The European Tour steps up a notch this week as we start the Desert Swing with the 13th renewal of the Abu Dhabu HSBC Championship – and the tournament has attracted a cracking field that should whet the appetite of any punter who loves betting on golf.
The Abu Dhabi Golf Club is long for the European Tour at 7,583 yards, but it’s a challenge that has provided wins for a variety of players in its short 12-year history. There’s been wins for well-known players like Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey, but also some shock wins for the likes of Robert Rock, Gary Stal and Pablo Larrazabal.
World Number One Dustin Johnson also went close here on his first look at the course last year and, after starting 2018 with a win in Hawaii, it’s no surprise that the bookies have installed him as their top-priced 5/1 favourite this week.
Justin Rose is next in the market at 8/1 and, after finishing second here in 2013 and twelfth in 2015, he turns up in tremendous form having won 3 of his last 6 events.
Rory McIlroy also starts his season at a venue where, though he’s yet to lift the trophy, he’s finished in the top-5 in 7 of his last 8 visits, and his fans will surely be happy to play him each-way at 9/1, though it remains to be seen how his rib injury is on this first sighting of him for a while.
The winner could easily come from the first three in the market, but the next tier of players should make sure they don’t have it all their own way. Tommy Fleetwood defends the title which set him on his way to becoming Europe’s Number 1 player in 2017, and Henrik Stenson has been placed three times here, whilst Tyrell Hatton has two top-10’s here. All 3 warmed-up at last week’s Eurasia Cup, and played well there. Brandon Grace, who has two top-5’s here also went close in South Africa last week, whilst three-time winner Martin Kaymer and two-time winner Paul Casey are also playing, not to mention Kuchar, Cabrero-Bello and Matt Fitzpatrick.
However, in the search for even better value, I’m going even deeper into this high-class field, and the first name on this week’s betting slip is Thomas Pieters. The Belgian has been hit and miss in 4 previous visits here, with two missed-cuts, a second and a fourth. He also warmed-up in the Eurasia Cup last week and, as that should have whet his appetite for team competitions, the hero of Europe’s 2016 Ryder Cup Team can hopefully make the 2018 Ryder Cup Team selectors sit up and take note with a good performance here.
I’m also backing two South Africans who have warmed-up for this event in their native country in George Coetzee and Dean Burmester. Coetzee has three top-10’s here from 2012-2014, and was showing signs at the end of last year that he’s capable of returning to his best. Meanwhile, Burmester is a relative newcomer who has already produced many notable performances, including when seventh in last year’s event. That was his debut, so he could go even better this year with that experience under his belt.