 / '08 / '09 / '10 / '11 / '12 / '13
Seve Benson: - / - / - / - / MC / 65 / - / MC
Michael Campbell: - / MC / MC / - / MC / MC / MC / MC
Alejandro Canizares: - / - / - / 60 / - / 59 / 66 / MC
Stephen Dodd: 69 / 62 / 67 / 44 / 51 / MC / - / MC
Barry Lane: 55 / MC / MC / MC / MC / MC / MC / MC
Pablo Larrazabal: - / - / - / MC / MC / MC / 42 / 49
Tom Lewis: - / - / - / - / - / 59 / 72 / 59
Jose-Filipe Lima: MC / MC / MC / - / MC / - / - / -
Shane Lowry: - / - / - / - / MC / - / 66 / MC
Mikael Lundberg: MC / - / - / MC / MC / - / - / MC
Graeme Storm: MC / MC / 62 / 54 / MC / MC / MC / -
Peter Whiteford: - / - / - / - / - / MC / MC / MC
Fabrizio Zanotti: - / - / - / - / MC / MC / 71 / MC
TOP-25 Finishers at the EMIRATES in 2013 (Not Already Listed Above)
Richard Sterne: (2nd)
Thorbjorn Olesen: (T-3rd)
Ricardo Santos: (T-7th)
Steve Webster: (T-7th)
Tommy Fleetwood: (T-10th)
Matteo Manassero: (T-12th)
Gareth Maybin: (T-12th)
Andy Sullivan: (T-12th)
Garth Mulroy: (T-15th)
Maximilian Kieffer: (T-17th)
Peter Lawrie: (T-17th)
Marc Warren: (T-17th)
LOWEST 15 STROKE AVERAGES at the EMIRATES
(Last Four Years 2010/13)
69.00: Scott Jamieson (8)
69.13: Stephen Gallacher (16)
69.63: Ricardo Santos (8)
69.67: Rory McIlroy (12)
69.93: Rafael Cabrera-Bello (14)
70.00: Tommy Fleetwood (8)
70.00: Alvaro Quiros (12)
70.13: Soren Kjeldsen (8)
70.17: Marcus Fraser (12)
70.25: Richard Sterne (12)
70.31: Chris Wood (16)
70.38: Paul Casey (8)
70.44: Robert Rock (16)
70.50: Thomas Bjorn (12)
70.50: Francesco Molinari (8)
70.50: Jose Maria Olazabal (10)
70.50: Henrik Stenson (14)
Min. No. of Rounds = 8
LOWEST ROUNDS at the EMIRATES SINCE 2000
62: Richard Sterne (2013)
62: Stephen Gallacher (2013)
63: Tony Johnstone (2001)
63: Ian Garbutt (2003)
63: Anders Hansen (2006)
63: Richard Green (2009)
63: Rafael Cabrera-Bello (2012)
63: Stephen Gallacher (2013)
64: 16 times
Note: The lowest round ever recorded at Emirates Golf Club was 61 by Ernie Els in 1994.
Emirates: Par 72; 7,316 yards
Winning Totals (Last Three Years):
2013 - 266 (Stephen Gallacher)
2012 - 270 (Rafa Cabrera-Bello)
2011 - 277 (Alvaro Quiros)
If you can't see past the Big Three then Sky Bet offer 15/8 that the title goes to either Woods or McIlroy while it's 13/10 for either McIlroy, Woods or Stenson.
Rory could well be the one this week but 3/1 looks on the skinny side.
Better value lies further down the betting.
Spaniards have won both legs of the Desert Swing so far - Pablo Larrazabal in Abu Dhabi and Sergio Garcia in Qatar - so why not chance the 80/1 about Miguel Angel Jimenez who, despite now being 50, won on the European Tour just four starts ago (December's Hong Kong Open).
He also finished 10th in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago and at this venue he can boast a win in 2010, two runners-up finishes and a fourth.
After a third round 67 in Abu Dhabi which left him in sixth with a round to go, the cigar-chomping veteran said: "I'm very happy with my irons, they are like arrows to the flags today."
The 80/1 looks dismissive for someone who has racked up 20 European Tour titles so get on each-way.
At the other end of the experience scale, European Tour rookie Johan Carlsson has made a superb start at this level.
He marked our cards by winning the Challenge Tour's Kazakhstan Open - one of the biggest events on European golf's second tier - by a whopping seven shots and then closing out his season there by adding two more top 10s.
As for the main European Tour he's hit the ground running. The Swede was seventh on his debut in the South African Open and this year he's started with another seventh in Abu Dhabi and a 16th in Qatar last week when third at halfway and sixth after 54 holes.
Obviously there will be a dip at some point but, for now, it's worth striking while the irons are hot and backing the 27-year-old at 80/1.
Another young player, Romain Wattel, could also be worth an each-way bet.
The Frenchman hasn't had as much press as Victor Dubuisson (even before the latter's win in Turkey) but there's no reason why he can't follow in his compatriot's footsteps.
The 23-year-old has racked up six top four finishes in his last 35 European Tour starts so is building a solid bank of form.
His last four tournaments show a third (Alfred Dunhill), a fourth (Nelson Mandela), a 45th (Abu Dhabi) and an 11th (Qatar) so he really does look in good nick.
He closed with a 67 in Qatar last week so his confidence is up and he's worth a punt at 60/1.
Also take him in the first round leader market as his end of day one positions in the last three starts were third (Nelson Mandela), joint leader (Abu Dhabi) and eighth (Qatar). He has a nice early start on Thursday morning.
Finally, I can't help but be tempted by the 50/1 over Ernie Els.
The South African has won this even three times and his last nine starts here show finishes of MC-3-2-2-1-3-2-1-3.
On his own website this week, Els wrote: "From a personal perspective, it feels great to return to a course where you have enjoyed some success. That gives you a lift and also the way the holes play seems to suit my game; I like the lines off the tees and I tend to see shots in my mind's-eye very clearly."
Els shot an opening 67 with his new Adams clubs when 37th in Qatar last week and closed with a 68 so with that sighter under his belt he should be raring to go.
He hasn't played this event since 2009 due to it clashing with his PGA Tour schedule so that gap may help create an even bigger spring in his step this week as he returns to a venue where he holds the course record of 61.
1pt e.w. Miguel Angel Jimenez at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Johan Carlsson at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Romain Wattel at 60/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Ernie Els at 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Romain Wattel to be first round leader at 55/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)