The Fortinet Threat Score holes at Emirates GC helped shape the narrative all week at the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic.
By playing the toughest three holes on the course in 2-under-par for the week, Rory McIlroy put himself in an ideal position to claim his third career victory at this event. However, a bogey on the par-five 18th left him one stroke out of a playoff between ascendent superstar Viktor Hovland and journeyman Richard Bland.
Bland, who turned professional (1996) before Hovland was born (1997), played the 1st, 9th and 12th holes at Emirates GC this week in 3-over-par. Hovland was 2-over-par. Still, both playoff participants gained strokes on the field for the week on those three difficult tests of golf.
Let’s break down the three toughest holes this week at Emirates Golf Club, and why they proved to be the strongest tests for an excellent field in Dubai:
*Difficulty Rank: 1st (+0.42) *
This lengthy par four (488 yards on the scorecard) had historically valued additional driving distance more than any other hole on the course. And while additional yardage off the tee was helpful (5th-most for the week), the true challenge here came on the approach shot. Players were required, on average, to hit an approach of 188 yards into this green. This yielded an average proximity to the hole of more than 53 feet, the largest number anywhere on the golf course.
With players that far away from the hole, a high putts-per-G.I.R. average naturally followed. The field needed 1.95 putts per green in regulation on the 9th this week, the highest average anywhere at Emirates this week. Richard Bland’s birdie on the 9th hole Sunday started a run of three in a row, boosting his chances for victory significantly.
Difficulty Rank: 2nd (+0.27)
The opening hole was the second-toughest on the course for the week, averaging more than a quarter of a stroke over par. Just over 50% of players found the fairway with their tee shot here, with the penalty for missing a steep 0.41 strokes (2nd-highest all week). The field faced an average approach shot of 174 yards, leading to the second-lowest G.I.R. percentage on the golf course, 40.2%.
The average proximity to the hole at the first was more than 42 feet, the third-longest anywhere at Emirates this week. Viktor Hovland had an up-and-down week on the opening hole, making bogey in rounds two and three, but starting his final round with birdie on the road to victory.
Difficulty Rank: 3rd (+0.24)
Accuracy off the tee was paramount on the 12th hole all week. A missed fairway at 12 was worth, on average, 0.42 strokes, the stiffest penalty on the golf course. Less than 48% of the field hit the fairway for the tournament, a slight dip from the historical average here (49.2%).
The 12th also featured the third-toughest greens to hit in regulation, and the fourth-longest average approach shot into the putting surface. None of the three highest finishers in the tournament – Hovland, Bland or McIlroy, made a single birdie on this hole all week.
For the tournament, only two players who made the cut managed to play these three holes under par: McIlroy, who at -2 gained a colossal 5.81 strokes against the field there, and Brandon Stone, who played them in 1-under.