Dubai Desert Classic: Top Storylines to Watch

The three-week Middle East swing on the European Tour concludes with the Dubai Desert Classic.

The European Tour Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the  “Major of the Middle East”, gives us a big-tournament feel a world away in the United Arab Emirates.

Three from the world’s top 20 and seven major champions are set to tee it up.

Let’s take a look at a few of the storylines at Emirates GC:

Aug 12, 2015; Sheboygan, WI, USA; Tiger Woods on the 17th tee during a practice round for the 2015 PGA Championship golf tournament at Whistling Straits -The Straits Course. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 12, 2015; Sheboygan, WI, USA; Tiger Woods on the 17th tee during a practice round for the 2015 PGA Championship golf tournament at Whistling Straits -The Straits Course. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since 2014, Tiger is back to compete in the Dubai Desert Classic. The cynical approach is to wonder how many zeroes are at the end of Tiger’s appearance fee to be here this week, but no matter how you slice it, the guy needs reps, and he’s getting them.

He missed the cut at Torrey Pines, but showed glimpses of hope with his short game while avoiding complete disaster; he only carded one double bogey in 36 holes.

This week marks his first time playing in consecutive weeks since the PGA Championship and Wyndham Championship in August of 2015. He’ll take a week off next week before another back-to-back at the PGA Tour’s Genesis Open and Honda Classic.

Count Danny Willett, one of his playing partners for the first two days, as someone excited to see Big Cat back in action.

“When Tiger is here it makes things that little bit extra special,” Willett is quoted in The Guardian. “He’s going to try to win. And I think that’s great for the European Tour to have, to have arguably the greatest player of all time come to Dubai to try to take that championship trophy away on Sunday.”

Willett won the Dubai Desert Classic last year by one at 19-under. Woods has won the event twice, last coming in 2008. Willett and Woods are joined by Matthew Fitzpatrick for the first two rounds.

According to Bovada on the morning of Jan. 31, Woods is tied for the 13th-best odds to win at +4000.

Dubai Desert Classic

Danny Willett. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sportst

It might be a little backwards to tout Danny Willett and company as the “best of the rest” in comparison to the world No. 666, but Tiger is the big needle mover, particularly in drawing eyeballs away from the frenzy in Phoenix this weekend.

Twelve of the top 15 in the Dubai Desert Classic 2016 field are back, though two-time champion Rory McIlroy has bowed out as he continues to recover from his rib injury.

World No. 4 Henrik Stenson is the highest-ranked in the field and is the betting favorite according to Bovada on Jan. 31 at +650. He won at Emirates GC in 2007.

Eleven former DDC champions are in the field, as well as 10 of 12 members of the 2016 European Ryder Cup team. The 10 include: Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio García, Martin Kaymer, Thomas Pieters, Stenson, Andy Sullivan, Lee Westwood, Danny Willett and Chris Wood.

Willett played well here last year, but still has just three top-10s to his name since his Masters win in April.

Last year’s European Tour Rookie of the Year, Jeunghun Wang, will be going for his second win in as many weeks after a two-stroke win at the Qatar Masters.

Some marquee first and second round groups include: Westwood, Kaymer and Wang; Sullivan, Cabrera-Bello and Tommy Fleetwood; Thorbjørn Olesen, Wood and Bernd Wiesberger; Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and Pieters; Tyrrell Hatton, Stenson and García; and Willett, Fitzpatrick and Woods.

May 14, 2016; Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, USA; Bernd Wiesberger hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during the third round of the 2016 Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

May 14, 2016; Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, USA; Bernd Wiesberger hits his tee shot on the 16th hole during the third round of the 2016 Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Bernd Wiesberger isn’t quite a household name in the golf world, but he’s inside the world’s top 40 at No. 37 and has showed fine form of late. The Austrian has made 11 straight cuts, seven of which he’s placed T7 or better. Considering his T16 in the 2016 Dubai Desert Classic and a T4 in 2015, don’t be surprised if he’s in the winner’s circle. His upward trend is reflected in his odds to win; he has the fourth-best at +2000.

Alejandro Cañizares could be a sneaky pick to do some damage this week. The 34-year-old Spaniard has made the cut in five of his last six trips to Emirates GC, including a T8 last year. He’s showed fine form relatively recently at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in November, placing T3 against a strong field in South Africa.

Stephen Gallacher, 42, had just one top-10 in 2016, but if the Scot is going to rekindle the magic anywhere, it’s likely here. He won consecutively in 2013 and ’14, and followed it up with a T3 in 2015. He missed the cut in Dubai in 2016, but he shares the tournament’s 72-hole record of 22-under from 2013.

The tournament has been held every year since 1989 at Emirates GC, with exception to 1999 and 2000 when it was moved next door to Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. The course plays to a par of 72 and was the first grass golf course in the Middle East.

Low 18-hole score:  61 (Ernie Els, 1994)

Low 72-hole score: 266, -22 (Rory McIlroy, 2015; Stephen Gallacher, 2013; Thomas Bjørn, 2001)

Golf Channel will provide daily coverage of the Dubai Desert Classic. Check your local listings for broadcast times.

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