It’s relatively rare that the European Tour boasts a stronger field than the PGA Tour but that’s the case this week. Whilst there’s a pro-am event in California, many of the world’s best players are paying a visit to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Shane Lowry is very much in that group of the world’s best golfers. Last year’s Open champion got 2019 underway with a win in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and having finished runner up in the Hong Kong Open last week, he is well placed to defend his title.
The visiting American players in the field for this week’s event should enjoy what they find at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. This is a long championship golf course with a distinctly American feel to it. Players need a certain amount of power, quality ball striking and a solid week on the greens in order to contend here.
The huge amount of rain that’s fallen locally will have an impact on the way Abu Dhabi Golf Club plays. A damp course will limit the distance the ball rolls on the fairways which always makes distance off the tee more important and accuracy less so. It also plays into the hands of the best shot makers as the greens will be more receptive so approach shots should, in theory, end up closer to the hole. Hitting a high percentage of greens in regulation has always been important in Abu Dhabi and could be even more so this time around.
|Abu Dhabi Golf Club||Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates||7,583 Yards||$7,000,000|
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is a tournament on the up. It seems to increase in stature with every passing year with a combination of a healthy prize fund, a world class golf course and some large appearance fees for the biggest names in the game making for an excellent event. With all due respect to the players who competed in the earlier editions of this event (Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey are both multiple winners) the list of recent winners gets more impressive all the time.
Tommy Fleetwood is one of the very best players in European golf. He’s proven his suitability to this course with two wins whilst Shane Lowry won in Abu Dhabi just months before winning his first major championship. Rickie Fowler became the first superstar visiting from America to win in 2016 but the very first edition was actually won by another American, Chris DiMarco.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2019||Shane Lowry||-18||1 Stroke|
|2018||Tommy Fleetwood||-22||2 Strokes|
|2017||Tommy Fleetwood||-17||1 Stroke|
|2016||Rickie Fowler||-16||1 Stroke|
|2015||Gary Stal||-19||1 Stroke|
Analysis: Controlled Power a Must
The effects of the inclement weather in Abu Dhabi should make power more important but this is not a golf course where you can simply grip it a rip it. The event organisers always try to keep the big hitters honest by overseeding the rough and leaving it long enough so that those who miss the fairways will be punished.
We are, therefore, looking for a golfer with plenty power but one who can control that by hitting the fairways. Those who hit the short grass have a much better chance of finding the greens and it is that which has proved to be such a vital statistic over the years in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Lowry a Good Price to Defend
As we’ve seen already, multiple champions are by no means rare in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. That is good news for fans of Irish golf as Shane Lowry heads to the Middle East to defend his title.
Victory in this tournament 12 months ago was the start of an excellent season for Lowry. He’s been a world class performer for some years now but every golfer feels as though they reach a different level when they get over the line in a major.
Lowry’s ability to cope with the elements and a very challenging course saw him get the job done in the Open. That ability to control his ball where necessary and be aggressive when the opportunity presents itself will stand him in very good stead in Abu Dhabi. The fact that he got competitive golf under his belt last week with a second place finish at the Hong Kong Open is another major positive for the Irishman who is very well priced at 20/1 with Ladbrokes.
Wiesberger Ready to Kick On
When Bernd Wiesberger turned up to Abu Dhabi Golf Club last year he did so with limited expectations for a man who had already claimed two top 10 finishes in this event. That’s because he was still working his way back from a wrist injury which forced him to have an extended absence from the game.
He was right to be cautious about his prospects. A 42nd placed finish was actually a good result in the context of what was to follow. It took him some months to work his way back to full fitness and his best golf, but when he did, the Austrian really took advantage. His three wins in 2019 – at the Made In Denmark, Scottish Open and Italian Open – took Wiesberger from 378th in the world to 21st in just over six months. He’s playing better than ever and will return to Abu Dhabi confident about his chances of winning at 40/1 with Betfred.
Final Verdict: Shane Lowry to Win
Shane Lowry is as well placed as any previous winner of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to defend his title. He played excellent golf last week so will have an advantage over many of his competitors and should find the conditions of the course suit his game. Lowry looks the best value bet to win the tournament at 20/1 with Ladbrokes whilst Bernd Wiesberger is tempting for an each way bet at 40/1 with Betfred.
About Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Compared to the Dubai Desert Classic, which was the first European Tour event held in the Arabian Peninsula, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship can be considered something of a slow starter. The tournament’s first edition took place in 2006, 17 years after that ground-breaking event in Dubai.
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship has certainly made up for any lost time though. Not only is it one of the most important golf tournaments in this part of the world, but it is one of the most prestigious events on the entire European Tour.
That prestige went up a notch in 2019 when it was included in the Rolex Series of events which saw the prize fund more than double from $3 million to $7 million and ensure that the field remains incredibly strong, including some of the world’s best golfers.
DiMarco Not a Trend Setter
Like many of the big tournaments taking place in the Middle East, the organisers of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship have never been shy about paying significant appearance fees to tempt over some of the biggest names from the PGA Tour. Several big names have, indeed, played at Abu Dhabi Golf Club including the tournament’s very first winner, Chris DiMarco.
The American is high up on the list of the best players in the history of golf never to have won a major championship and he was a fitting winner of the inaugural edition of a tournament that always wanted to be associated with top echelons of golf. DiMarco, however, did not set a trend for American winners in the desert. Indeed, it would be 10 years until Rickie Fowler became the second American to get his hands on the iconic Falcon Trophy.
Fowler finished ahead of fellow PGA Tour players Jordan Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau in 2016 and has subsequently been followed to Abu Dhabi by the likes of Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Brooks Koepka. None of those big names were able to lift the Falcon Trophy and the first 15 editions of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship provided relatively slim pickings for American golfers.
Lowry the Inspiration
The European Tour is a genuinely global tour and only really has a continued run of tournaments in Europe during the summer months. For much of the rest of the season, the European Tour’s golfers travel around the globe and many have a routine of basing themselves in the UAE early in the year.
The tour’s Middle East Swing takes place in January and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is the first of the three events. It is, therefore, a great chance for golfers who hit the ground running to set themselves up for the coming season.
That is exactly what Shane Lowry did in 2019. The Irishman claimed his maiden Rolex Series win in some style at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. His wire-to-wire win (that is he led the tournament at the end of all four rounds) gave Lowry huge confidence that his game was in great shape, confidence he took with him to Royal Portrush where he won the Open Championship.
Lowry is not the only Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship winner to go on to win a major championship in the same season. Martin Kaymer followed up victory in Abu Dhabi in 2010 with his incredible 11 shot win at the 2010 US PGA Championship. Then there was Tommy Fleetwood who won in both 2018 and 2019 before earning what were his best major championship finishes: fourth and second at the 2018 and 2019 US Open respectively.