The first Rolex Series event of the new decade is upon us this week when some of the leading lights in the game of golf head out to the Middle East for the Abu Dhabi Championship, the tournament which kicks off the 2020 desert swing.
Shane Lowry was the beneficiary of the riches that come from winning an event like this last year and he is back looking to defend the title, but with a massive prize pool on offer some tasty giants of the game are opposing him.
2019 – Shane Lowry
2018 – Tommy Fleetwood
2017 – Tommy Fleetwood
2016 – Rickie Fowler
2015 – Gary Stal
2014 – Pablo Larrazabal
2013 – Jamie Donaldson
2012 – Robert Rock
2011 – Martin Kaymer
2010 – Martin Kaymer
We are back at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club against this week. In numerical terms the course is a bit of a beast playing 7,583 yards to a par of 72 but with the dry air and the humidity and the firm and fast conditions it doesn’t tend to play to anything like that sort of length. You would think with those kind of numbers that driving distance is key here but actually when the rough often snaggly if anything it is accuracy over distance.
The one thing that is necessary around this place is hitting greens in regulation. If you look at the roll of honour above they are all players who hit a lot of greens. The other trend among most of them is that they are all good players in the wind and that is a factor that needs to be taken into account this week. In the main they are all solid putters so I’m looking for those who are firing their irons well and getting the job done on the dancefloors.
A number of leading Americans and Europeans are teeing it up this week including the defending champion Shane Lowry, who will be looking to hold on to the title. PGA Tour stars such Patrick Cantlay, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau all have a tee time as does the winners from last week – Branden Grace and Wade Ormsby.
Former champions Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer, Jamie Donaldson and Robert Rock all have a tee time this week as do the likes of Thomas Pieters, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Fitzpatrick and major champions such as Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett and Charl Schwartzel. Wherever you look down the list of tee times this week there is star quality throughout so we’re all set for a decent week.
Twice winner Tommy Fleetwood and PGA star Patrick Cantlay are the 10/1 favourites this week. It has been a while since we’ve had a double figure priced favourite so that in itself is a sign of the quality on show and competitive nature of the event. If Fleetwood is anything like close to his A game we know he can tear this place up. He was nowhere near it in the back end of 2019 though which would be a concern. Cantlay doesn’t really interest me at the price, even allowing for the fact he’s a class act.
Brooks Koepka is next in the betting at 11/1. This is his first week back from injury which immediately makes him a no go for me. He missed some big events down the stretch last season so his injury was no normal thing. I suspect he’s teeing it up here for a decent outing and some good cash with an eye on one of the big early term events on the PGA Tour that are on the horizon. Usually 11/1 would be a huge price on the major star but not this week.
Louis Oosthuizen oozes class every time he tees it up and he is 16/1 to win this week. He is generally pretty well covered by the bookmakers and when they notice he is in good form his odds tend to be pretty restrictive and that is probably the case here. He is more than capable of winning this week but often when he is fancied he can flatter to deceive so I’m reluctant to get too involved on him these days.
Defending champion Shane Lowry and European Tour star Matt Fitzpatrick come next in the list at 20/1. Lowry went ok in Hong Kong last week and that might have got any rust out of his system but in truth he hasn’t really contended since he won The Open. I’m big on Fitzpatrick normally but that costly failure to convert at the Italian Open hasn’t left my system yet so I’ll pass him over on the back of that.
Thomas Pieters is my first main bet. He ticks every box I’m after here. He was second in strokes gained on approach on the European Tour last season and is already sat in that position this season as well and we know he is a decent putter having seen it dating back to his Ryder Cup debut. Pieters has a wonderful record around here without winning. He has three top five finishes in the last five years and looked to be hitting some tasty form towards the second half of 2019. He’ll know it is Ryder Cup year and a win here would catapult him right into contention for Hazeltine. He was T13 after a slow start in Mauritius on his only start this term but I’m expecting much better than that from him here.
Joost Luiten is another machine when it comes to the long game and that has served him well here in the past as he has no fewer than four top six finishes around this track. Near enough all he is yet to do is actually win here but if he can get his putter warm early on then there is no reason why he can’t tick that box this week. Luiten was third here last year and generally finished last season well. He looks to be over his injury problems not so I’m expecting a decent run from him in 2020. That can begin here.
Three catch my eye among the outsiders this week with the first of them being on a man regular readers will know I’m an enormous fan of in the form of Victor Perez. Perez actually fits this course brilliantly as he is an excellent ball striker and we saw when he won the Dunhill Links that he is both competent in the wind and is a wonderful putter. Those two things are big traits around here. I backed him nearly every week towards the end of 2019 and I’ll start 2020 where I left off, firmly believing we’ll see good things from the Frenchman this year.
Pablo Larrazabal is a former winner around here and he is a streaky player so his win in the season opener in South Africa has made me stand up and take notice of him this week. Larrazabal can be wayward off the tee but there isn’t as much of an emphasis on that here as you would imagine. He comes alive with the irons and the shorter clubs in his hands, as most Spaniards do. As well as his win here he was second in 2017 and sixth last year so there is something about this place the likeable Spaniard likes. He’s my second outsider pick.
Nino Bertasio started off 2020 with a decent enough showing in South Africa last week and if he comes on for the run he should go pretty well here. He was high up in the strokes gained standings last week and although length isn’t a huge requirement around here, he has enough of it to be hitting shorter irons into these greens. We’ve seen in events in the past that he is a decent putter when he’s on form and that looked to be the case in the main last year. He might well be one way down the betting market who could outrun his price.
Back T.Pieters to win Abu Dhabi Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Coral (1/5 1-7)
Back J.Luiten to win Abu Dhabi Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-6)
Back him here:
Back V.Perez to win Abu Dhabi Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with 888sport (1/5 1-6)
Back N.Bertasio to win Abu Dhabi Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 351.00 with 888sport (1/5 1-6)
Back P.Larrazabal to win Abu Dhabi Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Betway (1/5 1-7)