THE European Tour starts it’s Desert Swing this week with a strong field appearing at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Tight fairways, water hazards and bunkers in landing areas on the fairways will test the players.
Abu Dhabi GC: 7583 yards, Par 72
Quite a long, flat, exposed course with lots of bunkers. Greens normally round around 12.5 on the stimpmeter and the rough can be quite difficult at times so driving accuracy could be important as are GIR and putts per GIR.
Returning from the successful European win in the Euro-Asia Cup, Rafa Cabrera-Bello looks a good pick here. He seems to like playing in the desert, winning at the Dubai Desert Classic and two top-seven finishes with another four top 25s here in Abu Dhabi.
This season he finished T2 in the UBS Hong Kong Open where he hit four sub-70s rounds, including a 64 in the third round. Surprisingly he also finished second in the same tournament the year before.
His win in the Scottish Open last year was a long time coming from his previous success which was in 2012 at the Dubai Desert Classic.
- Driving Accuracy: 61.16% (57th)
- Greens in Regulation: 70.9% (31st)
- Putts per GIR: 1.76 (59th).
Branden Grace has twice won the Qatar Masters and has two top-five finishes here (2013, 2016). Last week the South African was runner-up in his home Open to Chris Paisley but didn’t put a foot wrong with the Englishman superb in the final round.
In November he won the Nedbank Challenge and has won a tournament in each of the last three years. With eight Tour wins he is no stranger to the winners' podium and is hitting the ball well and looks in good form.
In the South Africa Open he wasn’t hitting fairways but his GIR stats and putting were strong. I don’t expect him to miss so many fairways this weekend and look to a strong performance from him.
- Driving Accuracy: 39.29% (50th)
- Greens in Regulation: 76.4% (4th)
- Putts per GIR: 1.63 (3rd).
Englishman Tyrrell Hatton is another just back from the Euro-Asia Cup and in good form. With three top 15s in his last four outings he looks like he is comfortable on the course.
Last year he had seven top-10s which included back-to-back wins at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open. I can see Hatton really going for it this season and improve on his European Tour ranking of fifth.
After seeing all the first-time winners in the Majors last year he must think if he can maintain form he will be in with a chance of that elusive win. A victory this weekend will set him up nicely for a good season.
- Driving Accuracy: 57.3% (114th)
- Greens in Regulation: 69.5% (53rd)
- Putts per GIR: 1.75 (20th).