We are delighted to announce we have top golf tipster Jamie Worsley writing our golf previews moving forward on the PGA, DP World and LPGA Tour’s. Jamie is coming fresh off a 20/1 winner with Max Homa at the weekend and he has x more tips and a full preview for the DP World Tour event at Ras al Khaimah this weekend.
Writers from the entertainment world would’ve struggled to write a script as thrilling as last week’s Dubai Desert Classic. There we saw world #1, Rory McIlroy pick up a first win of the year on his first start – his second in three starts – and continue a superb run of form that has seen him finish no worse than 4th on his last six starts.
That doesn’t tell the whole story. We started the week with “TeeGate”, as Patrick Reed – once again caught up in controversy – appeared to flick a tee in the direction of McIlroy, after he failed to react to Reed’s presence; prompting Reed to ironically accuse McIlroy of behaving like a child.
Onto the golf and the drama continued, weather delayed much of the early stages of the event, resulting in the need for a Monday finish. Rory and Reed both occupied positions amongst the leaders throughout the week, getting fans giddy with the prospect of the two being paired together at some point after their earlier spat, though it never materialised.
However, during the final round – which McIlroy entered with a three-shot lead thanks to an effortless -7 in round three – we looked to be getting the situation we’d been hoping for. Rory’s slow start enabled Reed to get to within one shot of him after a fine start and an eagle-birdie start to his back nine meant it was very much game on.
Rory started to find some birdies of his own and for much of the back nine they were locked together, separated by no more than one stroke at any time. Rory’s bogey on 15 was followed by one from Reed on 16. Though McIlroy birdied the short 17th to move one clear again.
Reed birdied 18 to tie again and after Rory’s tee-shot almost found the water on 18, he was forced to lay up, then hitting his approach to a very missable 14ft. Odds were in favour of extra holes and it looked like the “will they, won’t they” talk that had dominated much of the week was going to result in them getting together in the finale.
McIlroy had other ideas and duly knocked in the birdie putt to take the title by one stroke, Reed seeing it all unfold on the screen. An incredible ending to a fascinating tournament that not only highlighted just how good Rory is looking right now but also how much of a miss Reed will be to the PGA Tour. For all of his flaws, he is still a terrific golfer and competitor.
This week will have a lot to live up to in the drama stakes, as we move on to the least prestigious leg of our UAE swing, with the Ras Al Khaimah Championship at Al Hamra Golf Club.
History of the Event
The Ras Al Khaimah Championship was staged for the first time last year – the first of two events staged at Al Hamra in consecutive weeks – with the Ras Al Khaimah Classic following on, but it is only the former that stays this year.
Nicolai Hojgaard won this last year by four strokes over Jordan Smith, shooting -24 to secure the title, his second on the DP World Tour.
The low scoring was repeated the following week in the RAK Classic, as Ryan Fox shot -22 for his second win on the DPWT and his first of two last year.
This not the only chance for familiarity with this week’s venue that many in the field have had, as it played host to a trio of events on the Challenge Tour: the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge from 2016-2017 – won by Jordan Smith and Jens Dantorp respectively – and then the Challenge Tour Grand Final in 2018, which was won by Adri Arnaus.
Both of last year’s winners here are back for another crack at it, as are Arnaus and Dantorp, in a reasonably deep DPWT field.
Designed by Peter Harradine – who also designed former Abu Dhabi Championship host, Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Doha Golf Club, host of the Qatar Masters – this typical, watery desert course plays to a par 72 and stretches out to 7400 yards.
It’s very typical of most courses you’ll find out in the Middle East; open and exposed, with an abundance of water and sand in-play.
Looking at the stats from last year, it was noticeable how tough the fairways were to hit, recording one of the lowest percentages for driving accuracy all year on the DPWT; however, this is countered by a severe lack of trouble aside the fairways – as long as you don’t find the water – which meant penalty for missing the fairways was small.
