Dave Tindall

Across the Pond

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Abu Dhabi Championship Preview

Monday, January 15, 2018


After the early events in Hong Kong, Australia, Mauritius and South Africa, the European Tour takes it up a notch with this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

 

The $3,000,000 purse is by far the biggest of the campaign and an elite cast includes last season’s Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, whose victory here 12 months ago was one of the key stepping stones on his way to becoming European No. 1.

 

Jetting in to join the battle for victory we also have World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, while Rory McIlroy will also be looking to make a statement of intent after his winless 2017.

 

This has traditionally been the first leg of a three-tournament Desert Swing but after next week’s Dubai Desert Classic, the Tour heads to Maybank and Australia.

 

It returns to the Middle East with a new tournament, the NBO Oman Open, before heading to Doha for the Commercial Bank Qatar Maters.

 

 

Champions, Winning Scores and Stats

 

2017 -17 Tommy Fleetwood (DD: 15, DA: 9, GIR: 1, Scr: 27, PA: 45; AA: 4)

2016 -16 Rickie Fowler (DD: 27, DA: 4, GIR: 10, Scr: 10, PA: 16; AA: 1)

2015 -19 Gary Stal (DD: 54, DA: 12, GIR: 13, Scr: 28, PA: 3; AA: 6)

2014 -14 Pablo Larrazabal (DD: 21, DA: 59, GIR: 30, Scr: 4, PA: 8; AA: 7)

2013 -14 Jamie Donaldson (DD: 7, DA: 17, GIR: 6, Scr: 6, PA: 23; AA: 1)

2012 -13 Robert Rock (DD: 11, DA: 37, GIR: 8, Scr: 24, PA: 4; AA: 1)

2011 -24 Martin Kaymer (DD: 7, DA: 7, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 3; AA: 1)

2010 -21 Martin Kaymer (DD: 18, DA: 33, GIR: 18, Scr: 6, PA: 3; AA: 3)

2009 -21 Paul Casey (DD: 4, DA: 42, GIR: 7, Scr: 19, PA: 12; AA: 3)

2008 -15 Martin Kaymer (DD: 13, DA: 12, GIR: 2, Scr: 27, PA: 7; AA: 1)

2007 -17 Paul Casey (DD: 3, DA: 36, GIR: 2, Scr: 5, PA: 16; AA: 2)

2006 -20 Chris DiMarco (NA)

 

Notes: Up until last year, seven of the Abu Dhabi champions had finished in the top 10 for GIR and Fleetwood highlighted the importance of pelting the putting surfaces by ranking 1st in that category, hitting over 90% of them. It was the key to his victory. A strong all-round game is needed too.

 

 

The Course

 

After Martin Kaymer rather took the Peter Harradine-design apart in the early part of the decade, it’s become a little tougher although plenty of par breakers are still needed. The fairways and rough at the 7,583-yard par 72 are Seashore Paspalum and Bermuda 419 while the immaculate greens are Tifdwarf Bermuda. The test closes with a 562-yard par 5 where the green is overlooked by the iconic Falcon Clubhouse. Water is in play on holes 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 17 and 18 so bogeys and worse await anything loose.

 

 

The Weather

 

Guess what, it’s going to be sunny. There will be gusts though and the wind could definitely be a factor in Sunday’s closer. Temperatures are in the high 70s all four days.

 

 

The Leading Candidates

 

Dustin Johnson

DJ is the bookmakers’ favorite to take the title and, if successful, he’d become the second American winner in three years following Rickie Fowler’s triumph in 2016. He got his first look at Abu Dhabi GC last year and made eagle at the last to finish tied second. He’ll return this year on the back of a dominant eight-shot win in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and carrying the vibe of pre-Masters fall DJ, who won three times in a row leading up to Augusta. Not available for the official European Tour fantasy game.

 

Rory McIlroy

What have you got for us Rory? It’s one of the big storylines this week as we get to see the Northern Irishman for the first time since he closed down a winless 2017 in October. Getting a ‘W’ on the board early will be massive although this event has taunted him. He’s a four-time runner-up (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015) and also took third in 2009 and 2016. McIlroy clearly loves the course though and those big finishes show he’s capable of hitting the ground running when the year turns.

