Usually, the European Tour plays second fiddle to the PGA Tour for a number of reasons amongst the golfing community, but this week the Europeans – albeit in the Middle East – have gotten their game together at the start of what has become known as the Desert Swing.
The huge sums of prize money and appearance fees handed out are just a couple of reasons why an outstanding field has gathered in Abu Dhabi; we’re sure the weather is another! But the likes of Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and defending champion Rickie Fowler will enjoy themselves, even if the absence of Rory McIlroy – laid low with a rib injury – has dealt something fo a blow to the event’s credentials.
This is the first stellar event of 2017 to date, so offers those involved an opportunity to stamp their authority on the campaign. Who will claim the trophy in the UAE?
What to Expect
This is desert golf, and on exposed tracks like this heavy gusts of wind can be a factor. But by and large, conditions will play excellently for what is a long test of credentials.
Measuring some 7,600 yards, this is a lengthy track peppered with bunkers and thick rough, while the Paspalum fairways offer a unique test that will be more familiar to players from the sub-continent and South Africa.
It is a tournament where we expect the cream to rise to the top – they certainly did in 2016 anyway, where Rickie Fowler led home Thomas Pieters, Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Jordan Spieth, amongst others. As such, we’ll only be tipping quality performers who are proven winners (and at a price that appears fair value).
Our Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Selections
Thomas Pieters (22/1)
One of the most improved layers in world golf in 2016 was Thomas Pieters, and the Belgian mixed it with the very best on the planet with an outstanding series of showings in the Ryder Cup.
He had been in tremendous form prior to the Christmas break – recording a total score of -31 in his last eight rounds, and on a course he clearly enjoys Pieters has a very live chance this week.
Other top fives in Thailand and Brazil last year suggest he enjoys golf away from the continent too, and 2017 will surely be the year when Pieters breaks into the upper echelons of the sport.
Thorbjorn Olesen (60/1)
The Dane is a frustrating back with form that is, well, ‘up and down’, but as a four-time European Tour event winner who has performed well in the desert in the past we simply have to get Olesen on board this week.
He romped home in the Turkish Open back in November before sharing a fantastic victory with Soren Kjeldsen in the World Cup, and while his form on this track is mixed he was a runner-up here back in 2013.
Olesen posted top-10s in Dubai and Qatar last year as well as a top-20 return in the DP World Tour Championship on these sandy shores in November, so everything appears in place for a title tilt.
Scott Hend (150/1)
Finally a small wager on the ever-unpredictable Scott Hend, one of the longest drivers in world golf and a confirmed winner on both the European and Asian Tours.
With five top-10 finishes in 13 starts the Aussie is bang in form, and he has now won at least once a season since 2011, so we won’t be questioning his fortitude in the heat of battle.
Unlike many in the field he has some recent competitive golf under his belt having finished in the top-10 of the Australian Open in December, and a decent eighth at the Dubai Desert Classic almost a year ago to the day sets the scene rather nicely.