THE European Tour travels from South Africa to the Middle East for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and even with the late withdrawal of Rory McIlroy there is still a strong field with quite a few playing their first tournament of the year.
Among them are Race to Dubai champion Henrik Stenson, Masters champion Danny Willett and US Open winner Dustin Johnson.
The course is long and flat but is littered with bunkers. The greens can be quite fast and I’ll be looking at GIR and form in the desert for this one.
It’s hard to believe Rafa Cabrera Bello hasn’t won since 2012. The Dubai resident plays well in the Middle East with his last European Tour win in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and has eight top-10 finishes in the region, with four inside top 15 at this event.
In his last start on the European Tour he finished runner-up at the UBS Hong Kong Open and with his performance in the Ryder Cup there seems to be a refound confidence. His GIR stat is 76% (5th) and I am expecting big things from him this year, hopefully beginning this weekend.
This is Bernd Wiesberger’s first outing of the season so it could be a big ask of the Austrian. Having said that in the last two years Wiesberger has six top sixes in the Middle East including a T4 in his last tournament of last season, the DP World Tour Championship. He is a long hitter and with a GIR stat of 75.5% (6th) and average putts per round of 29. If he has retained the form he showed to the end of last year he will be close on Sunday.
Another who makes his first outing of the season but seems to like the Middle East is Korean Byeong-hun An. The 25-year-old didn’t win on the European Tour last year but he has had seven top-15 finishes including four in the top five in the Middle East over the past two years. His GIR is 73.7% (13th) and I'm hoping he also can hit the ground running and do the business this weekend.