GOLF analyst Lewis Blain (@LewisBlainSport) shares his betting thoughts ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship | 21st-24th January 2021 | Sky Sports
The European Tour returns for 2021 this week and we kickstart the campaign with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, a Rolex Series event to begin a mini Middle East swing.
There's $8m plus 8,000 Race To Dubai points up for grabs in what is now an Olympic and Ryder Cup year, so we're seeing a very strong field headlined by major-winner Justin Thomas from the PGA Tour, whilst both Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood tee it up this week, and I'm of the belief that they are absolutely the duo to beat.
I couldn't talk anyone off taking 14/1 on Mr Fleetwood but with so much value across the board, I want to have more chips in play.
Good ball-striking off the tee and on approach is key as well as being able to rack up birdies and avoiding some of those inevitable big numbers as there are plenty of hazards around this track.
So, we'll drop straight into the staking plan this week…
I'll begin with Victor Perez (30/1 Coral)
, who we last saw finish 7th at the season-ending DP World Championship in Dubai. He snuck home each-way returns for us at 40/1 yet here he is only ten points shorter.
He has a liking to these desert-like tests – he has a runner-up and seventh at Al Hamra on the Challenge Tour, then he made four of five cuts in this very swing during his maiden rookie season on the ET. And then followed it up with a runner-up finish here last year, just two shots behind Lee Westwood in a tie with Fleetwood and Matt Fitzpatrick.
He was second with just 18 holes to play later in the Dubai Desert Classic and led at half-way in the Saudi Invitational after that. In eight tournaments in these parts, he's paid out the punter four times for a place.
Form in the Middle East also correlates well with links form, and vice-versa, and the Frenchman has won the Dunhill Link with form also showing up in Scotland and Qatar. Perez is long and straight off the tee, is among the very best on tour tee-to-green and can hit greens consistently. He's a perfect fit here.
Next up and in similar fashion is Bernd Wiesberger (33/1 William Hill)
. The Austrian won three times on the ET during the 2019 season, including one for readers of my preview at the Scottish Open, so some sort of regression was always going to happen in a bit-part topsy-turvy 2020.
Indeed, he is another who consistently shows up on the aforementioned tracks – the Middle East, Qatar, Links, etc. At this venue last year, Wiesberger was just one shot back heading into the final round before finishing 8th. That made it a fifth top 30 in six visits here. After a spell in USA for the Masters and the RSM, he came to Dubai and went T8-T36 to close his season, which is respectable enough.
And as a two-time winner of Rolex Series events, he may well keep an illustrious trend in order.
Again, similarly, Andy Sullivan (40/1 Betfred)
makes great appeal to me in this bracket. In terms of pure statistical fit based on his form throughout 2020, there's no one better for me and that's hardly surprising given he ended a five-year wait for another ET title, missed just three cuts and made the top-10 in seven of 19 events.
Indeed, he too ended the year in Dubai in redhot form going T2-T10, whilst you'd run out of fingers counting how many top-10s he has across the Middle East and the UK alone. Now, he's been here each of the last seven years and has made the cut 100% of the time, though he's broken the top-25 only three times.
I would argue that he's coming into this in the form of his life – provided he's stuck at it during the break in action. No one earned more strokes T2G last year, and only one other golfer ranked higher for SG on Approach. He was also in the top-5 for birdie scoring and bogey avoidance, which all point towards having greater success here.
I will end the plan with three longshots here…
Antoine Rozner (80/1 Betfred)
looks far too long considering the year he just had. The Frenchman managed to clinch his first ET title in what was his maiden and rookie campaign, winning here in Dubai.
He missed just two cuts all year, neither of which were in the Middle East. Similarly to those above, he's solid T2G, with his irons and in terms of scoring. Considering he won only two starts ago in this very country, I don't think he should be 80/1.
Jordan Smith (100/1 Betway)
is another who looks far too long. We know what we're getting with Smith, it will all come down to his putting. Only one other golfer ranked better for GIR than him in 2020 and he's arguably going to be one of the best drivers of the ball in this field.
It is literally the flat-stick which is the biggest problem. He's won in this country on the CT and has plenty of top-10s across the Middle East, in Qatar and on the Links. You could pick a lot worse at three figure odds.
Rasmus Hojgaard (125/1 SkyBet)
is the third and final dart throw. The young Norwegian was arguably one of the surprise packages last year as he picked up two ET titles in his rookie campaign – Mauritius, and then at the Belfry. He missed all of his cuts in this very swing last year, but you have to give him the benefit of the doubt as they were three of his first four outings in sole-ET events and on the back of his maiden victory.
In all honesty, I think he has the game for this test. Only five players were better T2G in 2020, yet, we're seeing him at 125/1. I can't help but make him my sixth and final bet this week.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – Victor Perez (30/1 Coral)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – Bernd Wiesberger (33/1 William Hill)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – Andy Sullivan (40/1 Betfred)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – Antoine Rozner (80/1 Betfred)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – Jordan Smith (100/1 Betway)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – Rasmus Hojgaard (125/1 SkyBet)