Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Abu Dhabi Championship Tips

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The Abu Dhabi Championship kicks off the European Tour’s Rolex Series this week as we head from South Africa to the Middle East, with the Dubai Desert Classic and the Saudi International following on from this event to complete the early-season Desert Swing.

With a $7m prize fund and 7,000 Race to Dubai points up for grabs, 15 of the world’s top-50 players are heading to Abu Dhabi this week, many of whom will be making their 2020 debuts and no doubt looking for a fast start in Olympics and Ryder Cup year.

132 players tee it up this week, headlined by World No. 1 Brooks Koepka who plays for the first time since withdrawing from the CJ Cup in October with the knee injury that kept him out of the Presidents Cup. Uncertainty about Koepka’s fitness means that he’s not the outright favourite here this week; instead he, debutant Patrick Cantlay and 2-time Abu Dhabi Champion Tommy Fleetwood all rate around the 10/1 mark at the time of writing.

Beyond the talented trio at the top of the market we have Louis Oosthuizen who produced a bogey-free final round, including a hole-in-one, in South Africa on Sunday and still failed to retain his home Open; defending champion Shane Lowry who warmed up with a 2nd place finish last week in Hong Kong; and Matt Fitzpatrick who came agonisingly close to winning a number of times in 2019 without quite managing to get over the line.

Add to that the hulking figure of Bryson DeChambeau, the red-hot putter of Branden Grace and one of golf’s brightest prospects Viktor Hovland and we have an excellent tournament on our hands.

Before we go into more detail and my final Abu Dhabi Championship tips, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as the golfing year kicks off. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

2020 Majors Competition Sponsored By bet365: bet365

Following on from the success of the last 8 annual GBS Majors competitions, bet365 have kindly offered to sponsor the 2020 edition with a massive £250 CASH prize fund! Our 2020 winner will receive £150 (or currency equivalent) in cash with additional £75 and £25 prizes for 2nd and 3rd place finishers.

Basically we want you to pick a single player for each of the 4 Majors any time before the start of the 2020 Masters and get those 4 names entered into the competition by one of the methods detailed on our rules page here. Best of luck all!

Abu Dhabi Championship Tips – Featured Bookmaker: betfair

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Event Guide. This is the 15th successive year for this event at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on the European Tour and from the 14 previous events we have 10 different winners including three times for Martin Kaymer and twice for Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood.

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 in both 2017 and 2018.

Shane Lowry’s wire-to-wire win 12 months ago was the Irishman’s biggest career win since the WGC Bridgestone 4 years earlier, however that was just the precursor to what was to come later in the year at The Open.

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.

abu dhabi championship tips

Tournament Stats. We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s Abu Dhabi Championship that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Combined Form/Event Stats.

Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.

Winners & Prices. 2019: Shane Lowry, 60/1; 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.  After a wet end to last week and some unusually inclement conditions prior to that, the weather in Abu Dhabi looks to have settled down and conditions more akin to the region are expected for the tournament days, although I suspect the course will still play quite soft. Warm, sunny conditions with temperatures reaching the mid-70s Fahrenheit should encourage good scoring given that winds are expected to be light at sub-10 mph.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the past 8 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2019: Shane Lowry (-18); 300 yards (30th), 37.5% fairways (55th), 72.2% greens in regulation (26th), 60% scrambling (38th), 1.59 putts per GIR (2nd)
  • 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 8 renewals. Lowry and 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 with his 2 wins 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. Lowry dropped a total of 8 shots last year after a sublime opening round of 62 put him in pole position; Fleetwood dropped just 2 shots over the course of the week in 2018 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.

Incoming Form: All 8 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:

  • 2019: Shane Lowry: MC/12/15/12/MC/6/MC/34/2/14/35/30
  • 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 8 years, before Tommy Fleetwood retained his trophy in 2017, 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.

Last year’s winner Shane Lowry had finished 4th here on debut in 2010, however in 3 subsequent visits had failed to make the weekend before his success 12 months ago:

  • 2019: Shane Lowry: 4/MC/MC/MC
  • 2018: Tommy Fleetwood: MC/MC/19/MC/MC/1
  • 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

My Abu Dhabi Championship Tips Are As Follows:

Danny Willett 2pts EW 40/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

The inclusion of American raiders Brooks Koepka and Patrick Cantlay in this week’s field has added some serious spice to the Abu Dhabi Championship and as always creates a dilemma as to whether either should be backed at short prices to take this title. Tommy Fleetwood joins them in what is more or less co-favourites of 3 around the 10/1 mark, and in truth you could make a case for any of them to win this week.

