The European Tour emerges from winter hibernation this Thursday, and Dustin Johnson is clear favourite in the opening Abu Dhabi Championships betting.
It's played at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, whose clubhourse is shaped like an enormous falcon, looming over the 9th and 18th greens, ready to pounce on anything weak and vulnerable.
In the most famed renewal of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, in 2012, it was believed that Tiger Woods was assuming the bird of prey role against Robert Rock, the tiny mammal, but it was the Englishman who prevailed.
In the last two years, Tommy Fleetwood, another golfer noted for his hair, has claimed back-to-back wins, and now he's no bigger than 11/1 with 888 Sport for a third. Can he make it three-in-a-row?
Among those hoping not are Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson, American raiders and the world’s number two and three ranked golfers.
The Peter Harradine track hosts the Abu Dhabi Championships for a 14th time and it has proved to be something of a ball-strikers paradise, nicely evidenced by the three multiple winners – Paul Casey, Martin Kaymer and Fleetwood.
The latter emphasised the point by ranking first for Greens in Regulation in both wins. One thing to note is that players often talk of the heavy rough and lightning quick greens, but last year they discovered softer greens and areas of lighter rough. That explained a sudden burst in the scoring.
Indeed Ross Fisher, who finished second, had a 20-under total that would have won five of the previous six renewals. We’re currently unsure if that was a one-off.
“My golf feels good right now,” said Henrik Stenson on Monday. “I’m happy with my progress.
It’s a great course this week, great weather, great facilities, good food, good hotel, my team is here. Just a great way to kick off the season.”
There were times in the months after his 2016 Open win when the Swede sounded rather more jaded than that and it’s worth noting that he’s regained the lighter touch ahead of a favourite event.
In all he has six top eight finishes in Abu Dhabi (three in the last three years). He can also go low. In fact he owns the course record (62) and has carded a 64 or 65 in each of those last three starts.
Dustin Johnson looks to have a great chance, but is a very short price at 6/1 with Unibet, Brooks Koepka (11/1 Betfair) looked rusty in Hawaii, Tommy Fleetwood will be distracted by the hat-trick and Louis Oosthuizen (20/1 Coral) doesn’t win that often outside South Africa.
Stenson played nicely in Dubai at the end of the year for T12th and was then T4th in Indonesia. Paddy Power go 18/1 about him in their Abi Dhabi Championships betting, with seven places on offer, if you back him each-way.
2018 was intensely frustrating for Dutchman Joost Luiten who, after victory in the Oman Open, was able to contemplate a summer fighting for the chance to make his Ryder Cup debut in France. Unfortunately, after a couple more top 10 finishes, he suffered a wrist injury and his season was effectively over in May.
He made four starts at the end of the year and they showed promise. Indeed all four were top 30s and that included T11 at one of his favourite tracks Valderrama. Now he kicks off his 2019 campaign at another venue he has enjoyed success at.
In fact in his seven appearances at the Abu Dhabi Championships he owns three top sixes, consistently hitting 75% of the greens in regulation throughout that time - a neat trick for this examination. Paddy Power’s 80/1 with seven places is a great price for the six-time European Tour winner.
Matt Wallace had a magnificent 2018 which saw him claim three victories, very nearly pinch a Ryder Cup spot and announce himself to the world in the process. He ended it sunning himself over Christmas in Cape Town and started this year with another boost to the ego when he got to show his swing off to Gary Player.
A self-confessed lover of the limelight he will have soaked up the South African’s plaudits and back-slapping ahead of this week first round in which he has landed a plum early draw.
At a course known for blustery afternoons he won’t be bothered by the need to set an early alarm call and it’s also true that in recent times he’s been electric in the first round.
In fact prior to his last start in the Dunhill Championship (when he shot 74) he had carded ten straight sub-70 first laps, which contributed to two shares of the 18-hole lead (plus another four top fives). Betfair Sportsbook make him 45/1 in their First Round Lead betting (seven places) this week.
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