Paul Williams

Paul Williams' Abu Dhabi Championship Tips 2021

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The Abu Dhabi Championship kicks off the European Tour’s 2021 campaign this week, with the Dubai Desert Classic and the Saudi International following on from this week’s event to complete an early-season Middle-East Swing, in what’s an otherwise sparse schedule as the world continues its battle against the pandemic.

With an $8m prize fund and 8,000 Race to Dubai points up for grabs, 13 of the world’s top-50 players are heading to Abu Dhabi this week, most of whom are making their 2021 debuts and no doubt looking for a fast start in what is now the rescheduled Olympics and Ryder Cup year.

132 players tee it up this week, headlined by World No. 3 Justin Thomas (7/1) who’s the only player here with competitive 2021 action to his name, having finished 3rd at the Sentry Tournament of Champions a week or so ago. The bookies favourite though is World No.7 and 4-time Abu Dhabi runner-up Rory McIlroy, who rates as a 13/2 shot at best at the time of writing.

Beyond the talented pair at the very top of the betting, we have the likes of Tyrrell Hatton who enjoyed an outstanding 2020 season, 2-time Abu Dhabi Champion Tommy Fleetwood and Earth Course winner Matt Fitzpatrick, with the trio all available at around the 14/1 to 16/1 mark.

Add to that the likes of Justin Rose, Shane Lowry and late-season form horse Christiaan Bezuidenhout – plus of course 2020 Race to Dubai Champion Lee Westwood – and we have a top-class event on our hands by European Tour standards, despite missing the likes of Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau who graced us with their presence last year.

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.

2021 Majors Competition Sponsored By bet365: bet365

Following on from the success of the last 9 annual GBS Majors competitions, bet365 have kindly offered to sponsor the 2021 edition once again with a massive £250 CASH prize fund! Our 2021 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 2021 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!

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Event Guide. This is the 16th successive year for this event at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on the European Tour and from the 15 previous events we have 11 different winners, including three times for Martin Kaymer and twice for both 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 2 years 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 Championship.

Lee Westwood’s success here 12 months was his second Rolex Series title and paved the way for what was ultimately a successful Race to Dubai campaign as he topped the season-long chart for the 3rd time in his career.

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.

Ideally you’ll want 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 if there’s wind in the forecast and when that’s the case there’s little respite for players who aren’t striking the ball well.

The greens are fast Bermuda Tifdwarf with a fairly significant grain, however they are of top quality and reward good putts, meaning that in good conditions a winning total of around 20-under par is achievable.

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. 2020: Lee Westwood, 90/1; 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.

For full winners’ odds on the European Tour by tournament going back to 2010 click here,

Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Abu Dhabi region is here.

The first two days promise to be the most challenging with 15-20mph winds, and gusts in excess of that, before conditions ease a little over the weekend. It should remain mostly sunny throughout the event with temperatures peaking around 75 Fahrenheit in the afternoons.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors.

Analysing the final stats of the past 9 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2020: Lee Westwood (-19); 299 yards (44th), 69.6% fairways (1st), 79.2% greens in regulation (9th), 73.3% scrambling (16th), 1.67 putts per GIR (11th)
  • 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 9 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. Lee Westwood rubber-stamped that assertion by leading the field for Driving Accuracy 12 months ago whilst also ranking 9th for GIR.

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. Lee Westwood dropped just 4 strokes over 72 holes last year and of those players finishing inside the top 5, Victor Perez made the most bogeys at just 6.

Prior to that, Shane Lowry dropped a total of 8 shots in 2019 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 9 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 inevitably extends back to the end of last year:

  • 2020: Lee Westwood: 55/4/MC/28/MC/MC/MC/60/56/10/6/38
  • 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 9 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.

That said, both Shane Lowry and Lee Westwood had a top-4 finish here to their name, albeit quite distant in both cases:

  • 2020: Lee Westwood: 2/MC/64/17/MC/8/MC/16
  • 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

The inclusion of Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy to the field complicates matters as both are well-capable of winning an event like this if on their game.

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); 2020: Patrick Cantlay (8/1); Brooks Koepka (10/1); Tommy Fleetwood (10/1) – these well-fancied players all failed to get over the line here in Abu Dhabi and backing either of the top 2 at the prices on offer carries a strong element of risk given what we’ve seen in recent years.