The history of short-priced chances doesn’t read well here though: 2013 McIlroy (5/1), Woods (15/2); 2014: McIlroy (6/1), Stenson (8/1); 2015: McIlroy (4/1); 2016: McIlroy (4/1), Spieth (9/2); 2017: Johnson (6/1), Stenson (7/1); 2018: Johnson (5/1), Rose (8/1), McIlroy (8/1); 2019: Dustin Johnson (6/1), Brooks Koepka (9/1), Tommy Fleetwood (10/1) – these well-fancied players all failed to get over the line here in Abu Dhabi and backing any of the top 3 at the prices on offer carries a strong element of risk given what we’ve seen in recent years.

The list of Rolex Series winners since its inauguration now reads Noren, Fleetwood, Rahm, Cabrera-Bello, Hatton, Rose, Grace, Rahm, Molinari, Olesen, Noren, Knox, Stone, Rose, Westwood, Willett, Lowry, Rahm, Wiesberger, Willett, Wiesberger, Hatton, Fleetwood, Rahm. Aside from the fact that for the most part the names on this last are experienced, high-quality players, the fact that there’s a significant amount of doubling up points me in the direction of Danny Willett to headline this week’s team.

After an extended period in the golfing wilderness following his 2016 Masters triumph, the Sheffield man finally got his game back on track in the summer of 2018, producing top-10 finishes at the Italian Open, Irish Open and Turkish Airlines Open before eventually getting back to winning ways at the DP World Tour Championship, recording his 2nd victory in the Middle East having also won the Dubai Desert Classic prior to his Augusta success.

It won’t have escaped the attention of many punters that those 2018 results ALL came in Rolex Series events to suggest that the 32 year-old really focussed his preparation on the bigger weeks. 2019 was similar with victory at the BMW PGA Championship as well as 5th on his last outing of the year in Dubai, both again Rolex Series events. Add to that a 6th place finish at The Open and the pattern becomes very clear indeed.

Given the fact that he’s more than treble the price of the market principals this week despite sitting inside the OWGR top-30 nowadays, there must be a chink in his armour and in the Sheffield man’s case it’s his course history here. 9 attempts here have produced a solitary top-10 finish – that was all the way back in 2009 on debut – and on his last 3 starts he’s failed to break the top 50, however I think we’ll see a different Danny Willett here this year with recent form trumping course form in my view. That’s not to say he can’t play the course though, as his 2nd round 63 back in 2014 – a shot shy of the course record – suggests. He was 3rd heading into the weekend that year and coupled with his debut effort, where he ranked 2nd for Total Driving and Ball-Striking, I’m not overly concerned by his record here.

Swing Coach and caddie changes over the past couple of years look to have had a really positive effect on the 7-time European Tour winner and with his stock still rising I can see him securing a 2nd Ryder Cup appearance later this year, particularly if he keeps producing big efforts on big weeks. His iron game looked excellent on his last start at the Earth Course when attempting to defend his DP World Tour Championship title, and that bodes well for a strong start to his 2020 campaign here in nearby Abu Dhabi. Result: MC

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Sergio Garcia 2pts EW 40/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

The 2010s was an excellent decade for Sergio Garcia from both a personal and career perspective having got married, become a father and finally won his first Major Championship, however having turned 40 in the last week there’s no reason to suggest that his best golf is already behind him.

A win on the European Tour as recently as September reminded us all that there’s plenty of quality left in the Spaniard’s game, and in Ryder Cup year he’ll be keen to ensure he earns a place on Padraig Harrington’s team by rights as he bids to achieve the rare feat of having played in the competition in 4 separate decades. Europe’s all-time leading point scorer has been a shoe-in most years, however he’ll be as aware as anyone that the new crop of talented youngsters are out to eat his lunch and to guarantee his place he needs to perform well in these bigger events where more points are on offer.

Aside from that aforementioned recent win in Holland, El Nino also finished 6th at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship to prove that he can still compete at this kind of level and it was encouraging to see him putt well on the Earth Course’s Bermudagrass greens, ranking 7th in the field for Putting Average on his way to that impressive finish.