Greens are above average size and possess some severe slopes but weren’t that tricky to putt last year, whilst scrambling percentages were also high amongst the field.
Ultimately, the biggest challenges with this venue lie in the potential conditions; the openness of the course will make it susceptible to any winds that may come our way and that aforementioned water, which is well in-play on eight holes.
The par 5s are all relatively long, with none below 570 yards, whilst the par 4s can be got at by most, with just a couple above 470 and three below 400; including the risk/reward 5th hole – a drivable par 4 with water lurking left of the green.
The par 3s have some of the more challenging green complexes, all defended by either water or heavy bunkering.
We don’t have to look too hard to figure out what is needed around here. Both of last year’s winners at Ras al Khaimah, Nicolai Hojgaard and Ryan Fox, are two of the biggest hitters on the DPWT, ranking 3rd and 6th in driving distance last season.
They both married that power off-the-tee with excellent approach performances, Hojgaard leading the field with his irons and Fox ranking 2nd, whilst Fox also produced quality on the greens, ranking 7th.
This theme was repeated right throughout both leaderboards last year. Names like Jordan Smith, Haotong Li and Tapio Pulkkanen chased Hojgaard home. With Fox beating off the likes of Ross Fisher, Zander Lombard and Adrian Meronk. All players who possess plenty of power with the driver and combined that either a strong week in approach and/or with the putter.
Even going back to those Challenge Tour events, we find Adri Arnaus and Victor Perez going well, both players who don’t lack for distance off the tee.
Key Stats: Driving Distance, SG: Approach, SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Putting
Despite only appearing on the schedule last year, there are some pretty concrete form-lines to Al Hamra.
Portugal Masters (Dom Pedro Victoria)
Most appealing is the Portugal Masters. An open, exposed, watery layout that sets up well for big hitters.
Nicolai Hojgaard finished 2nd there in 2021 and runner-up up to him here last year, Jordan Smith won in Portugal at the end of last year. Matthieu Pavon, Ross Fisher, Tapio Pulkkanen, Masahiro Kawamura and Hurly Long all have top 5s in Portugal and finished top 10 in one of the events here last year.
Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
Courses in the Middle East often tie in with links form and these events proved no exception last year.
Ryan Fox followed his win here with victory in the Dunhill Links later in the year and Ross Fisher, who was 2nd to him has twice finished 2nd in the ADL. Pulkkanen, Smith and Haotong Li all possessing good efforts there too and went well here last year.
Qatar Masters (Doha Golf Club)
One of Harradine’s other designs, Doha Golf Club is tougher but doesn’t look unlike this week’s venue and there was plenty of crossover form on the leaderboard last year.
Adrian Meronk has a 3rd there, Pablo Larrazabal has multiple top 5s, Adrian Otaegui multiple top 10s and Jordan Smith has also finished top 10 in Qatar.
A few others I like, which I suspect will develop some strong form-ties in time are as follows: Abu Dhabi Golf Club, host of the Abu Dhabi Championship until 2021; Bernardus Golf, which hosts the Dutch Open and Albatross Golf, home of the Czech Masters.
All are open, exposed courses that suit bigger hitters. Ryan Fox was 2nd in the Dutch last year and the man who beat him, Victor Perez, has a 2nd here at Al Hamra from the Challenge Tour; Adrian Meronk also with a 3rd place finish.
Abu Dhabi is the other Harradine design mentioned earlier, Pablo Larrazabal is a past champion with a generally excellent record there and Ross Fisher has recorded finishes of 2nd and 6th.
Tapio Pulkkanen has finished 2nd and 3rd in the Czech whilst Zamber Lombard has a top 5.
Conditions are clear for the week, with warm, dry weather predicted and nothing in the shape of anything too severe on the wind front. However, this can always change before the start of the event.
We have an interesting DPWT field this week with plenty of depth. World #30, Ryan Fox is the top ranked player, joined by Abu Dhabi winner Victor Perez, both Hojgaard twins and Adrian Meronk.
