A preview, stats and best bets for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai
The 2013 European Tour season reaches a climax this weekend when the battle to top the Race to Dubai standings will be decided.
Going into the concluding event at Jumeirah Estates, as many as nine players can still finish the season as the Tour's No 1 golfer although, in reality, this prestigious title is likely to be claimed by one of four players.
These are Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter. The other five who can still mathematically finish No 1 are Jamie Donaldson, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Thongchai Jaidee, Richard Sterne and last week's Turkish Airlines Open winner Victor Dubuisson.
The Greg Norman-designed Earth course in Dubai has large, undulating greens, beautifully crafted fairways and more than 100 bunkers.
It was opened in 2009 and this week will be hosting the tournament for a fifth time.
The leading contenders
Rory McIlroy (11/2): Twelve months ago Rory could do no wrong. He'd already sewn up the Race To Dubai before this event had started but for good measure shot 23-under to win it by two shots. By contrast he remains winless in 2013, still searching for the magic of last year and unable to string four good rounds together. With an 11th and a 5th in his previous two starts here, he obviously loves the course but does he deserve to be favourite against so many in-form opponents?
Justin Rose (7/1): "Sometimes three weeks in a row is a really nice amount of time to play yourself in," said Rose last Tuesday. So having finished fifth in Shanghai a fortnight ago and third in Turkey last week, everything suggests he's ready to peak here. The Englishman shot a sensational final round 62 in this event last year to take the lead before being pipped by the fast-finishing McIlroy. Has huge incentive as he sits second in the Race To Dubai.
Henrik Stenson (10/1): The Race To Dubai leader continues to battle a wrist injury and will do the minimum of practice in the build-up to this week's event. The Swede was seventh here last year and boasts an excellent record in the Middle East so, if fit, he'd probably be the first name on the shortlist this week. He's also fuelled by trying to match the recent feats of Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald and win both US and Euro Money List titles in the same season.
Ian Poulter (10/1): Poulter is in one of those grooves where he's threatening a win every time he tees it up. Only the brilliance of Dustin Johnson denied him in Shanghai while a series of lip outs in the final round of the Turkish Airlines Open stopped him last Sunday. But after a second and a fifth he's close to pulling off another big one. His course form here shows a second place in 2010 and a ninth in 2009 so its length doesn't bother him.
Martin Kaymer (18/1): Many predicted a huge season for the German after his Ryder Cup heroics but it hasn't quite worked out that way and he's still winless since his WGC-HSBC Champions victory in 2011. Kaymer hasn't cracked the top 10 in the four tournaments staged here so he doesn't leap off the page as the one to back.
Jamie Donaldson (22/1): The Welshman produced a stunning charge in the final round in Turkey last week, a back nine surge including a dramatic hole-in-one which helped him briefly take a share of the lead. His eventual second place added to an eighth in the HSBC while earlier this year he landed a biggie when winning in Abu Dhabi. Add in a ninth place on this track last year and he has to considered a real contender this week.
Graeme McDowell (25/1): Although G-Mac chose to sit out the Turkish Airlines Open and slipped to third in the Race To Dubai, he can still finish as Europe's No 1. But does this course suit? His four finishes here read 52-11-13-30 and he's never been seen near the top of the leaderboard after slow starts each time. On the plus side he comes here fresher than most and was third in the HSBC last time out.
Lee Westwood (28/1): Westwood, now a full-time member of the PGA Tour, is only 21st in this year's Race To Dubai having played just 12 European Tour events although that's the same number of second-placed Justin Rose. The Englishman famously blitzed the field by six shots on this course in 2009 and was third in 2010. But he's had a very lean time since his near miss in The Open at Muirfield and was a modest 29th in Turkey last week.
FORM over JUMEIRAH's EARTH COURSE
Full Tour History
Player: '09 / '10 / '11 / '12
Felipe Aguilar: - / - / 37 / -
Thomas Aiken: 13 / 13 / 26 / 42
Thomas Bjorn: - / 52 / 29 / -
Gregory Bourdy: 30 / 41 / 29 / -
Rafael Cabrera-Bello: 30 / - / 26 / 40
Alejandro Canizares: - / 46 / - / 36
Paul Casey: - / 6 / 16 / -
George Coetzee: - / - / 22 / 26
Nicolas Colsaerts: - / - / 19 / 34
Luke Donald: 37 / 9 / 3 / 3
Jamie Donaldson: 23 / 48 / 26 / 9
Victor Dubuisson: - / - / - / 36
Gonzalo F'dez-Castano: 37 / 28 / 29 / 9
Ross Fisher: 42 / 13 / 46 / -
Marcus Fraser: - / 32 / - / 40
Stephen Gallacher: - / 51 / - / 16
Branden Grace: - / - / - / 6
Peter Hanson: 9 / 13 / 4 / 16
Dave Horsey: - / 35 / 37 / -
Raphael Jacquelin: 30 / 21 / 48 / 16
Thongchai Jaidee: 37 / 8 / - / 7
Scott Jamieson: - / - / 54 / 14
