The low scoring returned at Ras Al Khaimah last week and provided Thorbjorn Olesen with the ideal conditions to notch up his eighth DP World Tour title with a huge six-stroke victory.
That win means the Dane has won in each of the last three seasons on tour, the last two by a combined ten strokes and further establishes him as one of the most dangerous players at this level. He’ll be hoping to keep the ball rolling as he soon embarks on his season on the PGA Tour.
This week, the DPWT continues its International Swing with the inaugural edition of the Bahrain Championship at Royal Golf Club.
The event represents a return to the middle-eastern nation for the first time in thirteen years, after the 2011 version of the now defunct Volvo Golf Champions was hosted in the country.
That event was played here at Royal Golf Club and saw England’s Paul Casey fire a score of 20-under-par to see off the duo of Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson.
A course at this location was initially laid out on the late 1990s but it was completely redesigned by Colin Montgomerie in conjunction with European Golf Design; reopening in 2009. It is the only recognised championship golf course in the country.
Royal Golf Club received a bit of a hard time from the players back in that 2011 event here, largely due to the overly-undulating greens. However last year it underwent renovations, which saw several greens at the course recontoured and bunkers remodelled.
It is a par 72, measuring 7261 yards and possesses 10x par 4s (322-487 yards), 4x par 5s (541-587 yards) and 4x par 3s (146-229 yards).
Everything I’d previously read about this course pointed to the greens being the most demanding and interesting aspect of play. Therefore the changes create further unknowns for a course that we have already experienced very little of.
What we do know is that Royal GC is an expectedly open and exposed desert golf course, which is typically linksy in style. Most holes are framed by sandy waste areas and a smattering of tall palm trees.
Not only the greens but the wide fairways are also very undulating, and it is possible to get some unlucky bounces that can send your drive veering off into the fairway-side troubles. This includes large, often strategic bunkering and a ravine (known as a wadi to locals) that is in-play throughout the property, especially on the front nine.
The greens are paspalum – as is the rest of the course – and large. As mentioned, they were previously heavily contoured but have been evened out somewhat in time for this new event. The majority are open-fronted and encourage links-like bump-and-run shots; with steep run-offs and deep bunkers for protection.
The back nine looks particularly exciting, starting off with two potentially drivable par 4s in a row on holes 10 and 11, before playing your final two par 5s back-to-back on holes 13 and 14.
These excellent scoring opportunities are then followed by the only water holes on the course from holes 15-18, which are all protected by man-made lakes. If the wind blows – which it is stated to do this week, and pretty strongly – navigating these holes will prove difficult and some players are bound to find their title charges meeting a watery end.
Conditions are forecast to be dry prior to the start of the event and barring a drizzle of rain on Thursday morning, there is not expected to be anything further throughout the rest of the week.
Temperatures are predicted to be mild but this is not the case for the wind. After a breezy but playable opening round, it is forecast to rise significantly over the next three days, with a constant wind of around 20mph and gusts up to 40mph.
- SG: Around-the-Greens
- SG: Putting (paspalum)/Three-Putt Avoidance
- SG: Off-the-Tee/Driving Distance
If the forecasted conditions do indeed transpire, I expect a strong short-game to be of primary importance in Bahrain.
The boundaries around the greens are very steep in places and it’s going to be challenging to get it up-and-down in the wind. Whilst the greens may be a little tamer than in 2011, they are still huge and it will be hard to hit approaches tight to the pins, therefore avoiding three-putts will be paramount.
With those drivable par 4s and reachable par 5s, along with several shorter par 4s where a quality drive can leave players with just a wedge into the green, I do think the course sets up well for strong drivers of the ball.
As always, there is no better place to start with a new/returning middle-eastern course than by looking at players who perform well in the region. Courses here are generally exposed and linksy, and players are often faced with similarly breezy conditions.
I particularly like Yas Links, which has been the host of the Abu Dhabi Championship since 2022. The fairways and greens there are dramatically undulating and sizable, whilst big-hitters have gone well in the two editions.
It is also worth considering any form at the previous host course of that event, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, along with the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, Qatar Masters, Oman Open, Saudi International and events in Dubai, such as the Dubai Championship in 2020/2021. All courses with those links-like characteristics.
Form at actual links courses is another good place to look for clues, whether that be with the traditional links courses used in The Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, or the contemporary links courses such as the Renaissance Club, current host of the Scottish Open.
