Rolex Series

2024 Hero Dubai Desert Classic: The key holes and players to watch 

by Edoardo Molinari

In his first piece for the DP World Tour, three-time winner Edoardo Molinari identifies the key Fortinet Threat Holes at Emirates Golf Club and the players to watch at the opening Rolex Series event of the year.


For all but two editions of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, the Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club has been the stage for one of the marquee events on the DP World Tour.

It’s a course which provides both challenges and opportunities to help players separate themselves from the field, and historically favours long hitters that can also putt well on these greens.

On the 35th anniversary of the event, I’ve taken a closer look at both Rory McIlroy’s victory in 2023 and at some of the key holes players will have to navigate if they want to add their names to the impressive list of champions.

Rory’s victory in 2023

Rory McIlroy’s third Hero Dubai Desert Classic title came with an impressive, and aggressive performance, particularly from the tee.

Despite hitting only 38% of fairways (13% less than the field average), McIlroy stayed aggressive and gained 1.5 shots per round off the tee (which was 0.5 shots better per round than anyone else last year). While his approach play was only slightly better than the average (+0.510 shots per round) and his wedges slightly below (-0.241 shots per round), his approach play from the rough was exceptional, with an average of 0.745 shots per round better than the field.

Although the front nine historically plays roughly 1.5 shots per round more difficult than the back nine, one of the more interesting things is that Rory effectively won the tournament on the front nine last year.

Rory McIlroy

Fortinet Threat Score: The Key Holes

Hole 18

At 564 yards, the par-five 18th is a memorable finishing hole that has provided several exciting moments over the years.

In the context of the rest of the course it’s actually the third easiest hole, but due to the water in front of the green and the importance of hitting the fairway, it’s the hole which also has the most variability in scoring.

Historically there have been 44% birdies or better and over 10% bogeys or worse, and the insights into why that is are pretty interesting.

The tee shot is key, and one of the most important shots of the round to consider. Hitting the fairway is vital here, and players have historically made 55% of birdies or better when they hit the fairway off the tee. When they miss the fairway from the tee, that number drops to 30%. Players who go for the green in two also score better by 0.514 shots a round over players that choose to lay up.

Hole 9

From one of the easiest to the toughest, the 488 yard ninth hole is the longest par four on the course and has one of the most difficult approach shots, with only 7% of players recording birdie and 32% having bogeys or worse.

From the tee, the right side of the hole is protected by trees and a bunker, and any shot that isn’t on the fairway makes the job a lot harder to play to the green – which is shared with the 18th and protected by water all down the left side.

While distance is definitely a help on this hole, accuracy is more important, as players who miss the fairway only hit the green 26% of the time.

Hole 13

Another hole with a large variability in scoring is the par five 13th, which has 43% of birdies and 9% of bogeys or worse.

Lined by large waste areas until you reach the green, which has water right and a large bunker protecting it from the front, there is plenty of opportunity to score here if you make the green in two. For those players who go left of the green or into the water right, less than 40% get up and down.

It’s also the most difficult green to putt on, emphasising the point that it’s extremely important if you are going to go for it in two, you do hit the green. A good example of the importance of strategy here is Rory’s performance at the 13th last year. Other than the first round where he hit his second shot into the water and had to get up and down to save par, Rory hit the green in two each of the next three rounds, making an eagle on Thursday before back-to-back birdies at the weekend.

Players to watch

With a course that suits long hitters and those who can also putt well on greens that are pure and extremely fast, I've taken a look at players who have a statistically good chance at performing well this week.

The Favourites

Rory McIlroy

A three-time winner who hasn't finished outside the top ten in this tournament since 2010, this is a course which suits Rory. Historically, he's gained 2.5 shots per round over the field on this course, and is by far the best player in the field (top three in the world) off the tee.

Adam Scott

Although he has only played once in the past five years, Scott had a top ten in 2022 on his first return to this event since 2002, and has a game that suits this course well. He usually likes firm and fast conditions, is longer than the Tour average, and has been in the top 20 players in the world in putting since 2020.

Tyrrell Hatton

Hatton is making his 10th appearance in the Hero Dubai Desert Classic this year, and is another player with a great record, boasting four top tens in his last seven appearances. Another great putter that was ranked inside the top 10 in the world last year, he is also slightly longer off the tee than average and likes this course.


Ashun Wu

While not a long hitter, Wu has found a way to play well at this course and he clearly loves it. The eighth-best player around the Emirates Club in the last five years, he's had two top 10s in his last four appearances.

Adri Arnaus

The Spaniard is a big hitter and a great putter. He's got a good record around here that shouldn't be overlooked. He finished tied 13th last year, and had back to back top 10s in 2020 and 2021.

Grant Forrest

Another player that fits the profile of long hitter with great skills on the greens. His best in four appearances is a tie for 16th in 2020, but he has made all four cuts and consistently plays above his average around the Majlis.

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