BACK by popular demand, Louis Ross (@LouisRoss67) returns to the golf scene from his winter hibernation to attack the Abu Dhabi Championship.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship | Thursday – Sunday
My first golf piece of the year! Thanks to everyone that has been in touch during the winter break – your comments and feedback were much appreciated.
I’m normally a PGA Tour man but there have been a lot of requests to cover this particular tournament. It's a course I know well having visited it on a work trip and a big chunk of the field plays regularly in the US.
In truth, this weekend’s field is up there with any outside of the Majors and The Players. Led by the current superstars of the sport in Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, a big portion of the world’s top 100 players will tee off on Thursday.
The 11th renewal of this event at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club is the now traditional start of the Desert Swing with Qatar and Dubai following in the next two weeks.
This par-72 track measures some 7,600 yards – that’s fairly average nowadays but long enough for some. The course had a lot of work done in 2012; tighter fairways, deeper rough and some sneaky bunkers placed in landing areas – they really are doing their best to stop the likes of Rory taking this place apart.
Now, this is an event taking place at the traditional start of the golf season. These days we have the ‘wrap around season', as the Americans call it – as the name suggests, we now have ranking tournaments 12 months of the year.
The big boys still take a lengthy break after the FedEx Cup play-offs but Spieth came back just a couple of weeks ago; obviously he took an average field apart in Hawaii.
The manner of victory there suggested he will continue to dominate in 2016. At 22-years-old, he could break an awful lot of records this year. I couldn’t resist a nibble at 150/1 to for the wonderkid to win all four Majors in 2016 – he couldn’t have gone closer in 2015 and looks to have ‘trained on'.
The early betting has Jordan and Rory around 4/1 joint-favourites.
Now, I know most golf punters would never dream of backing a 4/1 chance. But I’ve changed my views over the winter and these guys (including Jason Day) are so far ahead of the rest that, when deeper into the season and form is more solid, on a good track and decent weather, I will absolutely be recommending a price like that.
The days of 12/1 favourites are long gone – you can almost guarantee these guys will win 12 tournaments or so between them, and usually by a distance.
If you believe someone will win by 10 shots, why on earth would you not take 4/1? You would in any other sport.
So If I had to pick one here, it would be Rory. Four-times runner-up – he just loves it around here.
However, the last few winners here have gone off at huge prices so there’s value to be found, such as the likes of Gary Stal 200/1 (Ladbrokes), Pablo Larrazabal 150/1 (Bet365) and Robert Rock 200/1 (Boylesports).
But on to the actual picks and I will start with a favourite of mine – Martin Kaymer.
The German has won here three times before and finished second last year. I wonder how many of you are screaming, ‘but he blew a 10-shot lead here last year’. Yes, he did. I know, I know, but far better players have done similar things. It happens (Rory, Augusta, nuff said).
Kaymer adores this course and went on to have a very decent 2015 including top-12 finishes at The Open and USPGA. His putter was red hot in Thailand last month, traditionally starts the season well and three of his last four starts have seen him hit over 80% of greens in regulation.
You can back Kaymer at 14/1 (SkyBet) in the Without Spieth And McIlroy markets. Now that's a very decent price and a better option than 20/1 in the Outright betting.
Byeong Hun An is a player that caught my eye a few times last year, no more than when winning the BMW at Wentworth. His third in the BMW Championship and tied-fourth in the season ending Tour Championship were huge strides forward in his development.
Very few players have ever had as good a rookie year and he ended 2015 an incredible 29th in the world. This course will suit and the young man was 12th on debut last year, followed up by a fifth in Qatar and 13th in Dubai.
Clearly his type of course, I will dip into the Without Spieth And McIlroy markets once more for a tasty 22/1 (Paddy Power) on Byeong Hun An.
A few people have asked me to include First Round Leader picks – it's a market I love as it’s incredibly rare for one of the big boys to lead early on. Someone towards the bottom of the betting always seems to produce something special early doors.
The trend in the last couple of years has been the emergence of young players. So keep an eye on Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick – he is going to be a star.
There are about 10-15 young Americans that are potential winners on their tour and mainland Europe is no different. One that has got a place in my notebook (actual book, none of your computer rubbish) is Belgian Thomas Pieters.
The 23-year-old finished tied fourth on debut here last year and followed it up in mid-season with back-to-back wins as well as six top-30 finishes. Like many young golfers, Pieters hits the ball miles and has the touch and putting stroke to go with it.
His 50/1 (Ladbrokes) to go well early on appeals, especially as his preparation has been thorough – nobody has played more practice rounds.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – Martin Kaymer without Spieth & McIlroy (14/1 SkyBet)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – Byeong Hun An without Spieth & McIlroy (22/1 each-way Paddy Power)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – Thomas Pieters without Spieth & McIlroy (35/1 each-way Paddy Power)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – Thomas Pieters to be First Round Leader (50/1 Ladbrokes)
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