Miguel Angel Jimenez: 9 / 48 / 44 / 16
Martin Kaymer: 37 / 13 / 11 / 26
Simon Khan: - / 53 / - / -
Pablo Larrazabal: - / - / 10 / 36
Shane Lowry: - / - / 8 / -
Joost Luiten: - / 26 / 51 / 16
David Lynn: - / - / 16 / 54
Matteo Manassero: - / 32 / 34 / 42
Graeme McDowell: 30 / 13 / 11 / 52
Rory McIlroy: 3 / 5 / 11 / Won
Francesco Molinari: 30 / 6 / 6 / 34
Alex Noren: 6 / - / 37 / 39
Thorbjorn Olesen: - / - / 19 / 21
Louis Oosthuizen: 12 / 13 / 6 / 5
Ian Poulter: 9 / 2 / 22 / 26
Justin Rose: 50 / - / - / 2
Brett Rumford: - / 28 / - / -
Marcel Siem: - / - / - / 42
Henrik Stenson: 23 / 24 / - / 7
Richard Sterne: 42 / - / - / 51
Marc Warren: - / - / - / 26
Lee Westwood: Won / 3 / 29 / 48
Bernd Wiesberger: - / - / - / 42
Chris Wood: 42 / Ret / - / 26
Size of Field: 58 / 60 / 58 / 56
The following players have not yet competed at the Earth course: Kiradech Aphibarnrat; Jonas Blixt; Eduardo De La Riva; Tommy Fleetwood; Darren Fichardt; David Howell; Mikko Ilonen; Craig Lee; Garth Mulroy; Julien Quesne; Peter Uihlein
LOWEST 12 STROKE AVERAGES over JUMEIRAH's EARTH COURSE
(Full Tour History)
68.31: Rory McIlroy (16)
69.25: Luke Donald (16)
69.25: Louis Oosthuizen (16)
69.31: Lee Westwood (16)
69.38: Peter Hanson (16)
69.50: Justin Rose (8)
69.56: Ian Poulter (16)
69.63: Paul Casey (8)
69.75: Pablo Larrazabal (8)
69.81: Francesco Molinari (16)
69.83: Thongchai Jaidee (12)
69.88: Thorbjorn Olesen (8)
Min. No. of Rounds = 8
MIDDLE EAST FORM
Most Top-10 Finishes since Jan 1st, 2008
11: Rory McIlroy
10: Martin Kaymer
9: Lee Westwood
7: Peter Hanson
7: Louis Oosthuizen
7: Henrik Stenson
Note: Relates to European Tour events staged in the Gulf states of Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain
Top-10 Finishers from the Turkish Airlines Open
Victor Dubuisson: (Won)
Jamie Donaldson: (2nd)
Justin Rose: (T-3rd)
Ian Poulter: (T-5th)
Raphael Jacquelin: (T-5th)
Bernd Wiesberger: (T-7th)
Marc Warren: (T-7th)
Henrik Stenson: (T-7th)
Ross Fisher: (T-10th)
LOWEST ROUNDS at the EARTH COURSE
62: Justin Rose (2012)
64: Eight times
65: 10 times
Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates: Par 72; 7,675 yards
2012: 265 (Rory McIlroy)
2011: 269 (Alvaro Quiros)
2010: 274 (Robert Karlsson)
2009: 265 (Lee Westwood)
This year has been an amazing one for Justin Rose and it could be about to get even better.
Back in June's US Open at Merion he made the big breakthrough by winning his first major and he can cap off a never-to-be-forgotten 2013 by capturing this event along with the Race To Dubai.
Rose - currently second in the Race To Dubai standings - is very much on the bookies' radar but his credentials here look rock solid.
He's played himself into form over the last couple of weeks with a fifth and a third and on a track where he holds the course record of 62, he's a must bet at 7/1 to lift the trophy and also be crowned European No 1.
An interesting outsider is Marc Warren.
The Scot, who lost a play-off in the BMW PGA at Wentworth earlier this year, shared the halfway lead here 12 months ago after rounds of 66-67 and was still seventh with a round to go before fading to 26th after a closing 73.
In August he played some great golf to finish 12th in the US PGA Championship and, although quiet since, he came to prominence again in Turkey last week when closing 66-65 to take a share of seventh place.
Also 17th in the Dubai Desert Classic at the start of the year and in the top 20 in that same event in 2011, Warren can certainly handle the conditions and could just be the surprise packet.
The 80/1 each-way in a limited field is worth a go.
I will also go for another couple of biggish each-way chances.
Firstly, it was interesting to see George Coetzee post a 12th place finish in Turkey.
After a couple of months off with a wrist injury sustained whilst riding his bike, the big South African has slowly played himself back into form and could be ready to throw in a big performance.
This is a part of the world he loves and three of his last four starts in the United Arab Emirates have yield top 10s (9th, 5th, 6th).
Add that to his runners-up finish in Qatar earlier this year and he really is one to watch in the Middle East.
Seventh with 18 holes to go on this course last year, Coetzee can remind us what a great talent he is.
More each-way value can be gained by backing Dutchman Joost Luiten.
He's already had a season to remember after winning his home KLM Open a few months ago and now appears to have recovered from a shoulder injury.
In Turkey last week he tweeted: "Pretty happy with my game, especially in the weekend it started to feel good."
That followed a final 36 holes of 65-67 (12-under) so he looks poised to kick on here.
Luiten, who is 19th in the Race To Dubai rankings, was fifth after 54 holes in this event last year and gives it a good tonk off the tee so he certainly thrive on the Earth course.
Sixth in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, Luiten is worth a punt at 55/1.
5pts win Justin Rose at 7/1
1pt e.w. Marc Warren at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. George Coetzee at 80/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Joost Luiten at 55/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)