Dan Box
By Dan Box

It could be argued that Rory McIlroy threw away the chance to win in his first start of 2024 last week, first by three-putting from 2 feet on the 14th hole, and then hooking his tee shot on the 18th hole left and into the water en route to a closing bogey.

Having said that, it would be harsh to say that Tommy Fleetwood didn't go and win that event, finding birdies on both the 17th and 18th hole to clinch his seventh DP World Tour title.

Whilst the Dubai Invitational wasn't the biggest event or strongest field of the season, it may just set the tone for the 32 year old this season and it feels like an important victory. Fleetwood has contended with plenty of supporters and journalists claiming that he should win more often, particularly as he is yet to taste victory on the PGA Tour, whilst he often ranks towards the top end of the 'best players not to win a major', among the current crop of stars at least.

Fleetwood has gained a reputation as being a bit of a 'nearly man' over the last few years, someone who hovers around the top of leaderboards at big events but never quite does enough to win. If you look more closely at his record though, you'll see that he has won against strong fields in Abu Dhabi (twice) and at Le Golf National, and lost a playoff last year at the RBC Canadian Open only thanks to Nick Taylor holing an outrageous 72-foot putt.

He's also played a starring role for Team Europe at the Ryder Cup on two separate occasions - claiming four points at Le Golf National and three points at Marco Simone, winning the event for Europe in September after driving the 16th green - proving that he is more than capable of handling the big stages.

Fleetwood's popularity means that there will always be pressure on him to perform in the big events, particularly when he plays in the UK, but beating McIlroy on Sunday can only add to the positive momentum he has been gaining over the last few years. Here's hoping that 2024 is the year that he finally silences the doubters.

For McIlroy, he now heads to a golf course where he his record is unparalleled with anyone else in the field. Emirates Golf Club is where he has so often decided to start his year, a decision that has rewarded him handsomely since his debut there way back in 2006.

In recent interviews, McIlroy himself has been open about his quest for the Green Jacket and this year sees a slight change of tactic, as he has decided to play in more events in the lead-up to The Masters, hence his appearance at last week's inaugural Dubai Invitational.

Good driving could be the key

The list of previous winners suggests that those who drive the ball well are likely to succeed, with four par 5s and two drivable par 4s indicating that if you are strong off the tee, you'll give yourself plenty of chances.

The roll of honour includes McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau over the last few years, all of whom are known for being towards the top of the SG: Off The Tee rankings.

The Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club has played host to the event in all but two years since 1989, and it's main defence is usually the wind, which can drastically alter the winning score, as well as the fact that water is in play on 10 of the 18 holes.

Strong field assembles for Rolex Series

This week will see a stronger field compared to last week, being the first Rolex Series event of 2024 with a prize fund of $9 million, including a whopping $1.53 million going the victor.

For many reasons, McIlroy will be the betting favourite and the star attraction this week, alongside Ryder Cup teammates Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Nicolai Hojgaard as well as Team Captain Luke Donald.

Adam Scott and PGA Tour stars Brian Harman and Cameron Young have made the trip over too, although the absence of Jon Rahm is bound to be felt, as one of the biggest names in the game has made the switch to LIV Golf.

Our tips this week...

Tyrrell Hatton @ 10/1

Whilst McIlroy is a clear favourite, you may find better value with his Ryder Cup teammate who is one of the best players in the world and has an excellent record in the desert, including a T11 finish at the DP World Tour Championship at the end of 2023.

Hatton has already played twice so far this season in Hawaii, finishing in the Top 15 in both events so he should be sharp and raring to go.

Adrian Meronk @ 22/1

Despite missing out on a spot on the Ryder Cup team last year, the recently crowned 2023 Seve Ballesteros Award winner Meronk has established himself as one of the most consistent performers on the DP World Tour and seems to be improving year-on-year, as highlighted by his 3 victories in the 2023 season.

He did miss the cut here last year but has finished fourth in the past, and started off 2024 by finishing in the Top 10 at the Dubai Invitational.

Jordan Smith @ 35/1

One of the best iron players on the DP World Tour, Smith is noted for his consistency and has finished in the top 5 in two of his last three tournaments in the desert, including a fourth place finish last week.

He'll be looking to carry that momentum forward into this event, where he has made his last five cuts and finished in the top 20 in the last editions.

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