Sergio Garcia can double up in Dubai
WHILE searching the house for a hot water bottle the other night, after taking the winter quilt out of storage, my charitable side came through as I spared a thought for the golfers from the European Tour.
Those poor souls have been subjected to the horrific ordeal of getting ready to play the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in 20-something degree heat while lapping up all that Dubai has to offer. Heaven help them.
In addition, there is serious prize money on offer as the Race to Dubai comes to close over the weekend.
There will be a new name on that particular piece of silverware come Sunday night, as neither Rory McIlroy nor Henrik Stenson, who have won the last five titles between them, are in contention or in the field this week.
Prior to last year, when Matt Fitzpatrick won the DP World title, McIlroy and Stenson had also shared the previous four renewals of it, with the Holywood man's victories in 2012 and '15 sealing his spot as the the top European golfer of those seasons.
Likewise, Stenson won the DP event on his way to Race to Dubai success in 2013, while Lee Westwood took the inaugural Race to Dubai and also this event way back in 2009.
Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose will be hoping to follow in their footsteps this weekend, with the English duo well clear in the Race to Dubai standings.
Fleetwood has been the leader since his success in Abu Dhabi right at the start of 2017 and that display of desert golf should stand him in good stead this week, especially as he was ninth in this one 12 months ago.
However, Rose is the form man coming in, having won his last two events in Shanghai and Turkey before sitting out the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City last week.
Fleetwood's 10th there opened the gap between the pair up to over €250,000 which means he is firmly in the driving seat ahead of tomorrow's first round.
That said, Rose knows that another victory on the sprawling Earth Course would guarantee Race to Dubai success, which in itself would have a degree of symmetry to it.
He has won the European Order of Merit once before, 10 years ago when the Race to Dubai was still in the planning stages, and he claimed the title then by capturing the season-ending event, the Volvo Masters at Valderrama.
Therefore, he knows he can get the job done under this type of pressure and the bookies have Rose as the DP favourite at no bigger than 7/1.
Of course, the Race to Dubai would already be put to bed had Rose won the Masters, as he should really have done.
His conqueror at Augusta, Sergio Garcia, is third in the Race to Dubai and also has a theoretical chance of taking the order of merit, although he would have to win this week and hope Fleetwood has a nightmare and Rose doesn't finish in the top four.
Most of that scenario is out of the Spaniard's hands, although I strongly fancy him to go very close to claiming the DP World Tour Championship victory and think he is well worth backing at 12/1 with William Hill.
Garcia finally broke his Major duck in 2017, but it shouldn't be forgotten that he got the year off to a great start by claiming the Dubai Desert Classic title and naturally there is a lot of crossover form between that one and this week's event.
Players tend to perform well time and again in Dubai, regardless of the fact the Emirates course used for the Desert Classic and this week's Earth Course are very different.
McIlroy and Alvaro Quiros have won both events in the same year, while Andy Sullivan was second in both within a couple on months at the end of 2015 and the start of 2016.
Garcia's victory in February reads really well, while he also won his last event, at Valderrama a month ago.
His lay-off since then might be a concern, but the Spaniard always plays well when he is relaxed and rested, and he knows how to play the Earth Course, even though he says he's not a big fan.
Five outings have resulted in a best of ninth in 2012, but he has also been no worse than 21st, and that was back in 2010.
This course offers up a huge amount of birdie chances and puts an emphasis on long, straight driving.
Garcia is among the best in the business off the tee and if his putter behaves, as it has done more in 2017, he is a very strong contender at 12/1, even if it is unlikely to be enough to give him the Race to Dubai title.
The dominance of McIlroy and Stenson shows that the Earth Course throws up repeat winners and, that being the case, it is very hard to rule out defending champion Fitzpatrick (right).
The Sheffield man ripped up the rulebook to an extent last year in that he isn't a big hitter, whereas the previous winners all were.
Yet his game is so good that Fitzpatrick can compete anywhere, particularly as he is one of the best putters around, and his victory 12 months ago didn't come out of the blue as he tied for fourth here in 2015.
He also carries very impressive form into this week, with his last seven events yielding seven top-15 finishes, including a victory at the Omega European Masters.
Fitzpatrick was eighth in Sun City at the weekend despite a second round of 77 and he should be in the shake-up at 16/1 with Tommy French.
Meanwhile, Victor Dubuisson could be first or last in this 60-man field, depending on how he reacts to his third at Sun City.
The big cheque picked up in South Africa got him into this one, but the Frenchman did lead for long spells and might be slightly down about not converting that into a victory.
However, he played exceptionally well for most of the event, as he did at the Earth Course last year, where he led after 54 holes.
This Dubai track really suits him, as shown by a fourth last year, a share of second in 2014 and a third in 2013, and he's definitely worth backing each-way at 28/1 with Boylesports, while the 33/1 about him being first round leader is also worth a look.
I'm reluctant to leave Shane Lowry off the shortlist as there is a big result coming, but my final pick
is Thorbjorn Olesen at 40/1 generally.
The Dane has a solid rather than spectacular record in the DP Championship but he's only been out of the top 20 once in five visits and has a great pedigree elsewhere in the desert, not least at the Dubai Desert Classic, where he was third in 2013 and eighth last year.
In addition, Olesen has been second and third in Qatar and second in Abu Dhabi and his form is good, with a fifth in Turkey and a 12th at Sun City his last two efforts.
At 40/1 he is a touch on the big side in a quality event that will throw up plenty of entertainment.
Sergio Garcia, DP World Tour Championship, e/w, 12/1 (William Hill)
Matthew Fitzpatrick, DP World Tour Championship, e/w, 16/1 (Tommy French)
Victor Dubuisson, DP World Tour Championship, e/w, 28/1 (Boylesports); first round leader, e/w, 33/1 (Tommy French)
Thorbjorn Olesen, DP World Tour Championship, e/w, 40/1 (General)