Tiger Woods has won the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour twice in the past but is not playing in the event this week. Instead he has entered the Farmers Insurance Open in the States which will be his first regular event for a year. The former world number one has missed the best part of two years through injury but played well in the unofficial Hero World Challenge at the end of last year.
Rory McIlroy was out of the game for three months from last October. He had an injury-disrupted campaign in 2017 and finally gave up the unequal struggle. At 28 he is entering his golfing prime and at a crossroads in his career. He won the last of his four majors in 2014 but since then several young players have arrived on the scene. McIlroy is the favourite to win in Dubai this week but Tommy Fleetwood will be hard to beat because he is the man in form.
The Farmers Insurance Open was formerly called the Buick Invitational. Torrey Pines has hosted the event since 1968 except in 2008 when the US Open was played on the course. Tiger Woods won that championship in a playoff but that was his last major championship win. Woods has won the tournament seven times on the track so that makes him an eight-time course winner. He clearly has a game suited to the course but mentally he might not be quite at the races.
This week’s tournament is played on the South Course and North Course. Players play one round at each of the two courses over the first two days and the final 36 holes at the weekend take place on the South course. Both courses have bentgrass greens which are below average in size. The South course is a monster measuring over 7,600 yards while the North course is short for a par 72. Overall the courses require experience and not one particular attribute stands out.
Woods showed in the Hero World Challenge that is long game is back in fine order. He played three rounds below 70 but a 75 in round three took him out of contention. Rickie Fowler won the event and is the second favourite this week behind Jon Rahm. The Spanish player won the on the US Tour last week and is now at number two in the world rankings behind Dustin Johnson. He is a certain future major champion and that breakthrough could come at the US Masters in April.
The heart says Tiger Woods is the player to back this week but the head says Rahm and Fowler are the players to support. However, a viable alternative is Justin Rose who is in great form. He won the Olympics golf tournament in 2016 and lost the playoff at the Masters last year to Sergio Garcia. The 2013 US Open winner has an excellent all-round game with few weaknesses and he has the skills to score well on the two courses in San Diego. Woods should make the cut and a top 10 finish is feasible but Rose is the tip.
There is plenty of course form to assess for the Dubai Desert Classic. The event has been played on the Maljis course at the Emirates Golf Club every year from 2001. The fairways are generous and water is a feature on 10 holes. The four par fives provide eagle and birdie chances and the 18th has a carry over water which involves risk and reward. McIlroy was the champion in 2009 when he won his first event as a pro. He has the course and current form to win the Dubai Desert Classic again.