When the test was toughest at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, the world’s number one player proved why he’s on top of the game.
On his way to a thrilling win, Rory McIlroy brilliantly traversed the most challenging holes at Emirates Golf Club. For the tournament, the four-time Major Champion played holes 1, 6 and 9 in a combined three-under-par, best of any player in the field.
The victory was the third at the Hero Dubai Desert Classic for McIlroy, tying Ernie Els for most wins all-time at this prestigious event. It also marked the first time in McIlroy’s great career that he won his first worldwide tournament of a calendar year.
Let’s look further at this week’s Fortinet Threat Score holes and how they helped craft the narrative at another exciting Rolex Series event, the second of the 2023 DP World Tour season.
Difficulty Rank: 1
The front nine’s finishing hole proved to be the toughest this week on the course, playing to an average score of 4.26 strokes. Power was extremely valuable here: extra distance off the tee was worth more than one-tenth of a stroke, the second highest such number of any hole for the week. Finding the green in regulation here was worth more than three-tenths of a stroke over the field, the second-highest value at Emirates GC in 2023.
Players averaged 48 feet from the hole with their approach shots here, the largest number anywhere on the course. From there, this green yielded an unwieldy 1.92 putts per G.I.R., also the highest rate of any hole. The ninth proved to be a key separator this week among the contenders. While the top-three finishers – McIlroy, Patrick Reed and Lucas Herbert – played it in a combined 4-under, the next nine players on the leaderboard were 7-over-par on this hole.
Difficulty Rank: 2
The 6th allowed the fewest birdies of any hole on the course this week (33), and yielded the second-highest scoring average (4.16). This fairway proved to be the toughest to find on the course, as just 39% of the field was able to hit it for the tournament. This dogleg right presents players different choices with their tee shot, and the numbers bore that out: the 6th featured the third-highest variation in average distance off the tee, at right around 25 yards.
The approach into the 6th green averaged 191 yards this week, the second-longest on the course. This was the most valuable green to find in regulation all tournament long, as players who hit the putting surface in two shots gained one-third of a stroke over players who did not.
Difficulty Rank: 3
The opening hole played as the third toughest on the course, with the field averaging a score of 4.16. There was no easing into the round here, as this hole yielded the stiffest penalty for missing the fairway, at 0.56 strokes. Couple that with tee shot distance being extremely valuable – the second most of any hole at Emirates Golf Club – and elite drivers of the golf ball were provided an early-round opportunity to gain an advantage on the competition.
Statistically, the approach shot at the first was a test, too. Just 47 percent of players found this putting surface in regulation, the second lowest rate on the course. The average proximity to the hole here was 40 feet, third most of any hole all tournament long.
While tournament winner McIlroy gained the most strokes on the Fortinet Threat Score holes (+5.5), other tournament contenders also assembled strong performances on 1, 6 and 9 this week. Reed gained 3.5 strokes on those holes, ultimately finishing one stroke behind McIlroy. As did Herbert, whose birdie at the ninth in the final round was one of seven he made for the day.