Thorbjorn Olesen – HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship
A stellar field headed by World No.1 Rory Mcilroy has assembled in Abu Dhabi this week for the first event in the three week Desert Swing. The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship returns to the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, which has played host to this tournament since its inception in 2006. This 7,600yd Par 72 course is a flat track, with narrow fairways and quite penal rough, and also has water featuring on nine of the holes. Although Martin Kaymer won this event in 2011 with a record 24 under winning score, the course has been toughened up since then, so with quick, firm greens, I expect a much sterner test this week. Sunshine all the way for the tournament, but with breezes picking up over the weekend to around 10-15mph, this exposed layout could pose a few problems for some ring rusty golfers.
The obvious starting point from a punting perspective, is to look at the chance of the short priced favourite Rory McIlroy. The layers have taken no chances in pricing him up at such a skinny price, but despite not previously winning here, he boasts a great course record. Other than a missed cut in 2013, when he was using his new Nike clubs competitively for the first time, his form guide from 2008 reads 11-5-3-2-2-2. He has been practicing hard in Dubai last week, but at such prohibitive odds, and the possibility of just needing the outing, I will look elsewhere for better value this week.
My main fancy is the Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, who secured his second victory on the European Tour, with a win at the ISPS Handa Perth International last October. After a poor year, where he struggled to mix playing both the European and PGA Tours, the promising 25 year old backed up his win in Australia, with a Tied 6th in the WGC HSBC Championship, and a Tied 12th in the end of season finale in Dubai. He has course form at this track, having finished a Tied 2nd in 2013, and a Tied 8th in 2012, and is another who has been practicing in Dubai last week. He is a player who tends to play well in the Middle East, and proved with his previous Tour wins in both Sicily and Perth, that he is really comfortable playing these breezy layouts.
I have to include course specialist, and three time winner of this event Martin Kaymer in my staking plan this week. The German finished last year rather tamely, after high profile wins earlier in the season at both the Players Championship at Sawgrass, and a runaway victory in the US Open at Pinehurst. He gave the distinct impression at the backend of last season that he badly needed a break, so the four weeks off since his last outing could well prove to be a positive. The layers may have overreacted to his poor late season form, so with such good vibes about this venue, he looks the value at the top end of the market.
An outsider who seems overpriced, is the South African Thomas Aiken, who showed further signs last week that he is returning to form. He had a Tied 5th place finish in the South African Open, and I noted his long game looked in particularly good shape in Joburg (2nd in Driving Accuracy) which was backed up with stats of 6th in Greens in Regulation. This fairways and green merchant should be well suited to this type of test. With no question marks over him needing the outing, this solid ball striker could pop up at a decent price on a course where he has bits and pieces of previous form.
Of the other notables at the top end of the market, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson both hold obvious chances, having posted good finishes here before, whilst the colourful American Rickie Fowler makes his course debut this week.