We also welcome Kazuki Higa and Rikuya Hoshino, two of the top players in Japan, who got a tour card thanks to the new partnership between the JGTO and PGA Tour/DPWT, both players more than capable to cause a stir at this level.
A similar story for Manu Gandas, who gets in as the top ranked player in India last year, where he picked up an impressive six titles.
The market is very strong at the top, headed by Rasmus Hojgaard and Ryan Fox at 16/1, with Adrian Meronk next at 18/1; Nicolai Hojgaard and Victor Perez rounding off the top 5 in the betting at 20s.
Excellent cases can be made for all but I’m inclined to look down the betting here. We’re still at the start of the season and for all this is a decent field, it doesn’t possess the star power that we’ve seen in the first two weeks; representing a great chance for someone who has struggled to get going to now find form on a less demanding setup.
1.25pt Guido Migliozzi each way – (1/5 8 places)
I’m going to start with the exciting Guido Migliozzi; with the power he possesses off the tee and ability to score well, the young Italian is exactly the type to go well here and showed some positive signs in Abu Dhabi on his first start of the season.
Migliozzi struggled for much of the early part of last year but found a little something at the end of the year, the proof of which we found in the Open de France as he picked up his third DPWT title in style. Shooting a closing 62 to beat Rasmus Hojgaard by one stroke.
He signed off the year with a solid 23rd in the DP World Tour Championship and looked to have maintained it in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago, finishing 20th and looking solid across the board, but particularly good with his irons.
He missed the cut last week, his irons this time his downfall but every other area of his game was solid enough; the driver – formerly an asset but last year a hindrance – showing encouraging signs and over recent years he’s become a much improved putter – meaning that one approach display is easy to forgive.
He didn’t play well here last year, finishing 67th and missing a cut but his game was in a much worse state, with no areas firing. He has a top 10 in the Dutch, solid form in Portugal and is no stranger to performing in the Middle East, where he’s finished 2nd in Qatar and 4th in Oman.
Migliozzi is a proven winner with all the right attributes to perform here and if he can bounce back from a poor approach week in Dubai, he should go well here.
1pt Pablo Larrazabal each way – (1/5 8 places)
Pablo Larrazabal was one of the form players in the early part of last year, winning twice by the end of April. His form went off the boil at the end of the year but he’s made a promising start to 2023 and having gone well here last year, looks a danger this week.
He kicked off the year with a 20th place finish in Abu Dhabi, following it with a 28th last week in Dubai. All areas looked good in Abu Dhabi, whereas last week it was all about his quality approach play. An area of his game which can be inconsistent, so I was buoyed to see him improve further on his decent iron play in Abu Dhabi.
At his best he’s all about the short game and indeed it was this which helped him to a 3rd place finish here last year, as he led the field on the greens. He’s not the archetypical type of player I’d expect to go well around here, but he’s just one of those players who despite maybe not being the ball-striking behemoth of others in the field, just finds a way to make a score.
That performance here last year not the only instance of him going well in this part of the world. He’s a past champion at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, as well as a runner-up and has multiple top 5s in Qatar.
Larrazabal has just about as many wins as anyone else in the field and with the start he’s made to the season he looks a real threat this week.
1pt Hurly Long each way – (1/5 8 places)
Hurly Long played well in both events last year, recording finishes of 3rd and 18th. He’s struggled to get going in the first two events this year but this looks a good place for the German to kickstart his year.
He’s long been tipped to be a talent and he certainly made plenty of strides in his first season on the DP World Tour last season. He picked up six top 10s, as well as a further two in the co-sanctioned PGA Tour events, with a best of 2nd in the Kenya Open. Though perhaps most impressive was that these performances came right throughout the season, with him barely going through a down period.
