After two-weeks of entertaining golf in South Africa, The Abu HSBC Championship kicks-off the Desert Swing leg of the European Tour. The host is the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, a monster 7,600-yards par-72 that is flat by modern standards, and features heavily bunkered fairways Bermuda Greens which averagely run above 12 on the Stimpmeter.
Sadly, a rib injury has curtailed Rory McIlroy’s challenge, but there is still a trio of headline acts – comprising US Open Champion Dustin Johnson, Defending Champion Rickie Fowler, and World Number 4 Henrik Stenson.
However, the last 5 winners have been hard to predict, with Robert Rock (2013), Jamie Donaldson (2014), Pablo Larrazabal (2014) and Gary Stal (2015) having shown no decent previous form here before claiming victory. Even last year’s winner Rickie Fowler had only finished 66th on his previous visit.
Therefore, Dustin Johnson’s lack of course experience may not be significant but, as this is another new venture for a player who seems to enjoy his world travels, I’m in no hurry to take 13/2 about him. Stenson makes little appeal at 7/1 either, though he has at least posted three top-3 finishes here over the years, including last year. Meanwhile, Fowler has the added pressure of defending a title.
Next best is Alexander Noren at 22/1, and the Swede will be looking to build on last year’s fabulous season. However, whilst he played well last year at venues where he had little previous form, his form here doesn’t compel me to give him a chance this week.
Two young players who also had excellent 2015/16 seasons were Thomas Pieters (25/1) and Tyrell Hatton (28/1), and both have shown a liking for this track. Pieters has finished 4th and 2nd here the last two years, whilst Hatton has a 10th and a 6th to his name – and both look worth including in this week’s staking plan.
Brandon Grace also looks vastly overpriced at 33/1 – and the South African has been putting in the work in the last two-weeks to get his game sharp for a return to a course where he has finished 5th twice in the last 4 years.
Thorbjorn Olesen also looks massively over-priced at 66/1, considering his strike-rate is 3 wins in his last 56 tournaments. The Dane has also finished 2nd here in the past, and should be full of confidence after victories in Turkey and in the Golf World Cup.
The last pick this week goes to Jeunghun Wang at 125/1. The 2015 Challenge Tour Graduate was an instant hit on the European Tour with victories in Mauritius and Morocco and, whilst those two tournaments were relatively low-key events, his 2nd at the Nedbank suggests he could take an instant liking to this course. His 17th at the DP World Tour Finals is also worthy of a mention as, after a poor start to the tournament, he shot the best weekend total.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Tips
Thomas Pieters 1 Point Each-Way @ 25/1 (Bet365, Betfred) ¼ odds 5 places
Tyrell Hatton 1 Point Each-Way @ 28/1 (Bet365, Betfred) ¼ odds 5 places
Brandon Grace 1 Point Each-Way @ 33/1 (Betfred, Ladbrokes) ¼ odds 5 places
Thorbjorn Olesen 1 Point Each-Way @ 66/1 (Betfred, Ladbrokes) ¼ odds 5 places
Jeunghun Wang 1 Point Each-Way @ 125/1 (Boylesports) ¼ odds 5 places