The other consideration of course is that this is a big-money, big-status Rolex Series event. For reference, Rolex Series winners are as follows: 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, Westwood, Rai, Hatton and Westwood. Very few surprises in there in the bigger scheme of things.

My selections are as follows:

Tommy Fleetwood 3pts EW 14/1 (8EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Justin Thomas makes his debut here at the Abu Dhabi golf club this week and aside from Chris DiMarco in 2006 – when the event was first played – every subsequent winner here has had at least one competitive effort around these parts, which is a little off-putting given his short price and the negativity that his actions at Kapalua have created.

Also at single figures and claiming marginal favouritism is Rory McIlroy. The case for the Northern Irishman is a little more watertight given that he’s finished inside the top-5 here on eight of his ten attempts, four of which ended with him finishing runner-up.

You could look at the graveyard of single-figure chances and scrub Rory off your list on that basis alone, however for me the more telling statistic is that he’s failed to break 70% GIR on any of his last 12 starts globally and I suspect any continuation of that trend here this week would result in another miss, albeit he’s more likely than not to be in the mix.

Despite the glut of short-priced favourites tripping over at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, those in the second tier of pricing have had more success with Rickie Fowler (16/1) in 2016 and Tommy Fleetwood (20/1) in 2018 getting over the line in recent times, and it’s the latter who interests me most this week.

Although there are a few exceptions to the rule in the winner’s list around these parts, in general ball-striking is the key to success and in that respect Tommy fits like a glove. Last year’s top-5 finishers all ranked inside the 9 best for GIR on the week and when he’s on his game, the Englishman churns out greens in regulation for fun.

By his own estimation, Fleetwood’s post-lockdown form was inconsistent, yet he could easily have won in both Portugal and Scotland had he made the odd extra putt. 19th at The Masters was the best effort from this week’s field bar the top two in the betting and he talked in interview at the Earth Course about how his game felt good. 4th for Strokes Gained Putting that week is also a bright spot and if he can combine that will his trademark approach play excellence this week then he’ll take some beating.

Tommy celebrates his 30th birthday on Tuesday and perhaps that milestone will act as a shot in the arm for the upcoming season as he looks to cement his place on the Ryder Cup team. Victory here would surely do that now that the points are counting once again and he’s clearly focussed on the job at hand having flown out to Dubai early to get his game sharp ahead of this week.

A personal hat-trick of Abu Dhabi titles and Rolex Series titles is the prize this week as he looks to celebrate his signing to TaylorMade last month, a brand he’s been using anyway as a free agent since Nike exited the market. RESULT: T7

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Martin Kaymer 1.5pts EW 35/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

The questions I’ve asked myself with regards Martin Kaymer is whether I believe that he can and will win on again on Tour, and if so, where that victory is most likely to come.

The evidence from 2020 suggests that he’s not having any problems getting himself into contending positions, and that in itself is more than half of the battle. Pre-lockdown form was encouraging with 4 straight top-16 finishes in the Middle East before missing the cut on a new track in Qatar.

8th here at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club was his best effort in that period, however it was post-lockdown that we saw real signs of the old Martin washing through. 3rd at The Belfry and 2nd at Valderrama could, and perhaps should, have been victories as he stumbled when in sight of the finishing line. 10th at Wentworth, 5th in Italy and 14th at the Earth Course – a track he’s always failed to get fully to grips with – were creditable efforts, however it’s the near misses that present the biggest question mark about his potential to win again on Tour.

In a game of imperfections, I’m of the view that he only needs one of those closely contending performances to fall his way and he’ll be a major force once again. The golfing equivalent of a goal coming off a shot-shy striker’s backside or shin, once he gets past this immediate hurdle then I suspect he’ll fly. So yes, I do believe he can win on Tour again.

As to where that victory is most likely to come, then of course it would be here at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. 3 wins and runner-up finish between 2008-11, the German was almost untouchable around these parts at the time. 6th (2013), 3rd (2015), 4th (2017) and 8th last year are further strong finishes, however it’s that 2015 effort that of course gets all the attention. 10 shots clear with 13 holes to play, what followed was almost incomprehensible as Gary Stal pinched the title from under his nose.

No wins since then tells its own story, however if those demons are to ever be exorcised then this is undoubtedly the venue, and perhaps now is the time. RESULT: MC

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Andy Sullivan 1.5pts EW 40/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

I backed Andy Sullivan at 100/1 here last year and he put up a decent fight, eventually finishing in a tie for 21st having sat in 14th place with 18 holes to play.