He lacks a little with the irons but makes up for it in every other area of his game, ranking top 50 or close to with the putter, around-the-greens and off-the-tee last season, where he was also in the top 50 for driving distance.
This game, even without the quality in approach helped him to those impressive finishes last year; a 5th in the Portugal Masters and 10th in the Dutch Open, suggest further his suitability to this test and I’m expecting him to put right his slow start to the year..
1pt Rikuya Hoshino each way – (1/5 8 places)
Rikuya Hoshino has become one of the best players on the Japan Golf Tour over recent years and now gets his chance to test himself at another level; a chance I’m expecting him to take full advantage of, starting this week.
He’s amassed six wins in his home country since 2018 and has produced consistently excellent runs of form. He can occasionally lose himself in the middle of the year when he goes travelling to majors but typically find his form again. Shown by his bookended results from last year, starting 2022 with finishes of 3-2-2-7-6 and ending with finishes of 1-2-8-8-7.
His game looks one of little weakness. Last year on the JGTO, he ranked 1st in scrambling, 1st from the bunkers, 4th in ball-striking, 5th in putting and 5th in total driving – both long and straight – culminating in a player who made more birdies than anyone.
This course will be unlike many he’ll have played in Japan and it may be a bit of a culture shock, with most courses there tree-lined parklands; however, I’ve long thought the very best of the JGTO could make a splash at this level and as one, if not the very best over the last couple of years, I felt Hoshino was well worth a chance this week at a decent price.
1pt Grant Forrest each way – (1/5 7 places)
Grant Forrest is a big hitter who excels on the greens, this alone makes him a decent candidate this week but when we look at the positive start to the season he’s made in approach, the Scot looks good value for a big performance.
Forrest’s 2022 was a little sparse on consistency, with just three top 10s, the best of which came with a 3rd in the Cazoo Classic at Hillside and he finished last year looking well out of sorts.
The off-season looks to have done him the world of good though, as he finished 10th on his first start of the year in Abu Dhabi, where every area of his game looked in good shape besides the driver. He then finished 51st last week and there was plenty to like, gaining in every area bar around-the-greens. Gaining strokes with the irons on both starts, a huge positive considering it’s often the weakest club in his bag.
Forrest has done most of his best work on the greens since stepping up to the DPWT and combined with that length off-the-tee (he ranked top 25 in driving distance last year) looks ready made for this test. This didn’t work out last year, as he missed the cut and finished 64th in the two events but like Migliozzi his game wasn’t where it appears to be now.
He has good showings in the Dunhill Links and Portugal Masters, even his win at Fairmont in 2021 and best finish of last year at Hillside in 2022, points to a player more at home on these exposed setups and if able to keep up the level of play he’s shown so far in 2023, he can go well.
1pt Alejandro Del Rey each way – (1/5 8 places)
There’s so many talented, young bombers on the DPWT at the moment, Germany’s Nick Bachem made appeal, as did Tom McKibbin but it’s with previously #32 ranked amateur, Spain’s Alejandro Del Rey that I close out this week’s picks.
Del Rey earned his way onto the DPWT via Q-School, ultimately unlucky to end up there in the first place after a strong year on the Challenge Tour that saw him pick up a victory but narrowly miss out on automatic promotion to the DPWT; finishing the year ranked 22nd, the top 20 alone picking up tour cards.
The former Eisenhower Trophy winner – a title he earned in his amateur days and involved taking the scalps of Collin Morikawa, Min Woo Lee and the Hojgaard twins in the process – made a good start to life on the DPWT; finishing 30th and 23rd on his first two starts in South Africa, though went on to miss his next two cuts.
That encouraging start came off the back of a strong driving game, where he’s already looking like one of the longest drivers on tour and a decent iron game, but we’ll learn more once stats start to become more reliable this year.
The talented Spaniard has won at both levels he’s played so far and looks one of a bunch with an exciting future at this level; if the course suits as much as his game suggests it will do, he can get 2023 off to a positive start this week.
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