Finally, it could pay to check out other Colin Montgomerie designs used on tour. The most recent of which are The Dutch, which hosted the Dutch/KLM Open from 2016-2018 and the 2013/14/15/19 host of the Turkish Open, Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club.
We have largely the same field heading to Bahrain as that which played Ras Al Khaimah last week. Though one noteworthy omission is that of last week’s winner, Thorbjorn Olesen, who would’ve been the top-ranked player in the field had he remained entered.
Instead, the man who he beat into 2nd there, fellow Dane, Rasmus Hojgaard, is this week’s leading player at #70 in the world. He is one of only three players from inside the world’s top 100 teeing it up, alongside #81 Jordan Smith and #92, the highly-talented Japanese star Keita Nakajima, who finished an excellent 4th on his first DPWT start of the year last week.
After a week off, Romain Langasque, Antoine Rozner, Jeff Winther and Joost Luiten add a little more depth to the field; the man who topped the PGA Tour Q-School at the end of 2023, Harrison Endycott makes his first start on the tour outside of his native Australia since 2019; and Stephen Gallacher returns to Royal Golf Club after finishing 4th in that 2011 Volvo Golf Champions – making him the highest-finishing player from that event in attendance this week.
Market leaders: Rasmus Hojgaard 9/1, Yannik Paul 18/1, Keita Nakajima 20/1, Zander Lombard 20/1
Whilst Rasmus Hojgaard has started the year in excellent form and Zander Lombard may be a good fit for the course, the top of the betting holds little appeal to me and I’m forced to start further down the betting.
Alex Fitzpatrick has found a little something with driver over these first couple of events, and with the quality of his short game he should relish this test. However, the early value on the Englishman has gone and at ten points bigger, Romain Langasque has equally begun 2024 with intent and goes in as this week’s headline selection.
1.5 pts Romain Langasque each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 35/1
2023 was another positive one for the Frenchman, as he recorded thirteen top 25s in twenty-nine, going best when finishing 2nd in the Italian Open and slightly improved his major championship best, finishing 33rd in The Open. This all led to him finishing inside the top 30 on the Race to Dubai and flirting with possible PGA Tour promotion.
He has often started the year well out in the Middle East and he has once again shown how comfortable he is in this part of the world in the first two events of this season; finishing 14th in the Dubai Invitational and following with a 25th-place finish in the Dubai Desert Classic.
Langasque was strong off-the-tee and around-the-greens in both of those starts. He then continued the improvements he found with the putter in the final round of the Dubai Invitational, in the Desert Classic, gaining strokes on the greens in all four rounds.
That combination of qualities is a carbon copy of what he showed on tour last season, ranking 22nd OTT, 33rd in three-putt avoidance and 39th ATG.
This skillset should serve Langasque well and as a proven links player, winning the Amateur Championship in 2015 and finishing 3rd in a Scottish Open, his overall profile is as suitable as any in Bahrain.
1.25 pts Callum Shinkwin each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 45/1
Callum Shinkwin picked up some place money for us in Ras Al Khaimah last week and back at another similarly suitable setup, I see little reason not to follow up on the Englishman at Royal GC.
He finished 4th at Al Hamra after opening with a superb 10-under-par 62 and like his 11th-place finish the previous week in the Dubai Desert Classic, he shone with his ball-striking. However, this time he also brought a top-15 ATG performance to the party and ranked 3rd in the field tee-to-green.
That short-game performance could just turn out to be a one-off but he did noticeably look a little better in this area towards the end of 2023. I’m hoping he can keep it going this week, along with that typically excellent driving game that should see him eat up the par 5s and short par 4s.
A seasoned player in linksy conditions, Shinkwin is a former runner-up at the Scottish Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship; both times when the events played relatively difficult. This is complemented by numerous top 10/25 performances across Dubai, Qatar and Oman, pointing to a player who should feel at home on this week’s unfamiliar course.
1.25 pts Jorge Campillo each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 45/1
Jorge Campillo is somewhat of a Middle East specialist and whilst he’s played solidly enough in the opening three events this year, this looks the ideal place for him to step that form up.
We saw the Spaniard’s affinity for golf in this part of the world at the end of 2023, as he finished 2nd in the Qatar Masters, losing out to Sami Valimaki in a playoff. This performance came at the business end of a year that saw him become a three-time DPWT winner, thanks to an impressive win in the Kenya Open back in March.
