Our Abu Dhabi Championship tips kicks off the European Tour year on Wednesday ahead of a season that will see a number of schedule changes compared to recent years. The well-documented re-hashing of the Major Championships – with the US PGA Championship now happening in May and the Open Championship concluding the 4 Majors – has had a knock-on effect throughout the year with the BMW PGA Championship and Open de France now taking place in the autumn for starters. The Saudi International, Vic Open, Oman Open and Kenya Open are some early-season additions to the Tour in what promises to be another diverse year for European golf.
As well as becoming the calendar year’s curtain-raiser, the Abu Dhabi Championship also graduates to the Rolex Series rota this year with the first of the $7m prize funds up for grabs. That enhanced status, along with some hefty appearance fees no doubt, has attracted the best field in the event’s history with multiple Major winners and former World No.1s Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson headlining. Fellow OWGR top 50 players Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Eddie Pepperell, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Ian Poulter, Haotong Li, Thorbjorn Olesen, Matt Wallace, Lucas Bjerregaard and Branden Grace all add to the quality of the event, alongside a very strong field from the remainder of the European Tour.
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Event Guide. This is the 14th successive year for this event at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on the European Tour and from the 13 previous events we have 9 different winners – three times for Martin Kaymer and twice for Paul Casey as well as Tommy Fleetwood who’s going for a three-peat this week. Chris DiMarco picked up the inaugural trophy in 2006, Englishman Robert Rock held off Tiger et al in 2012, Jamie Donaldson edged to victory in 2013, Pablo Larrazabal recorded an impressive victory over McIlroy and Mickelson in 2014, Gary Stal picked up the pieces in 2015 after Martin Kaymer surrendered a 10-shot lead and Rickie Fowler holed out twice in the final round in 2016 before Southport’s finest picked up the trophy at the past two renewals.
Abu Dhabi GC. Designer: Harradine, 1998; Course Type: Desert; Par: 72; Length: 7,583 yards; Water Hazards: 9; Fairways: Paspalum; Rough: Rye; Greens: Tifdwarf Bermuda, 12′ 6″ on the stimpmeter.
Course Overview. The 7,583 yard Peter Harradine track is flat and exposed, however with tight fairways, bunkers in key landing areas and thick rough, I’d err slightly more on the side of accuracy since the 2012 tweaks, although packing a decent punch off the tee certainly isn’t a disadvantage here. You’ll need to be in the fairway to attack the pins at Abu Dhabi GC and good shots will ultimately be rewarded; the course can play tough though and there’ll be no respite for players who aren’t striking the ball well, however birdies can still be made when greens are found in regulation. The greens are fast Bermuda Tifdwarf with a fairly significant grain, however they are of top quality and reward good putts.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2018: Tommy Fleetwood, 20/1; 2017: Tommy Fleetwood, 60/1; 2016: Rickie Fowler, 16/1; 2015: Gary Stal, 150/1; 2014: Pablo Larrazabal, 125/1; 2013: Jamie Donaldson, 66/1; 2012: Robert Rock, 150/1; 2011: Martin Kaymer, 8/1, 2010: Martin Kaymer, 14/1.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Abu Dhabi region is here. Wednesday and Thursday are expected to be warm and sunny with temperatures picking up to the low 80s Fahrenheit before the wind picks up to around 20mph over the final 2 rounds. Temperatures will drop to around 70 Fahrenheit to accompany the stronger breeze, which may well keep a lid on scoring a little.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 7 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2018: Tommy Fleetwood (-22); 302 yards (19th), 66.1% fairways (9th), 87.5% greens in regulation (1st), 77.8% scrambling (4th), 1.68 putts per GIR (13th)
- 2017: Tommy Fleetwood (-17); 301 yards (15th), 66.1% fairways (9th), 90.3% greens in regulation (1st), 57.1% scrambling (27th), 1.75 putts per GIR (45th)
- 2016: Rickie Fowler (-16); 291 yards (27th), 69.6% fairways (4th), 77.8% greens in regulation (10th), 68.8% scrambling (10th), 1.71 putts per GIR (16th).
- 2015: Gary Stal (-19); 278 yards (54th), 66.1% fairways (16th), 79.2% greens in regulation (13th), 66.7% scrambling (28th), 1.63 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2014: Pablo Larrazabal (-14); 292 yards (21st), 46.4% fairways (59th), 68.1% greens in regulation (28th), 78.3% scrambling (4th), 1.67 putts per GIR (13th).
