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Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship preview


After watching Louis Oosthuizen defend his Volvo Golf Champions trophy this past weekend, we now look ahead to the 2nd European Tour event of 2014, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. This event is the first of three in the “Middle Eastern Swing” and due to it’s obvious financial pull, the tournament attracts some of the best names in world golf.

Last year, Welshman Jamie Donaldson picked up his 2nd win on the European Tour, after a stellar round of 68 on Sunday, taking advantage of 54-hole leader Justin Rose’s disappointing final round. No one stat stood out for Donaldson over the week, as he showed all-round good play, however Greens in Regulation was important when looking at the top of the leaderboard as a whole. Donaldson ranked 8th in this category, whilst the chasing duo of Rose and Thorbjorn Olesen finished 1st and 6th respectively.

Another thing last year’s winner did well, was put himself in position off the tee, ranking 16th in Driving Accuracy and you have to go down to Jason Dufner, who finished 9th to find someone who ranked higher (Dufner ranked 2nd on the week). With this in mind I am more inclined to put an emphasis on accuracy, over distance and putting.

Abu Dhabi GC, the course this week plays at 7,600 yards, and is a par 72, but despite it’s length I still, as aforementioned do not make it advantage long-hitters this week. We have seen players, who are not amongst the longest hitters, win at events they are expected to struggle at, PGA Tour player Zach Johnson the prime example, and that could well be the case again this week. If you are accurate enough, you can take advantage of the par 3s and 4s, whilst not trying to force anything on the par 5s. The Bermuda greens at this course are expected to be firmer than usual this week, so again accuracy and control will be key. The fairways have also been narrowed over the years, and this will force players to play well off the tee, as well as into the green. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 12th greens have been enlarged to accommodate more challenging pin positions, whilst the 15th green has been raised  slightly.

Since the inaugural staging of this event in 2006, there have been two multiple winners here at Abu Dhabi GC, one being Paul Casey (2 wins) and the other Martin Kaymer who has won it three times, finished runner-up once, finished 6th last year and missed just two cuts in seven appearances, impressive.

Kaymer’s two missed cuts came in 2007 and 2012, with 2007 being his first look at the course, and 2012 being a particularly poor year for the German, well until Medinah anyway! Following his missed cut in 07′, Kaymer won on his very next attempt in 2008 and then 2,1,1 from then on until the other missed cut in 2012. He is a superb player, who lost his way dramatically due to a swing change gone wrong, and he will be keen to get back in the winners circle this week, for the first time since 2011, coming of the back of some improved form.

There are some great players on show this week, and the market has reacted, with no less than five players coming in at 20/1 or below, and this can only be a good thing, should you like anyone outside the “big 5”. These players are, Rory Mcilroy (13/2), Henrik Stenson, (8/1), Sergio Garcia (11/1) and both Phil Mickelson and Martin Kaymer complete the list at 16/1. Other than that it’s 25/1 and bigger the rest, and there are plenty of players who appeal at larger odds.

After coming so close to a win last week with Branden Grace, who came 2nd to Oosthuizen, it would be nice to go one better this week, in what I hope is going to be a great tournament. Best of luck, and here are my picks for this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Branden Grace 35/1 (Bet365 & BetVictor) 1.5pts e/w: Although, until the final stretch Grace’s play was absolutely superb last week, this pick isn’t solely based on that performance in the Volvo Golf Champions, but a combination of course and recent form.

Grace has now had consecutive top-10 finishes, coming 6th and 2nd in his last two efforts, and it certainly looks like he has got the bit between his teeth, a happy sign for us. We know he’s a winner, he proved that by winning four events in one calender year (2012) and it was always going to be difficult to reach the same heights a season on. So a winless 2013 follows for Grace, and therefore an inflation on his odds has occurred, something I personally, could not be happier about.

As aforementioned, last week’s performance was a bonus, no doubt, but there were other factors in my decision to pick the South African here in Abu Dhabi. 12 months ago, on only his 2nd appearance at the course, Grace finished an encouraging 5th place, a huge improvement on his missed cut in 2012.

What is surprising is how Grace managed to finish so highly, despite somewhat struggling in terms of accuracy last time out. In 2013, despite finishing just four shots behind eventual winner Donaldson, Grace ranked 68th in Driving Accuracy and 52nd in Greens in Regulation. You begin to wonder where Grace would of finished had he of been hitting the ball better, and that is exactly what he did do last week.