Though not setting the world on fire, Campillo has been steady at the beginning of 2024, finishing in the middle of the pack in the Dubai Invitational and Dubai Desert Classic; improving last week in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship, finishing 37th.
His trusty short game has been on display over these starts, but I was encouraged to see him find improvement with the driver last week. A blend of qualities that I feel will be the blueprint for success here.
Campillo’s Qatar record is strengthened by a win when the event was staged at Education City in 2020, whilst he also finished 2nd at Doha GC in 2019. In addition to that, he’s finished 2nd and 4th in Oman; recorded numerous top 10s in the UAE; as well as on linksy courses in Scotland and Ireland. He looks at ease on these setups and I expect him to prove that again this week.
1 pt Guido Migliozzi each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 55/1
Guido Migliozzi is a proven wind player and has looked in good shape at the start of the year. If able to combine the short-game display from the first two starts with the ball-striking gains he found last week, he would be a serious danger in Bahrain.
The Italian began the year with a 13th-place finish in the Dubai Invitational and backed that up by finishing 25th in the Dubai Desert Classic. His short game did all of the hard work in both of those starts but that flipped last week.
Despite finishing 68th at Al Hamra, he gained strokes both OTT and in approach, whilst lost them on and around the greens. This is unusual for a player for who the short game is the most reliable area.
Having said that, he is an exciting and explosive ball-striker at his best, particularly with the driver where he can take it to the scorable par 4s and 5s.
As shown by his 4th-place finish in the 2021 US Open, Migliozzi has a liking for tough conditions, therefore he won’t mind if the wind blows this week. This is further evidenced by his runner-up finish in the extremely breezy Qatar Masters in 2021; a 4th-place finish in Oman in 2020 bolsters his C.V on these middle-eastern desert courses further.
0.75 pts Sam Bairstow each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 125/1
England’s Sam Bairstow has bags of talent and is comfortable on the links, which should put him at ease in Bahrain. After an encouraging opening effort of 2024 last week, where he did all of his best work late on, he is well worth a shot at three figures.
Bairstow reached a lofty 7th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings before turning professional in the latter part of 2022. This height was achieved thanks to a win in the prestigious Brabazon Trophy and several strong efforts in the Amateur Championship, including finishing 2nd in the 2022 edition at eleven-time Open Championship host, Royal Lytham and St Annes.
He was a little slow to get going in the first half of 2023 in his first full season as a pro on the Challenge Tour, however he took off in the second part of the year; recording eight top 25s in his final twelve starts and bagged a first pro win in the Scottish Challenge, which went a long way towards earning him an instant upgrade to the DPWT this season.
Bairstow looked solid in the DPWT Opening Swing at the end of last year, making three of four cuts. Though last week’s performance – on his first start of the year - improved on all of them.
He finished 23rd there and signed off the week with a 7-under 65 in round 4 – the best round of the day. The Yorkshireman had previously shown positive signs with the driver, possessing a fair bit of length, though it was other areas that engineered last week’s performance, ranking top 25 in putting and top 30 ATG.
If Bairstow can keep that up whilst using his length to overpower the birdie holes, whilst calling on his extensive and high-class amateur links form, he would be a very interesting outsider here and can announce himself as one of the brightest talents on tour.
0.75 pts Dylan Frittelli each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 150/1
As a PGA Tour winner and two-time DPWT champion, Dylan Frittelli’s winning pedigree outweighs many in this field. He can rely on his familiarity with this style of golf to take advantage of another start in the new PGA Tour category on the tour.
Frittelli lost his full status on the PGA Tour last season and has once again been plying his trade on the DPWT for the last few months; in a new category that offers up to five spots in the field for players finishing in positions 125-200 in last year’s FedExCup standings.
The 2019 John Deere Classic winner looked good back home in South Africa at the end of last year, finishing 12th in the Joburg Open and 20th in the Alfred Dunhill Championship. He again looked promising in his first start of this year in the Dubai Desert Classic, finishing 41st and showing positive signs with his driver and ATG, though will need to bounce back from a below-par 70th in Ras Al Khaimah last week.
At the peak of his powers, Frittelli had a strong tee-to-green game, which he showed on the elite stage of the PGA Tour in 2019/20. Whilst he has not been in that same form the last couple of years, the performance in Dubai showed he still has it in his armoury, and if able to lean on his strong links/desert pedigree - where amongst other results he finished 5th in the 2021 Open Championship - this return to calmer waters should start to see further improvements in his results.
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