16th - 19th January
The European Tour steps it up a notch this week as we start the Desert Swing with the Abu Dhabi Championship. The tournament is now part of the Rolex Series and, with $7 Million and Ryder Cup and Race to Dubai points up for grabs, it has attracted an interesting line-up that includes dual champion Tommy Fleetwood as well as top Americans Brooks Koepka and Patrick Cantlay.
The Abu Dhabi Golf Club is hosting the Abu Dhabi Championship for the 15th consecutive time this week and it’s seen a variety of winners. Martin Kaymer has won it three times, and it should have been four. Tommy Fleetwood is the only other player to have won the tournament more than once, and his wins came after some terrible early form here.
America have claimed the title courtesy of Chris DiMarco, but Tiger Woods was humbled by a solid performance by Robert Rock. Pablo Larrazabal also toppled a couple of giants in Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson when winning the 2014 edition. Frenchman Gary Stal was another big-priced winner, whilst Shane Lowry took this on his way to Open Championship success last year.
Abu Dhabi Golf Club was only built in 1998 and this par 72 measures just short of 7,600 yards. Nine water hazards waiting to catch the balls of those that haven’t been practicing hard enough, whilst greens measuring around 12.5 on the stimpmeter will test the mettle of anyone not feeling 100% confident with the flatstick.
The ability to hit the ball long can help but tight fairways and thick rough mean accuracy is just as important. Being on the short grass is a major help when it comes to attacking the flags. Excellent putting surfaces also mean good putters tend to get their rewards.
Plenty of winners had arrived here having recorded a decent performance on their few starts and the fact the tournament is now a Rolex Series event means the cream is more likely to rise to the top, if past Rolex Series Events are anything to go by.
It’s impossible to rule out players of the quality of Patrick Cantlay and Brooks Koepka but, as they’re ranked one and six in the world, both will be confident of making the 2020 USA Ryder Cup Team. Cantlay is also making his tournament debut, whilst Koepka may be rusty after injury and only finished ninth here on his last visit.
It’s harder to rule out Tommy Fleetwood, and he should be keen to equal Kaymer’s three wins in the event after finishing 42nd in his hat-trick bid last year. There’s a danger he won’t be fully wound up after his Christmas break, but the gut-feeling is Fleetwood will be on full throttle in Ryder Cup year and another Roles Series win could be on the cards. That’s why Fleetwood is the first of our Abu Dhabi Championship free tips.
Louis Oosthuizen can’t be dismissed easily as he’s posted three top-5 finishes here in his last four visits. But he’ll have been disappointed not to have won last week’s South African Open. It was Brandon Grace that pipped Oosthuizen to that title and he won consecutive events earlier in his career. He’s also posted two top-5s here in the past and he knows another win would help in his quest to get back in the world’s top-50 and book his spot in the 2020 US Masters. That’s why Branden Grace is the second of this week’s free tips for the 2020 Abu Dhabi Championship.
Shane Lowry hadn’t played this event for five years until winning last year, so that win came as something of a surprise. But he’s since won the Open Championship and warmed up nicely for a defense with a second in Hong Kong. But defending a title isn’t easy and he’s sure to get plenty of press requests this week.
Matt Fitzpatrick was on the early shortlist, but I was expecting at least 33/1 and 20/1 looks a bit short. The same comment applies to Thomas Pieters, but he’s expected to be much better this year than in the last couple of seasons. Bryson De Chambeau could be overpriced at 22/1 but he just failed to make this week’s betting strategy.
The third of our Abu Dhabi Championship 2020 free tips goes to Bernd Wiesberger. The big Austrian won three times last season including a Rolex Series Event and he’s twice finished in the top-6 here. His improved putting last year could also see him challenge this week in his quest to make the Ryder Cup team, and he will probably go under the press radar with plenty of bigger names in the field.