This is Dubai, and bling is back. If you want to get the attention of a millionaire golfer you have to go big. The Dubai Desert Classic has gone bigger than any tournament on earth with a record jackpot for a hole-in-one at the 17th, a cool $2.5 million (£1.5m). Even Rory McIlroy is interested.
For the organisers, who arrived at the sum as a neat way of marking the tournament’s 25th anniversary, it is a win-win. They love the attention the prize attracts and they are rich enough not to care if anyone collects.
Indeed, the publicity is probably worth double to a city state on the move. Everywhere you turn in Dubai, concrete is being poured once more. Will it end in the same over-inflated, property-stoked heap as before? Probably, but no one is thinking that way now.
McIlroy is busy driving his own recovery, second last time out in Abu Dhabi and a winner at his previous tournament in Sydney. He will not be holding back at the 359-yard par-four 17th even if the wind is against. Once they move the tees up on Saturday and Sunday, he won’t even need his driver to traverse the 325 yards to the pin.
“I’ll go for it,” McIlroy said. “If you are confident enough with your driver, why not? If they move the tee up it’s only going to play 295 or 300. That’s a three-wood. No matter what way the wind is, it shouldn’t be a problem to get there. There are not many chances you have to win $2.5m in one shot, so I’ll give it a go.”
Defending champion Stephen Gallacher is not in the same class of hitter as MclIroy, but bought into the theme readily enough, encouraged by the man carrying the bag. “There’s no way I’ll be laying up for that hole. I think my caddie [Damien Moore] will leave me the driver and run because he is on 10 per cent,” he said.
The hole design features a huge dog leg to the right. The route to the loot is over the trees, cutting out the elbow. The danger lies in getting the incorrect line, or the wrong elevation, as Lee Westwood did a couple of years ago when his ball was claimed by a palm tree. He thought about sending caddie Billy Foster up to identify his ball but there were no ladders long enough.
Despite the risk, Gallacher won’t die wondering. “I think it’s a great thing. It’s quite a blind shot. I bet he [Moore] is out there now getting the line for me. I’ve never seen him work so hard. You’ve got to hit a good shot even to get close. If the wind is favourable you’ll definitely get on it.”
Gallacher goes out in the Hollywood three-ball alongside McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who dismissed concerns about his form after posting a 79 in California to miss last Saturday’s second cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“My game was nowhere near as sharp as I would have liked last week. I was just a fraction off, and a fraction off on a golf course [Torrey Pines South] set up that hard bit a lot of us. I think the average score was just over 73 on Saturday. I shot 79,” said Woods.
“I needed to make a few, slight adjustments. I went home Sunday and hit a few shots. I came out here and just wanted to improve.
“It was all right yesterday. I hit it a lot better today. I made a few changes last night and felt pretty good about what I was doing today.”
Woods has won this event twice. McIlroy fancies his chances of becoming only the third player to do so after Woods and three-time champion Ernie Els. It was here in 2009 that McIlroy posted his first professional victory. A year ago he elected to go skiing in Courcheval rather than compete, believing all was well in his world.
He then saw his form go downhill quicker than his skis, a mistake, he said, that he will not be making again. “Last year I felt working on the range, especially with the new clubs was going to be better than playing. It was probably the other way around. I needed to test the stuff out in competition. I sort of learnt that pretty quickly into the season.”
Meanwhile Phil Mickelson’s title defence at this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open remains in doubt following his withdrawal in California because of a back injury. Mickelson made the halfway cut at Torrey Pines but was then forced to pull out of the event before the start of the third round.
If he is unable to play, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood will be among those hoping to take advantage of the five-time major winner’s absence at TPC Scottsdale.