Our golf scribe takes a look at the betting for the 2017 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship which gets underway this Thursday.
This week’s much-awaited trip to Abu Dhabi has been somewhat diminished by the withdrawal of European juggernaut Rory McIllroy. Perhaps the victim of his own goodwill towards Ernie Els, McIlroy injured a rib at the South African Open and will now miss out on the far more prestigious tournament at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Although never tasting victory here before, the Northern Irishman had finished either second or third in six of the last seven events here.
At 7,583 yards long, this course is one for those with prodigious distance off the tee. It’s the fifth-longest course in European Tour history. You can expect the likes of Thomas Pieters and Dustin Johnson to be salivating at the prospect of teeing up this week. Pieters was runner-up last year while curiously this is the big Texan’s first trip to the Abu Dhabi HSBC. It would have actually been fascinating to see the red-hot Justin Thomas peppering this course with his bazooka driving ability.
The course at Abu Dhabi is in a constant state of evolution, with the tournament directors meeting every year to make the course more difficult for the continuously improving field of players. This year, players will be greeted by some new, fiendishly placed bunkers, while the final par five will be played from a newly elevated tee box.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship | Thursday 19 January - Sunday 22 January | Abu Dhabi Golf Club
2016: Ricky Fowler (-16) | 2015: Gary Stal (-19) | 2014 Pablo Lazzazabal (-14) | 2013 Jamie Donaldson (-14) | 2012 Robert Rock (-13)
To Win Outright
Dustin Johnson 11/2 | Henrik Stenson 13/2 | Ricky Fowler 11/1 | Alex Noren | 22/1 | Thomas Pieters 22/1
Ricky Fowler To Win 11/1 & To Place 5/2
Fowler, formerly a motocross star prior to switching to the slightly less high-octane world of golf- produced perhaps the most iconic moment in the tournament’s history last season. After squandering a three-shot lead mid-round, Fowler holed a fantastic bunker shot on 17 before holding his nerve on the last and finishing ahead of Pieters and McIllroy. He has had a month off from golf but finished in a tie for thirrd at the Hero Golf Challenge before finishing in a tie for 6th at the WGC HSBC Championship. Those were his last two starts and I fully back the American to roar back to title contention this week.
Danny Willett To Win 40/1 & To Place 15/2
Danny Willett endured a season of contrasting emotions last year. Having capitalized on a meltdown of Shakespearean proportions from Jordan Spieth, Willett won his maiden Major at the Masters. The rest of the season saw him gradually squander a seemingly insurmountable Race to Dubai lead, and by his own admission, the Ryder Cup was disastrous for him. But at these odds, you have to remember that the Englishman hadn’t even attained a single top 10 before winning the Dubai Desert Classic last year. He should be recharged and his ball-striking looked far better in Hong Kong. Furthermore, although he has yet to register a top 10 here, he did shoot a remarkable 63 in the second round in 2014, that catapulted him to third at the halfway point.
Tom Lewis To Win 200/1 & To Place 33/1
This one is my official long shot for the week. Hertfordshire’s Tom Lewis has been quite quiet in recent years, but he played some outstanding golf at the PGA Catalunya to keep his tour card for the 2017 season. He played solid golf last week in the BMW South African open, finishing in a tie for 18th, playing the final round in 6 under par. Although just a tournament invite this week, he may be a decent outside bet to place. He is also currently averaging over 310 yards per drive on Tour this season- albeit at an early stage.
The Man to Beat
Dustin Johnson 13/2 & To Place 7/5
I hate being boring, but the big-hitting Texan must stand a massive chance of humbling this course. He hasn’t played a gigantic amount of golf of late, but DJ managed to finish in a tie for third at the Hero Golf Challenge and a tie for 6th at the Tournament of Champions. He already sits third in driving distance after only three tournaments this year, and I expect the Texan to slowly crank up those numbers this week. This may be his first time playing this course, but I expect Johnson to really do something special this week, although perhaps not quite so special as Justin Thomas at the Sony Open.