It was the Spaniard, Pablo Larrazabal, who sparked a social media debate over the weekend when he claimed the Majlis Course at Emirates Golf Club was a pushover for this year’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He called for tighter fairways, thicker rough and firmer greens, said the game these days is “all about hitting it hard and a putting contest” and described the halfway cut falling at five-under-par last week as “crazy”.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Larrazabal, a fiery character, didn’t make that cut and his feelings were expressed in a post on Twitter soon after tossing a club away in frustration as he dumped his approach into the water at the 18th in the second round.
Though not the type to show such temper, Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, another of those to make an early exit, was in agreement. “Look at most courses nowadays it’s the same thing,” he said in reply. “Fifty yards off line is better than five. That should never be right!”
Adding his voice to the debate, Paul Lawrie agreed on that particular point. “Yes, you can get it on the green from anywhere in the rough, which shouldn’t be the case,” he commented. Unlike Larrazbal, though, the experienced European Tour campaigner didn’t offer his opinion as a moan. Pointing out the standard of play in this particular event had been “very high”, he said it was down to individuals to have games that are not one-dimensional. “We have to adapt our game to whatever the set up is any given week and this has always been a course where long through the air makes it much easier,” added Lawrie.
In the build up to the event, former winner Colin Montgomerie had spoken about how he believed the Karl Litten-designed layout had “stood the test of time terrifically well over the years”. Three-time champion Ernie Els, the course-record holder with a 61 set back in 1994, said it “still seems to be a great course and one that everyone enjoys coming to”. He’s right on both counts, but there was no denying that the layout was ripped apart on this occasion.
More than 100 players broke par in the first round when Jamie Donaldson led the way with a 62; that cut was six shots lower than last year and China’s Haotong Li recorded the most birdies – 30, which was three more than Tiger Woods made in 2001 – in the event as he also set a new winning aggregate of 23-under-par. That beat efforts from Thomas Bjorn (2001), Stephen Gallacher (2013) and Rory McIlroy (2015) by a shot.
Based on all of those figures, it’s certainly not a demanding test compared to somewhere like Valderrama or, of course, Carnoustie, two other regular European Tour venues. There were mitigating circumstances, though, for the scoring spree. The afternoon on the final day apart, there was barely a puff of wind all week. The greens were also a bit smaller than normal and, according to Gallacher, that made things easier and not, as you might expect, more difficult.
“Because the greens were smaller, the fringes were bigger and that made a difference,” said the two-time winner and someone who knows this course like the back of his hand. “Whereas pins were tight last year, they were maybe five yards further in this year so not as tight.”
Length is certainly a factor in the modern game. It was scary at times to see the distance McIlroy, for example, was leaving himself for approaches into tougher holes like the eighth and 12th last week. Even Richie Ramsay, who is not in the same league as either Rory or Dustin Johnson in the big-hitting stakes, has managed to find a bit of extra distance with a new driver and is benefitting enormously from that.
However, let’s not allow that to mask the fact that the overall standard of golf last week – also in the preceding Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which produced an early contender for round of the year as Tommy Fleetwood carded an incredible closing 63 in testing conditions to retain that title – was very high indeed.
It was a bit cruel on Connor Syme, having covered his final ten holes in the second round in five-under for a four-under total to end up missing the cut by a shot, as did Lawrie.
But, at the same time, it will merely have hammered home to the young Scot that he is now part of a very tough school indeed, especially in these big events on the European Tour.