THE final act of the 2023 DP World Tour season will be played out in Dubai this week, with some of the tension taken out of it as Rory McIlroy is already assured of being crowned the European circuit’s number one player for a fifth time.
Max Homa’s victory in the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa on Sunday made sure none of those who were within striking distance of McIlroy towards the top of the standings are quite close enough with only the DP World Tour Championship left to play.
The current campaign kicked off in Queensland 51 weeks ago and has taken in 45 events since, with McIlroy and his closest pursuer, Jon Rahm, only taking part in nine of those apiece.
The massive purses available on the biggest weeks of the year ensure it is quality rather than quantity, however, with McIlroy’s two victories this term coming in Rolex Series events, the Dubai Desert Classic in January and the Genesis Scottish Open in July.
With a runner-up finish in the US Open and two other Major top-10s also banked, there is no doubting it has been another fine campaign for the Holywood man, although his Major drought will be an ongoing source of frustration.
Another huge highlight of 2023 was being the star man in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory in Rome, and when McIlroy tees it up at the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates on Thursday morning, he will be doing so for the first time since that memorable contest in the Italian capital.
He will be joined by nine other members of Luke Donald’s team – with only Ludvig Aberg and Justin Rose absent – as the top 50 in the DP World standings go to post.
That number includes three of the top four players in the world in McIlroy, Rahm and Viktor Hovland, with the trio predictably dominating the betting.
Rory is just about the favourite at no bigger than 5/1, while the other pair can be backed at 11/2 in places.
While the main story going in is about McIlroy, it is easy to forget that Rahm is actually the defending champion, having won this event for a third time 12 months ago.
The Spanish powerhouse has lapped up the Earth Course since his first win in 2017, and it is a layout that has been all about quality off the tee since the inaugural event in 2009, won by Lee Westwood.
It has also been all about high-class performers coming out on top, and the same faces appearing on the upper reaches of the leaderboard year after year.
Rahm was the first man to do the hat-trick last term, but McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Matt Fitzpatrick have won twice, while the last 11 years have all crowned champions who have won Majors in their careers.
Therefore it makes sense to be glancing towards the head of the betting, and of the ‘big three’ Rahm probably makes most appeal, so it is a decision as to whether the 11/2 is of interest.
Of course, McIlroy has the capabilities to blow away the field, although that long break since Rome and the fact he is using a new driver this week can only be seen as slight negatives.
Rahm has played once since Italy, when ninth in the Open de Espana, but that was also a month ago and I can just about look beyond him at the price.
My eyes are drawn to the next tier of Ryder Cup players, with Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Fitzpatrick all available at around the 12/1 mark.
The latter is my idea of the best bet of those, and ‘Fitzy’ could well emulate Rahm by racking up an Earth Course hat-trick.
The Sheffield man was underwhelmed by his personal performance in the Ryder Cup, but came out the next week and won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, underlining his total dedication to being one of the best players around.
He has not been seen in competitive action since, but his meticulous nature will ensure he has turned up in Dubai ready for battle, while he has little to learn about a course he has won on twice, in 2016 and 2020.
The first of those victories came despite a perceived lack of power off the tee, something Fitzpatrick has put right since, and if anything he is now even more suited to the Earth Course.
As well as those two wins, he was second to Collin Morikawa as defending champion in 2021 and fifth last year, so there is no getting away from his course pedigree and he represents a sound each-way bet at the very least.
ELSEWHERE, I feel it could pay dividends to stick with Adrian Meronk, who was 15th in South Africa at the weekend, playing well for three of the four days without quite bringing home place money.
That effort came on the back of a win in the Andalucia Masters and there is every chance the in-form Pole can go better than his seventh in this event last year.
Meronk spends a fair deal of time in Dubai, and his results in the Gulf region in general give loads of reasons for optimism.
He was 10th in Abu Dhabi earlier this year and fourth in Ras Al Khaimah, and fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic and third in Qatar in 2022.
As statistically the best driver on the DP World Tour, Meronk should be right at home again here and he looks a decent bet at 28/1 with Paddy Power.
At the same odds, I can’t help but be tempted by Shane Lowry, who really shouldn’t be double the price of the likes of Fleetwood and Hatton, both players of a similar standard.
Granted, he hasn’t been in action since the Ryder Cup, but at his best the Offaly man has the long game excellence to tame the Earth Course, as shown when second to Rahm in 2017, while he should have been a fair deal better than ninth two years ago, having led at halfway.
The price is big enough to gamble that the lay-off won’t have done Lowry too much harm, and he would love to register a win to end a frustrating 2023.
Finally, at far bigger odds, Jorge Campillo might just be worth a look at 90/1 (William Hill).
The Spaniard has been busy while the big guns have been resting, losing a play-off in Qatar two weeks ago to Sami Valimaki before posting a decent 12th at the Nedbank.
Campillo is steady in all departments rather than being a master of any, although his irons have been very impressive of late, and he has a bit of Earth Course form to his name with ninth places in 2016 and last term.
He has also won in Qatar as well as being second there a couple of weeks ago, and been runner-up in Oman to underline his liking for the area, so at very big odds in a 50-runner field he could sneak under the radar while all the focus is on Europe’s biggest names.
DP World Tour Championship Selections
Matt Fitzpatrick, e/w, 12/1 (General);
Adrian Meronk, e/w, 28/1 (Paddy Power);
Shane Lowry, e/w, 28/1 (William Hill);
Jorge Campillo, e/w, 90/1 (William Hill)