By News Team
Last Updated: 17th January 2020
The European Tour really springs into life this week with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where three of the top-10 in the world are competing at the Abu Dhabi Golf Course. Here is our preview of the event from the Middle East.
Pieters can serve it up to market leaders
Given they rank first, sixth and tenth in the world, it’s unsurprising to see Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay and Tommy Fleetwood all heading the market at 10/1. With Koepka on the comeback trail having not played since withdrawing from the CJ Cup in October and Cantlay lacking course experience, Fleetwood looks the one to beat. He’s won here twice before and was victorious at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, before finishing second to Jon Rahm in the DP World Tour Championship at the end of last year.
If fit and firing having not played since then, Fleetwood must go well, but preference is for Thomas Pieters at 28/1. Undoubtably one of the most talented players around, the Belgian often flatters to deceive with his temper getting the better of him. However, he seems to have that under control now and his performances in the second half of 2019 back that up. He has made 11 cuts from 11 starts, only finishing outside of the top-30 twice, while he has also got himself back in the winner’s circle with his second Czech Masters victory.
He’s always been one of the longest off the tee, a key attribute in Abu Dhabi, but has improved his approach play significantly. He ranked second in strokes-gained tee-to-green on the European Tour last season, so being the most deadly he has ever been when firing at the flags combined with that prodigious length with the driver means he could be a very dangerous proposition around a course where he has excelled at in the past.
In 2018, he made just one bogey through 54 holes before eventually finishing fifth, while two years prior to that he finished runner-up to Rickie Fowler. That kickstarted a Ryder Cup push and he’ll be hoping for similar this year as he seeks a spot on Padraig Harrington’s team. He has played six times here, finishing in the top-five on three occasions and given he’s been practicing in Dubai beforehand, he looks primed for another bold showing.
Consistent Oosthuizen fancied to go well again
Having seen him lead after 54 holes only to fail to get the job done, plenty have been quick to criticise Louis Oosthuizen’s apparent refusal to convert winning opportunities. However, he didn’t do much wrong and had it not been for an inspired Branden Grace, he would have comfortably defended his title. For a player of the South African’s quality, 14 worldwide wins is a modest return and he has often failed to deliver when in prime position, notably last season’s Nedbank Golf Challenge.
However, he’s of course a Major winner and has also finished runner-up in all four Majors too, so this is a player who tends to perform when the cream rises to the top. He arrives in Abu Dhabi with superb form figures of 2-2-20-6-3, and has become one of the most consistent players on tour.
The only thing that is missing from his recent repertoire is a win and that could easily come this week as he boasts very encouraging form in Abu Dhabi. He has three top-five finishes, including a fourth place last year. That came after a seven-year absence and as he’s back again this year. In short, it’s clearly a course he’s very comfortable at.
No-one is playing more consistent golf at the moment and he must go well again at 16/1.
Have a listen to our latest golf podcast where we preview the Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the American Express.