Not that we should be surprised with that effort though given his sparkling record in the Middle East that’s seen him win both the Dubai Desert Classic and Qatar Masters whilst also racking up well over another dozen top-10 finishes in the region over the years. Two of those efforts came here in Abu Dhabi in 2006 and 2009, and from 6 attempts at this event he’s never finished outside the top-20, so it’s safe to say he feels comfortable in this part of the world.

With his son due to be born in April and having just hit that milestone 40th birthday, perhaps we’ll see a player who’s both content and relaxed but also focussed on maximising his opportunities at the start of the year and given there are a number of players in the same kind of price range who can boast nothing like the same kind of career as Sergio, I’ll happily take a chance on him this week. Result: T8

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Andy Sullivan 1pt EW 100/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

After 3 straight birdies to open his final round on Sunday, it looked like Andy Sullivan would be seriously pushing for his 4th European Tour title and 2nd South African Open victory at Randpark. A thinned chip on the 6th hole led to a double-bogey though with the Englishman having joined the lead, and from there the wheels fell off as he dropped 6 shots in 5 holes to put paid to his chances.

Of course one way to look at this is from a negative standpoint as he clearly blew a golden chance to seriously contend on a Sunday; the other way is to look at his final 8 holes, which he played in 4-under par, and infer that he’s actually very close to winning form once again – at the price on offer I’m willing to opt for the latter.

Sullivan ranked 2nd for Stoked Gained Approach in Johannesburg, a strength that’s should be amplified further here in Abu Dhabi if he can repeat that feat, and his putter was in good shape for the most part, ranking 25th for Strokes Gained Putting and 2nd overall for Putting Average in old money. That’s a potent combination for this track and with his round ending on a high on Sunday after that mid-round collapse, he can approach this week’s task in positive and confident fashion.

After an average start to 2019, the Nuneaton man raised his game at Rolex Series level when finishing in a tie for 2nd behind Jon Rahm at the Irish Open, and further top-10 finishes at Vilamoura and the Earth Course meant he finished the year off on a high note with his game in good shape. 3rd for putting on the Bermudagrass greens of the DP World Tour Championship bodes well for when he finds the dancefloor this week, and coupled with last week’s approach play that could mean another prominent performance.

7 attempts here at the Abu Dhabi Championship have produced 7 paid weekends, however a best of 19th overall is disappointing given that he lead at the halfway point in 2016 and was also 6th going into the weekend 2 years later courtesy of his best round to date here of 65 on the Friday.

Wider desert form is positive for the 32 year-old with a top-10 finish to his name in Qatar, 3 more top-10s at the Dubai Desert Classic and a runner-up finish at the DP World Tour Championship back in 2015 when he pushed Rory McIlroy all the way. Given those efforts and the way that he played for the most part last week, I’ll take a chance on Andy here. Result: T21

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Jeunghun Wang 1pt EW 200/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Betfair

At 3 figure prices, Jason Scrivener and Beef Johnston both made my shortlist, however I’m looking deeper still in the market for my final selection, and that’s the talented Jeunghun Wang.

A late season flurry of results saw the 24 year-old lift himself the right side of the line in terms of retaining his card, with 6th at the Portugal Masters eventually sealing the deal after top-10 finishes at the Dunhill Links and Italian Open had given him a fighting chance of avoiding Q-School following a particularly poor season to that point.

Prior to his autumn resurgence, which continued when he finished 8th at the Indonesian Masters in mid-December, Wang looked a shadow of the talented youngster who’d racked up 3 European Tour titles in relatively quick succession back in 2016 and 2017. With confidence restored and playing rights locked away for the remainder of this season, perhaps we’ll see more of the player who showed so much potential in the not so distant past.

One of those aforementioned wins came in the desert in Qatar, plus the South Korean finished 6th at the Dubai Desert Classic 2 years ago in addition to a runner-up finish at the Asian Tour’s Dubai Open when still a teenager.

Last year’s missed cut here in Abu Dhabi came in a spell of 18 missed weekends from 22 starts, so it’s fairly safe to say that he’s in far better nick right now with 4 top-10 finishes in his last 7 outings. Prior to that, Wang finished 11th here on debut in 2017 and 15th the year after, ranking 4th and 2nd respectively for Driving Accuracy, to suggest that the course suits his eye as well as 6th and 1st for scrambling as he got the measure of the challenge around these greens. Couple those stats with the fact that his upturn in form coincided with a far stronger set of results with his approach play, and we have an attractive combination for a player who resides so far down the betting. Result: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:05GMT 13.1.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.