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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Does winning Omega Dubai Desert Classic set you up for US Masters title? Jury is out on this one – for now

It is a wonder there are any hotel rooms left to be had in Dubai this week. Surely the city must be swamped by the great and good of golf’s grand tour, looking for a place in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

When the entry list for Thursday’s opening round was being pared down, those on the reserve list might have been fighting over each other, shouting: Pick me, pick me!

Because, if recent evidence is to be believed, the Classic is golf’s king-making tournament. Win here, and you are as good as guaranteed to follow it up by winning the US Masters in April. And then, of course, golfing immortality.

Danny Willett did the Dubai/Augusta double in 2016. Sergio Garcia followed the trend last year. So clearly, it is now a thing.

If you want to win a Green Jacket, make sure you tee it up at the Majlis first, right?

The question is whether Danny Willett's 2016 double is part of a trend or just a coincidence. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
The question is whether Danny Willett's 2016 double is part of a trend or just a coincidence. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner at Emirates Golf Club, has his doubts. The Masters is famously the one glaring omission from the 28-year-old player’s sparkling CV to date.

Winning a third Dallah Trophy this weekend would be an achievement to be proud of in itself, he says. But it will have no bearing on whether he will be walking out of the Butler Cabin in April wearing green.

“It's definitely a coincidence,” McIlroy said of the sequence followed by Willett and Garcia.

“It is great that Danny and Sergio went on to do something very special a couple of events after winning here, so let’s try to keep the run going. [But] I don't think you can read too much into that.”

Garcia himself is of the McIlroy school of thought: Classic success does not automatically equal Masters glory. The Spaniard points out the lack of form previous to Willett and himself.

Many Masters winners – such as Tiger Woods, Mark O’Meara, Fred Couples, Jose Maria Olazabal – have subsequently played the Classic and won it. But in the 26 tournaments previous to Willett winning it, no Classic champions had gone on to win the Masters at the next available opportunity.

“It is just coincidence,” Garcia said. “It's not like every time that every guy [who has won the Classic] has won has won the Masters two months later - or, for that matter, a major throughout that year.

“I guess it's just a coincidence it happened last year and the year before. But, you know, neither Danny or I are going to complain about it.”

Sergio Garcia won the Masters not long after clinching the Dubai Desert Classic title last year. Chris Carlson / AP Photo
Sergio Garcia won the Masters not long after clinching the Dubai Desert Classic title last year. Chris Carlson / AP Photo

What about the similarities in layout at the Majlis and Augusta National? “They both have 18 holes. Other than that …” Garcia said, smiling.

Ernie Els, whose haul of three Classic titles is the best of anyone, says the Majlis is “definitely a drawer's golf course” – meaning it favours players who are naturally adept at curving the ball from right to left.

“It's where my eye found, back in the day, I could move it easily right to left, and obviously Augusta is very similar,” Els said.

The basic facts of either course back up Els’s assertion. Discounting the four par-3s on each course, seven of the 14 holes on the Majlis at least turn to the left, or are substantial dog-leg lefts. Four turn to the right. That is the same correlation as Augusta.

And, if you squint, the signature holes on each are broadly similar. Azalea, the par-5 13th at the Masters, bends sharply to the left, and requires a high draw over trees off the tee, with a risk-reward approach over water for the second shot.

It might look entirely different – what with nil slope, fewer pine-cones, and more desert – but similar words could describe the route around the 18th at the Majlis, too.

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“It's very early in the season to compare the winner here to having a chance to win Augusta, but there's got to be something there now, with the last two winners winning Augusta,” Els said.

“I think that's why the field is so strong, too. It's a wonderful field here. All the way from the US and South Africa, all the way around the world, this is really one of the strongest fields running into Augusta.

“Obviously, it says a lot for the tournament. It gives the tournament a lot of credibility when Augusta winners come out of here.”