The season opener is the prestigious ABU Dhabi HSBC Championship. Chris DiMarco won the inaugural staging of this event back in 2006, making this a reasonably new addition to the European roster. This will also be the first Rolex Series event of the year, which is evident in a very strong opening field.
2021 European Tour | Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (Rolex Series)
Thursday 21 January – Sunday 24 January
The National Course, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, UAE
Things have changed since the European Tour last graced our small screens. For one thing, there is a new US president. And in equally important political news: Kim Kardashian and presidential candidate Kanye West are no longer an item. Seismic changes, I tell you. But in all seriousness, it feels like forever since last season’s European resumption. This has been exacerbated by the early return of the US PGA Tour.
The National Course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a typically flat and exposed desert track. Designed by Peter Harradine and completed in 1998, the rough can be perilous here (especially if the wind is up). The rough is often overseeded with Rye grass to provide some extra protection. The Paspalum fairways are extremely generous (which should be advantageous to the bigger hitters). However, recent stats seem to suggest that accuracy is deceptively critical around this layout. Clearly, players need to be in prime position to attack these greens. Quick Bermuda greens will test the early-season touch of some of those in attendance. This should be a decent all-round test for the field.
This promises to be an exciting opening field despite all the logistical concerns that still exist. Three of the world’s top 10 players will be in attendance. It will be interesting to see how Rory McIlroy bounces back after an uneventful 2020. He openly confessed to struggling with the lack of fans. McIlroy clearly loves it here, with seven top-three finishes over the years. Will this be the year that he picks up his maiden victory? Justin Thomas makes his tournament debut under a small cloud of controversy. Thomas was caught uttering a homophobic slur on live TV, resulting in Ralph Lauren dropping their endorsements. The PGA Tour also chastised him, which is slightly rich given their ultra-conservative leanings. Tyrell Hatton will also be seeking redemption following his 4th round collapse in 2017.
2020: Lee Westwood (-19)
2019: Shane Lowry (-18)
2018: Tommy Fleetwood (-22)
2017: Tommy Fleetwood (-17)
2016: Rickie Fowler (-16)
Outright Betting (To Win)
Rory McIlroy (6/1)
Justin Thomas (13/2)
Tyrell Hatton (12/1)
Tommy Fleetwood (14/1)
Matthew Fitzpatrick (14/1)
To Win (55/1), To Place (12/1)
It’s hard to ignore Arnaus this week. In terms of recent form, Arnaus has three top 10’s in his last five starts. Furthermore, his best finish of last season came in Dubai. For some geeky extra info, Arnaus won his only Challenge Tour title at a Harradine-designed course. Arnaus once again showed his ability on desert tracks by finishing in the top 10 of the season-ending DP World Tour Championship. He finished in a decent 22nd place a year ago, well before attaining his current consistency.
To Win (66/1), To Place (14/1)
Detry really enjoyed an excellent summer last year, threatening to become the player that he has long been touted as. He picked up a couple of 2nd places in England and finished 4th in Cyprus. His results tailed off as the year progressed. He seemed slightly encumbered by his reputation as one of the future stars of European golf. Now he may feel slightly lighter without that massive expectation on his shoulders. Remember, he only missed one cut in 2020. He should be around for the weekend. With his ball-striking and a hot putter, there’s no reason not to back him in the place markets at 14/1.
The Man to Beat
To Win (33/1), To Place (7/1)
Perez looks a brilliant price at 33/1. A runner-up last year, Perez has continually shown his proficiency at desert golf. On the Challenge Tour he finished 2nd and 7th at Al Hamra. He then made four of five cuts on the Desert Swing during his maiden campaign on the tour proper. Aside from finishing runner-up in this event last year, he also sat 2nd at the Dubai Desert Classic with 18 holes to play. He also led at the halfway mark of the Saudi International. He also seemed to be finding his best form towards the end of last season. He was right in the mix at Wentworth and he finished solo 7th at the DP World Tour Championship (this was once again in the desert).