- 2013: Jamie Donaldson (-14); 295 yards (7th), 60.7% fairways (16th), 75% greens in regulation (8th), 77.8% scrambling (6th), 1.72 putts per GIR (23rd).
- 2012: Robert Rock (-13); 296 yards (11th), 51.8% fairways (33rd), 77.8% greens in regulation (5th), 58.3% scrambling (24th), 1.64 Putts per GIR (5th).
In truth there’s a fair mix of stats from the players who have successfully got over the line here over the past 7 renewals. Larrazabal aside, the general recipe for success has been strong ball-striking and adequate accuracy stats being complimented with a competitive GIR ranking with Tommy Fleetwood taking that element to the next level over the last 2 seasons by hitting 65 and then 64 of 72 greens over the course of the week. Scrambling figures are generally on the high side here so missing greens isn’t fatal, however for players looking to advance their score a more prudent approach is to find the dancefloors with regularity.
The other common aspect to fall out of this week’s analysis is bogey avoidance. Fleetwood dropped just 2 shots over the course of the week 12 months ago and 4 the year before; Fowler dropped 6, Stal 6, Larrazabal 5, Donaldson 6 and Rock 8 in their respective wins to suggest that a more patient approach is favoured. On a track such as this, minimising mistakes is likely to be as critical as making birdies which makes a player’s performance around the greens important this week. That said, the course is long and demanding off the tee so every aspect of a potential winner’s game will be examined here and a top quality all-round performance may well be the answer to this riddle.
Prior to the 2017 victory by Tommy Fleetwood, one common factor that linked the previous 5 winners was that they’d produced a strong total putting performance in one of their most recent performances to suggest that they were approaching this event with some considerable confidence in their flat stack. Tommy himself had also shown some flashes with the putter too prior to defending 12 months ago by ranking 7th for putting average at the DP World Tour Championship. Prior to the two Fleetwood wins we have the following:
- Rickie Fowler led the field for Total Putting at the Shriners Hospitals Open which was 3 events prior to his success here.
- Gary Stal led the field for the week in terms of Total Putting at the SA Open the week before grabbing his maiden European Tour title here.
- Pablo Larrazabal ranked 3rd in the field for Total Putting on his previous European Tour start at the Earth Course in Dubai.
- Jamie Donaldson produced Total Putting performances of 8th at the Volvo Champions and 5th in Dubai in his two starts immediately prior to his victory here.
- Robert Rock, who’s relied heavily on his caddies over the years to help him read putts, finished 2nd for Total Putting the week before winning here.
Incoming Form: All 7 winners listed below had recorded a top-10 finish in their previous 4 starts and that trend can be extended back for all of Kaymer, Casey and DiMarco’s victories also, so a positive form line looks like a good starting point this week, even if that form extends back to the end of last year:
- 2018: Tommy Fleetwood: 27/28/61/MC/25/6/20/23/10/21/6/3
- 2017: Tommy Fleetwood: 16/49/10/7/13/15/4/37/22/14/9/3
- 2016: Rickie Fowler: 30/2/10/30/MC/1/4/12/25/17/3/5
- 2015: Gary Stal: 18/51/70/39/MC/66/19/32/33/23/MC/5
- 2014: Pablo Larrazabal: MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/9/17/8/5/53/26/MC
- 2013: Jamie Donaldson: 60/36/7/50/9/21/MC/6/16/42/9/16
- 2012: Robert Rock: MC/MC/25/MC/70/28/33/38/8/9/12
Event Form. To balance the clear correlation between current form and success here over the past 7 years, before Tommy Fleetwood retained his trophy 12 months ago, the previous 6 winners hadn’t mustered a single top 10 between them here in this event prior to victory, so for all of Casey and Kaymer’s domination, a sparkling event history doesn’t look to be an absolute pre-requisite:
- 2017: Tommy Fleetwood: MC/MC/19/MC/MC
- 2016: Rickie Fowler: 66
- 2015: Gary Stal: MC
- 2014: Pablo Larrazabal: 42/43/11/MC/39
- 2013: Jamie Donaldson: MC/23/50/21/11/30
- 2012: Robert Rock: 59/47/MC/MC