News All Articles
The 2023 Desert Swing – How it unfolded 

The 2023 Desert Swing – How it unfolded 

By Mathieu Wood

The introduction of a new team match play event added to the sporting drama of the DP World Tour’s annual Desert Swing.

The four-week stretch at the start of 2023 opened with the Hero Cup, featuring players representing Continental Europe and Great Britain & Ireland, followed by the season’s opening two Rolex Series events and a fitting finale in Ras Al Khaimah.

With plenty to catch up on, let’s revisit how the action unfolded in the United Arab Emirates.

Continental Europe win inaugural Hero Cup

Abu Dhabi Golf Club played host to the first edition of the Hero Cup from January 13-15, with the Continental Europe team earning bragging rights over Great Britain & Ireland.

With Major Champions, multiple DP World Tour winners and rising stars of the game involved there was fierce competition and passion from both sides as friendships were put aside for one week.

Continental Europe, captained by Francesco Molinari, opened a one-point lead after the opening day’s four-balls, doubling that advantage by the end of the second day after two sessions of foursomes.

Despite a strong start to the singles on the final day by the trailing GB&I side, led by Tommy Fleetwood, Continental Europe turned the momentum back in their favour as Poland’s Adrian Meronk holed the winning putt to seal a 14.5 – 10.5 victory.

With all 20 players across both teams playing in all four sessions, the quartet of Molinari, Guido Migliozzi, Victor Perez and Nicolai Højgaard – a late replacement for his injured twin brother Rasmus – impressively finished the week unbeaten.

Reflecting on his team’s victory, Molinari said: “Like I said all week, it's been very, very easy leading them and being a captain for them."

Perez captures first Rolex Series title with career-best shot

The Tour remained in Abu Dhabi for the second event of the year, as Yas Links played host to a stellar field at the first Rolex Series event of the campaign.

The week began with Ryder Cup Captain Luke Donald rolling back the years to hold the lead after the first round, before Italian duo Molinari and Migliozzi – both hoping to feature for Europe in their home country in September – moved into a share of the halfway lead.

Min Woo Lee and Shane Lowry joined fellow Rolex Series winner Molinari at the summit of the leaderboard after matching 66s to leave the tournament fascinatingly poised going into the final round with a three-time Major Champion in the chasing pack with history in his sights.

A third-round 64 left Pádraig Harrington two shots back, with the 51-year-old aiming to become the oldest winner on the DP World Tour.

The final round was a roller-coaster, with late drama plentiful as a Perez hole-out birdie from a greenside bunker at the 17th ultimately proved the decisive moment, but only after he avoided throwing it away at the 72nd hole.

With his victory Perez became the first Frenchman to win a Rolex Series title and climbed to the top of the Race to Dubai Rankings in Partnership with Rolex.

Speaking about his phenomenal bunker shot, Perez said: “It came up maybe a little skinny, I'm not going to lie, and spun back and the fortune of the ball going in which is probably the greatest shot I've ever hit."

McIlroy wins again in Dubai after thrilling Monday finish

Emirates Golf Club once again played host to the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, which was part of the Rolex Series for the second year.

Rory McIlroy arrived as the World Number One and he showed his championship-winning qualities to lift the iconic Dallah trophy for the third time in his career as the tournament witnessed the first Monday finish in its 34-year history.

After the opening two rounds were affected by heavy rain, the four-time Major winner turned a two-shot deficit at the halfway stage into a three-shot lead after the third round.

But he was pushed all the way on the fifth and final day’s play over the Majlis Course by Patrick Reed, before ending a toe-to-toe battle with a closing birdie at the 72nd hole to clinch a memorable one-shot victory.

It was the first time McIlroy had won his opening event of the year and took his tally of DP World Tour wins to 15 at the scene of his first as he claimed his long-awaited maiden Rolex Series title.

"I feel like I showed a lot of mental strength out there today, something to really build on for the rest of the year,” he said.

Gutsy Gavins returns to winner’s circle after remarkable final-hole finish

As if there hadn’t already been enough drama in the desert, the Ras Al Khaimah Championship provided even more as it reached its own memorable conclusion.

Daniel Gavins held a two-shot lead on the 18th tee in the final round but even the most wicked of authors couldn’t have the scripted the drama that was still to unfold at Al Hamra Golf Club.

The Englishman found the water twice at the last to flirt with a horrible capitulation, even after nearest challenger Alexander Björk had earlier finished with a bogey.

But he remarkably salvaged a double bogey by holing a putt from 26 feet to set the new clubhouse target at 17 under par, with only Zander Lombard now between him and a second Tour success.

The South African gave himself an eagle chance on the last but his putt to force a play-off just missed to the right, allowing Gavins to celebrate an emotionally draining victory.

Speaking about his double bogey on the 18th, Gavins said: "I thought I had (given the tournament away). I put two in the water and thought 'Well that's one way to end the tournament really'.

"When I sunk the putt and then went to the back of the green and saw that I was actually winning still, it was kind of a big shock!"

Read next