 

Justin Rose

Rose finished 2017 as the hottest golfer on the planet after scoring back-to-back wins in the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open to almost pinch the Race to Dubai from Tommy Fleetwood. He then scored another victory at the Indonesian Masters with bookend 62s. This is only his third start in Abu Dhabi but he was runner-up on debut in 2013 and closed with 65 for T12 in 2015. A strong player in the desert, he has huge appeal this week.

 

Henrik Stenson

Stenson’s course form shows a pair of second places in 2006 (inaugural edition) and 2008, some poor results from 2009 to 2015, before a third and T8 the last two years. Rust explains some of his difficulties so it’s comforting for gamers that he sharpened up by playing last week’s EurAsia Cup, winning his final two matches. Stenson lived in this part of the world for 10 years and has a bunch of hot desert form so he’s a likely contender.

 

Paul Casey

One of six players ranked inside the world’s top 15 taking part this week (he’s 14th), Casey also warmed up for this by playing in the EurAsia Cup (two wins out of three but lost singles). The Englishman desperately wants a spot on the Ryder Cup team again after re-joining the European Tour and this looks an ideal place to bag some significant points given that he’s a two-time winner. Those victories came back in 2007 and 2009 and he hasn’t played since T65 in 2014 but he’s been displaying high-class consistency for months and another top five beckons.

 

Tommy Fleetwood

Fleetwood had finished fast in 2016 but a course record of MC-MC-19-MC-MC suggested it was far from certain that he’d continue his hot play at Abu Dhabi GC. He made a mockery of those previous figures by shooting 67-67-70-67 to shoot 17-under and claim the biggest win of his career and 10 months later would be crowned European No. 1. He finished 2017 with a top six in Hong Kong and prepped for his defense here by winning three points out of three in last week’s EurAsia Cup.

 

Branden Grace

Grace flies in after finishing runner-up in his home BMW South African Open while it’s just a couple of months ago that we saw him lifting the Nedbank Golf Challenge trophy. In short, he’s one of the field’s hot players. Course form? He has that too via a pair of top fives in 2013 and 2016 and four top 20s in his last five visits.

 

Tyrrell Hatton

“It’s been an amazing experience for me, seeing as it’s my first time in a team event as a pro,” said an excited Hatton after scoring three points out of three and helping Europe win the EurAsia Cup last week. With three top 15s in four starts here, including T6 in 2015, a bunch of superb results in the United Arab Emirates, the confidence of two wins in October and the good vibes he’ll carry from last week, don’t be surprised to see him at the very top of the leaderboard.

 

Martin Kaymer

Three wins (2008, 2010, 2011) and another trio of top sixes in the last five years including fourth in 2017, this is the event which has given Kaymer more success than any other. However, the former World No. 1 returns ranked 75th. Not the same player anymore? That’s a dangerous call. Kaymer finished 2017 with a top five in the Nedbank Golf Challenge and T17 in the DP World Tour Championship and the incentive of trying to get back in the world’s top 50 will fire him up further on a course he loves.

 

Matt Kuchar

It’s not only Dustin Johnson trying to emulate Rickie Fowler in 2016 and Chris DiMarco in 2006 as U.S. winners of this event. Kuchar is a champion in the desert having landed the 2013 WGC-Match Play in Arizona while he’s also a runner-up in Vegas and the CareerBuilder Challenge so has plenty of correlating form. Very capable of sneaking up on the rails although, like DJ, he’s not available for the official European Tour game.

 

Rafa Cabrera Bello

RCB has a reputation for coming up big in the desert although his best results have arrived in next week’s Dubai Desert Classic. At Abu Dhabi GC, he’s been fairly impressive with a best of fourth in 2014, another top 10 in 2011 and T19 and T14 the last two years. The Spaniard continues to climb up the world rankings (currently 21st) and he finished 2017 with a second place at the Hong Kong Open and, three starts earlier, a top five at the WGC-HSBC Champions. He also won his Sunday singles at last week’s EurAsia Cup (4&3 over Gavin Green).


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Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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