It may be a bit harsh on the four tournaments we’ve just seen in South Africa but for many people the European Tour season really gets going this week with the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. The three events in the Middle East are always exciting and they draw in some great players but there is a special buzz about the 2016 renewal as Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth go head to head for the first time in the year.
While Spieth has never before played in this tournament McIlroy has given it eight previous attempts to win here and although he’s got an incredible record in terms of top five finishes he’s yet to get over the line. The Northern Irishman is though, an excellent proponent of desert golf and when he lifted the Race to Dubai trophy once again at the end of the last European Tour season he did it with one of his finest performances to hold off the challenge of Andy Sullivan at the DP World Tour Championship. Of course Spieth is good enough to win whenever he’s in the field and his winning score of -30 at the Tournament of Champions was phenomenal, but without any experience of this event and comparatively little of golf in the Middle East, Rory makes the biggest betting appeal at odds of 9/2 with Coral.
McIlroy may know this course incredibly well but in case you’re less familiar with it, it is a par 72 layout which can stretch out to 7,600 yards when the holes are playing at their longest. Like many of the best desert golf courses it is flat, contains a great deal of bunkering and is exposed to the windy conditions that are often prevalent. The tournament organisers like to keep the rough pretty punishing so although distance is important at this long track, hitting it miles offline isn’t going to get you near the top of the leaderboard.
When the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship first took its place on the European Tour it was seen as an event in which only the very best players had a chance of winning but more recently there have been some shock winners. Gary Stal made the most of Martin Kaymer’s capitulation last year while none of the three winners before him – Pablo Larrazábal, Jamie Donaldson and Robert Rock – were well fancied. With eight major champions in the field there is as much class about this event as ever but Joost Luiten could upset the odds at 70/1 with Betfred. Luiten has only ever missed two cuts playing in the UAE and he’s finished sixth here two years running so is well worth an each way bet.
Another long shot odds worth an each way punt is Tyrrell Hatton. The young Englishman couldn’t find his best stuff against moderate opposition in South Africa last week but he averages under 70 in eight rounds at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, has two top 10 finishes in two starts tends to play well on desert tracks. All of that makes the 125/1 that Coral are offering much too big.