It's the final stop of the 2015 European Tour season and the top 60 players on the Race To Dubai will battle it out on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, where the DP World Tour Championship will determine the winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy. Seven players still have a mathematical chance of finishing on top of the standings. Danny Willett - 41.00 - and leader Rory McIlroy - 5.50 - have it in their own hands should they win in Dubai.
The list goes down to Rookie Of The Year candidate Benny An - 31.00 - who can still win should he lift the trophy at Jumeirah Golf Estates if Rory McIlroy was to have a poor week. It's unlikely, given McIlroy's record here, but An will also have his eyes on the Henry Cotton Rookie of the year award - a big 6.00 antepost shot at the beginning of the term. Should he finish ahead of rivals Anirban Lahiri - 81.00 - and Matt Fitzpatrick - 41.00, he will finish highest in the standings.
As an added incentive, The top 15 in the Race To Dubai rankings at the end of play will share in a lucrative bonus pool, while In another sub-plot, former Dubai resident Henrik Stenson - 7.50 - bids to make it a hat-trick of DP World Tour Championship titles in a row on the Earth Course, and set a place in the history books.
The course - Jumeirah Golf Estates (Earth Course)
It's bombs away once again - this time in the Dubai Desert and immediately anyone only average from the tips is significantly disadvantaged. This is one of the longest courses on the tour at circa 7,700 yards to a par of 72 and despite fast and firm desert conditions, powerful players will dominate. Of the shorter top echelon players only really Luke Donald - 67.00 - and Ian Poulter - 41.00 - have excelled here.
The obvious trend in recent top 10 leaderboards on the Earth Course is one of domination in the driving distance department. Fairways are generous and rough is not overly penal, capped at 76mm outside the ropes. Key here will be approaches into large undulating greens with run offs and tricky flag positions. Players in the past have complained about deceptive green contouring on surfaces running 12.6' on the stimp, and putting numbers are also a relevant theme on recent boards. The Earth course is predominantly exposed with many large "marble" bunkers, and water features on a handful of holes including the island green 17th.
Three from the pack
Branden Grace - 23.00 or 5.00 - is one of the seven guys that can still win the Race To Dubai and this completes the triumvirate of the courses in the final series that he says he's extremely comfortable on. Indeed he demonstrated this last year with a top 10 finish, ranking fourth in driving distance for the week. This was the second top 10 in three appearances on the Earth course for Branden, having finished sixth in 2012. I'm expecting a token big performance from Grace soon and I thought we may see another field blitzing when he opened with a -9 (63) at the WGC HSBC Champions but in the end it was only good for a T5. This finish has been sandwiched by two more top 25s in the Final Series and Grace is simmering right now. He may just finish the season with a bang and take the Harry Vardon Trophy with him.
Victor Dubuisson - 21.00 or 4.50 - is another hitting top form right now and a winning return to where it all began for him on the main stage in Turkey has reinvigorated the Frenchman. Dubuisson followed up with a fast start at the BMW Masters last week but eventually faded to a T17 finish. Victor loves the Earth Course and ranked 9th in driving distance and led the greens in reg stat enroute to a T2 here last year. That was 1 better than his solo third the year before. The enigmatic 25-year-old is -31 for the last two editions of the DP World Tour Championship.
I'm going to stick with Peter Uihlein - 67.00 or 13.00 - this week. I had a strong fancy for him at Lake Malaren following a progressive run of form, and it clicked during round two when he hit seven birdies on the bounce to put himself in a strong position after 36 holes. He just couldn't get anything going over the weekend. Again, this is a perfect course for Uihlein despite a poor finish on his debut in 2013 (his form leading into that shows two Final Series finishes outside the top 50). Uihlein averages well over 300 yards from the tees in three seasons now on the European Tour and his GIR rate is just under 72% this year. It will be about how hot he can get with the putter.
Alex Levy - 67.00 or 13.00 - has been simmering lately but struggling to put four rounds together. He closed out with two rounds of 63-69 at the BMW Masters, and opened 69-65 in Turkey in his previous start. The four rounds sandwiched in between were 70 or worse. Once again, long open courses with large greens (ala Oceanico Victoria) are his forte and he was T26 here in his 2014 debut, closing with a 67. Levy is a streaky putter and, like Uihlein, if the short stick hots up, he'll contend on the Earth Course.