With a list of past champions featuring world number ones, major winners and Ryder Cup stars, the Hero Dubai Desert Classic has been one of the most prestigious events on the DP World Tour schedule for more than three decades.
For a player to add his name to this terrific list of champions, he will have to successfully traverse this week’s Fortinet Threat Score holes, the toughest tests of golf at Emirates Golf Club.
In 2022, Viktor Hovland came from six shots behind in the final round, firing a closing 66 to force a playoff, which he would go on to win. That Sunday, Hovland carded pars at each of this week’s Fortinet Threat Score holes: the 6th, 9th and 12th – gaining strokes over the competition with a steady hand.
Last year, those three holes yielded birdie or better less than 22% of the time against an extremely strong field. Let’s dive into the numbers and break down why those three holes will go a long way in telling the stories of the 2023 Hero Dubai Desert Classic.
Difficulty Rank: 1
Traditionally, the sixth hole has played as the toughest on the course, averaging right around one-quarter of a stroke over par. In addition to being the third-most-difficult fairway to hit (50% of the field finds it), players gain the largest advantage here from extra distance with their drive.
This dogleg right then presents players with a difficult approach shot: a mere 42 percent of players find this green in two, the lowest G.I.R. rate anywhere on the course. Players who do find the putting surface are generously rewarded, as a green in regulation is worth more than one-third of a stroke on the field (+0.36).
Difficulty Rank: 2
The front nine ends with the second-toughest hole on the course, as the ninth plays at just under a quarter of a stroke over par. Missing the fairway with this drive is an extremely costly mistake, as players who fail to find the short grass here are taxed by almost four-tenths of a stroke (+0.39). Extra distance is also important on this 488-yard par 4, as additional length off the tee is given the second-highest value at Emirates GC.
From there, the approach is no picnic. Players face, on average, an approach of 178 yards. This yields a proximity to the hole of more than 38 feet, third-longest on the golf course. Players also average 1.9 putts per G.I.R. here, making this the third-toughest green to putt.
Difficulty Rank: 3
The par 4, 476 yard 12th is the most difficult on the back nine, averaging more than two-tenths of a stroke over par in years prior. On this dogleg left, with bunkers protecting the right side of the fairway, players find the short grass with driver less than half of the time (49%). The green is even more difficult to hit in regulation: at just 47%, this is the second-most-difficult G.I.R. on the entire course. The field averages 1.91 putts per green in regulation at the 12th, ranking as the second-toughest green to putt at Emirates GC.
Players to Watch
It’s no surprise that some of this championships greatest players have found the most success on these three holes. Rory McIlroy, a two-time winner of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic, has averaged +0.23 strokes gained per round on these holes in his career, the best average for any player all-time with 20 or more rounds played. Right behind him is Ernie Els (+0.22), a three-time winner of this tournament. While Els isn’t in the field this week, Andy Sullivan is – the third-ranked man on that strokes gained leaderboard (+0.17). Sullivan has three top-six finishes in his career here, including a runner-up result back in 2016.