A year further on and he’s a little less than half that price, so it takes some justification to back him here once again, however I think there’s plenty to suggest he’ll improve on that effort and seriously contend here.

Firstly the tangibles: the Englishman led into the weekend here in 2016 and contended again at the halfway point 2 years later after a second round of 65, and although both times he failed to push on from those promising positions, he’s nevertheless made the weekend here all 8 times that he’s played here in Abu Dhabi.

Wider desert form is positive too for the 4-time European Tour winner. 6 cuts made from 7 in Qatar over the years, including a best of 9th, 3 top-10 finishes at the Dubai Desert Classic and the same number at the DP World Tour Championship – including a runner-up finish in 2015 – all point to a player who’s very comfortable in this part of the world. He also had a golden chance to add a fifth title to his name at the Fire Course in December, eventually missing out to Antoine Rozner having looked very much the most likely winner.

The 33 year-old has won in January before (2015 South African Open) for those who like the biorhythm and post-Christmas rust angles, and he’s been churning out Greens In Regulation impressively of late, ranking 9th, 5th, 13th, 8th and 2nd on that count over his last 5 European Tour starts. 4th for Bogey Avoidance for the 2020 season correlates well with the task at hand and, at 58th in the OWGR, he has a live chance of making this year’s Masters if he can get inside the top-50 by the end of March.

The less tangible elements of course are often the difference between success and failure though, and in that respect I like the noises I’m hearing from the Nuneaton man.

Covid really changed everything for me. I had time to sit down and reflect on how I was being on the golf course. I was being an idiot. It’s not nice to say that about yourself. I could think about what I wanted from the game and where I wanted to go with it. I refocused and started enjoying it again. I’ve started to play a lot better. Going out there and enjoying it, I know I’m giving myself the best chance to shoot a low score.

That interview at the Fire Course last month explains much to me about his change in mental approach and the results he’s been seeing of late. 4th at the British Masters, 3rd at Wentworth, 2nd as mentioned in Dubai and a 7-shot win at Hanbury Manor suggests to me that he’s turned the corner with the help of his psychologist, plus on the course the work that he’s been doing with Mike Kanski on his putting is reaping rewards.

Career wins ranging from 11- to 27-under tell me there’s more to his game than being a one-dimensional flat-track bully and a big personal best here in an event that should encourage low-scoring after a challenging start may well play into the hands of the Englishman. RESULT: T25

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Jamie Donaldson 1pt EW 110/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Betfred

Dean Burmester was tempting given some positive efforts in the Middle East in the past and a long game that looked in fine fettle at the back end of the year, however I’ll complete my team with Jamie Donaldson who’s leapt almost 300 places in the World Rankings courtesy of a much more positive 2020.

Having missed 4 of his 5 cuts before play was halted due to the pandemic, the 45 year-old re-emerged from lockdown in far stronger form, rattling off 3 top-15 finishes from his opening 5 starts courtesy of a long game that was eye-catching compared to anything that we’d seen in recent times.

9th at the Scottish Championship followed at Fairmont St Andrews before a positive fortnight in Cyprus, finishing 3rd at the Cyprus Open before making it through to the final day of the Showdown a week later. 2nd at the South African Open was the closest he came though to adding the first trophy to his collection since 2014, albeit he finished a distance behind runaway winner Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

Aside from the marked improvement from off the tee – evident again on his last start of the year at the Earth Course where he ranked 3rd for Driving Accuracy – Jamie finished 7th for the full season in terms of Bogey Avoidance and 18th for Par-3 Scoring, both of which are positives for me this week given that we’ve seen comparable numbers from contenders here over the recent past.

2013 was the scene of his second European Tour success here at Abu Dhabi Golf Club as he held off Thorbjorn Olesen and Justin Rose by a stroke at 14-under par. That week played out similarly to what we’re expecting in 2021 in terms of conditions, with the first 2 days playing toughest with a steady 20mph wind before easing a little over the weekend, and the Welshman put himself in the right spot after opening rounds of 67/70 to set himself up for success.

9th here in 2015 followed his victory before he lost his form and injury plagued his progress, however with his stock seemingly on the rise once more, I’m happy to take a chance given the 3-figure price being offered and some juicy each-way terms. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 12:25GMT 18.1.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.