Many of the stars of European golf gather in Abu Dhabi this week for the Abu Dhabi Championship and, unsurprisingly, Rory McIlroy is favourite for his first event of the year.
Second and third in the market are Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, with three-time Abu Dhabi Championship winner Martin Kaymer and tournament first-timer Rickie Fowler vying for fourth favouritism.
Stenson looks the easiest of the market leaders to oppose as, since the course was remodelled before the 2102 renewal, his event figures are MC/23/MC. Kaymer’s last three finishes also suggest he preferred the old layout, whilst I’d also have my doubts about how sharp family man Justin Rose will be so close after Christmas, though he finished 2nd here on his only visit here in 2013. Fowler may take time to get to know the course, something which can’t be said about Rory McIlroy who has finished runner-up here twice in the last three years.
Rory McIlroy 4 points win @ 9/2
McIlroy backers will no doubt remember the two-shot penalty he got last year that cost him victory, and it may well be that McIlroy has decided he’s got a score to settle. 9/2 isn’t anything to write home about – but he’s definitely worth a small wager to start this week’s portfolio.
Danny Willett 1 point each-way @ 30/1
Nedbank Champion Willett is in the world’s top-50 for the first-time in his career and will be keen to remain there knowing how many doors being in that top-echelon opens. His professional career has been blighted by injury but, granted an injury-free season, he really should get in the winner’s enclosure again at some point this year. 23rd and 19th here in the last two years shows he’s not far away from challenging on a course that should suit his tee-to-green prowess down to the ground.
Brandon Grace 1 point each-way @ 45/1
Burst onto the professional scene by winning four European Tour events and a Sunshine Tour event in 2012, before losing his way in 2013. Played some stunning golf in winning the Alfred Dunhill Championship four weeks ago – and I’m amazed we can get 45/1 about a player expected to have another massive season. He was also 5th here in 2013.
George Coetzee 0.5 points each-way @ 66/1
The rotund South African powerhouse hasn’t been playing particularly well of late – but might kick-start his season here on a layout where he has played well on all three of his visits, finishing 6th, 9th and 4th.
Tyrell Hatton 0.5 points each-way @ 100/1 and 2 points top-10 finish @ 7/1
Last season’s second-best European Tour rookie is already up to 130 in the world rankings, and is expected to rank much higher by the end of this season. Hit the top-5 in three events last season, and two further top-10s including on his debut in last year’s renewal of this event.