The European Tour of 2016 kicks off with a vengeance in the beautifully sunny climes of the Middle East for this: the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Two of the sport’s holy trinity – Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth (making his European Tour debut) – will battle it out for honours in this $2.7 million funded tournament, as will eight major winners, 87 previous Tour winners and five former world number ones.
As you might imagine then, finding value is pretty tricky in such a high quality field.
In truth you’d imagine that McIlroy, a four-time runner up in this event, and Spieth – fresh from his win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, will be duking it out for the winner’s medal come Sunday.
The Ulsterman in particular makes a compelling case. He has won four times in this neck of the woods – Dubai is his second home it seems – and given that six of his last eight appearances in this event read 5-3-2-2-2-2, you would imagine that he will win here sooner rather than later. Interestingly two of those runner-up finishes were compounded by penalties for golfing errors that ultimately cost him the $400,000 winner’s cheque.
But at 4/1 he looks too short for a tournament that – all goodwill aside – he is yet to win in nine attempts, and Spieth at 9/2 is a curiosity on his first European Tour start. Instead, many punters will look to the pedigree of Martin Kaymer in this tournament, who has won here in 2008, 2010 and 2011, as well as finishing third last time out. The German finished tenth in Dubai in November – he really does love it in this part of the world – but an absence of meaningful recent form elsewhere pencils a question mark next to his name. At 20/1, some will be willing to take the risk.
Given the nature of the field, we’ve instead opted for two Englishmen who appear to offer fantastic each way value. As ever, small stakes for a top five finish are the order of the day here.
Matthew Fitzpatrick (33/1)
It’s forgivable to forget anything in the protégé of European golf’s career prior to the Irish Open of May 2015. It was here that the then 20-year-old secured his first meaningful top ten finish in a stacked field to secure the biggest pay cheque of his career to date at that point, and the Sheffield swinger obviously got a taste for success.
He recorded seven top-5 finishes and eleven top-20 finishes in all from that point on, and ended the 2015 campaign with a resume that read 1-3-26-7-13-4. That victory at the British Masters is likely to be a watershed moment in this young man’s career, and he looks set to enter the winner’s circle many more times in 2016.
Fitzpatrick will enjoy rising to the challenge of keeping up with the likes of McIlroy and Spieth, and he finished in the top five on his last visit to Dubai in November. Alongside an each way punt at 33/1, a bet on him to be Top Englishman at 7/2 looks smart.
Tyrrell Hatton (125/1)
He may have opened his account for 2016 with a competent performance in Johannesburg – making the cut before finishing 61st, but it’s recent form and course history that catches the eye with Hatton.
He finished tenth in this tournament in 2014 and sixth in 2015; a nice trend of upward progression. And he seems to love playing his golf in this part of the world, finishing sixth in the DP World Tour Championship in the November of 2014 and thirteenth in the same tournament towards the tail-end of 2015.
All in all, since July 2015 Hatton has recorded six top 25 finishes: which showcases a player moving in the right direction.
Each way terms here are top five, so he will need to continue that upward spike of progress to be in the money, but at the price and given his proclivity for form in this part of the world he is worth a small stakes punt; last year’s winner here, Gary Stal, was priced at 300/1 pre-tournament after all. For those favouring a little more security, we can back Hatton in the Top Ten finish bracket at 10/1.