If Grace can carry his ball striking form over from last week, he will have a great chance of not only repeating last year’s good play, but going even better. In the Volvo Golf Champions event last week, Grace finished 17th in Driving Accuracy and 7th in Greens in Regulation, very positive signs indeed, and something that I hope continues.

Paul Casey 40/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes, SpreadEx, William Hill) 1pt e/w: Casey is not a player I like to bet on generally, especially recently as I think his value has gone since making a return to the winners circle at the Irish Open, but I have a feeling that could be different this week.

At 40/1 the two-time Abu Dhabi Championship winner was too hard to ignore, and I am hoping he can continue to find some of his old game. Casey combines long hitting, with accurate hitting, especially at this course, and I am hoping to see some more of that this week, with improved play on the greens.

Last year, when finishing 23rd, Casey ranked 2nd in Greens in Regulation, as well as 9th in Driving Distance, and 16th in Driving Accuracy, so his all round play here, tee-to-green is absolutely superb and I am just desperate for him to warm the putter up. He ranked 48th in Putts Per GIR, and 68th in Putts Per Round here last year, and that is where is problem lies. With missed putts comes more frustration, and that can only effect the rest of his game, so I cannot stress how much that needs to improve.

He is still inconsistent at the moment, despite getting on a roll late last year, but I am hoping the memories of multiple wins here in Abu Dhabi are enough to trigger a solid week all-round for this mega talented player.

In a Ryder Cup year, good play will be more important than ever for Casey, and he will have a legitimate chance of getting in, should he continue to show what everyone knows he is capable of. It is clear no one wants it more than him, and the incentive of playing in the most heralded team event in history may just be enough to get him over the line, in events he knows he’s capable of winning.

Thorbjorn Olesen 70/1 (Bet365 & SpreadEx) 1pt e/w: After impressing early on in his career, and also getting a win in 2012, there was a definite buzz around this young Dane, but after a challenging 2013, Olesen will keen to move on, and improve further in 2014.

Olesen suffered an injury plagued season in 2013, despite starting the year of in great fashion, and hopefully the worst is behind him, and he can get back to contending whilst odds like 70/1 are around.

The highlight of Olesen’s 2013 will no doubt be his 6th place finish at Augusta in what was his first Masters apperance, and he would love to head into Augusta with great form, in order to perform exceptionally well again.

What is it that I like about Olesen’s chances this week? Well apart from the price, Olesen has some great course form, and although he’s struggled to play well on a consistent basis in recent months, the return to Abu Dhabi may be exactly what he needs. In two appearances in this event, Olesen has finished 2nd and 8th, a great feat when you consider the strength of the field here year after year.

He was the only player to shoot four rounds in the 60’s last year, and that kind of performance will be more than welcome again this week, in what will hopefully be the spark he needs in his return form.

If he is going to have a good year this year, similar to that of 2012, than he will want to start it off quickly, and where better to do that than a course you know you play well at.

Emiliano Grillo 200/1 (BetVictor) 0.5pt e/w: Emiliano Grillo is a great young talent, who in my opinion needs to get himself in the winners circle this year, to start fulfilling his potential.

This made be too much of a step up for him, but the course looks suitable for him, and I am happy to excuse his missed cut last year, due to his inexperience. The reason I say the course suits is because of his accuracy, both off the tee and hitting into greens as he ranked 26th in Driving Accuracy and 4th in Greens in Regulation over the course of the 2013 European Tour season.

Grillo has some form going into this event, after finishing 3rd on his last start, albeit it coming on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, but it’s a confidence booster all the same. I am a big believer of building on a good performance last time out, and that’s exactly what Grillo will be hoping for, in order to once again build his reputation on the European Tour.

He has shown he can play well in big events, on some difficult tracks and hopefully 2nd time around he can do well here in Abu Dhabi. Finishing 6th in the Johnnie Walker Championship last season was by far his stand out performance, and one of his best since joining the tour, so I am hoping he can draw confidence from playing those types of results. This is a star-studded field, and it will no doubt be a hard event to win, but at 200/1 I am tempted to just see how he gets on, knowing he has to up his game.

Points staked on the European Tour this week: 8

Total points staked this week (inc PGA Tour): TBC

Profit/Loss for 2014: +4.75

A nearly week last week, as Branden Grace came 2nd, and I am hoping he can go one better this week. Apart from that, we nearly did really well in the Sony Open over on the PGA Tour too, as both Harris English and Brian Stuard were tied for lead mid-way through their rounds. It was not to be however as they finished 4th and 6th respectively, but two full each/way payouts in the first two events of 2014 can never hurt, and let’s hope the profit continues. Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts with me on Twitter @TJacobsGolf


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