Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Following a break over the festive period for most of the world’s best players, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship signals the real start of the 2020 European Tour season.
With a star-studded field and world number 1 Brooks Koepka making the trip over to the Middle East, this event is shaping up to be an exciting one.
Alongside Koepka, fellow Americans Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau have also made the visit to the UAE, while young Danish prospect Viktor Hovland has decided to take part in Abu Dhabi too.
Unfortunately for the European Tour, Rory McIlroy has once again opted to start his 2020 in the US like last year, but otherwise this event provides a strong field this week.
So, without any further ado, my first pick for this week is Koepka (11/1). Not having played competitively since October is undoubtedly a bit of a worry and the obvious reason why the American lies third in the market behind joint-favorites Tommy Fleetwood and Cantlay (9/1).
BET | Brookes Koepka to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship – 11/1 with Bet365
However, with Koepka I’m not sure how much of an issue lack of tournament sharpness will be. Having shown how mentally strong he is in the past couple of years, I don’t see missing a few months golf having any sort of impact on how capable he is of winning a tournament.
If the knee is fully healed, which it seems to be after an extended break, Koepka is the best player and the favorite in this field. With him going out at 11/1 and having finished T9 here last year, it’s a price that you must take a chance with as it’s one that doesn’t come along too often.
Koepka last year likened this course to a major championship venue too, which can only help him given his recent performances in majors.
“This golf course kind of reminds me of like a major championship golf course. It’s tough, demanding off the tee, you really have to be a good ball striker here and the greens are so good, so you need to be able to putt,” the American said.
He even mentioned the fact that it could play into his hands with it being similar to a major: “If you hit it in the rough it’s quite tough. So that’s where to me it seems quite like a major championship golf course, and I’ve done quite well in those”
Although Koepka mentions the rough, Lowry was able to win this tournament last year despite having just a measly 37.5% driving accuracy. If rustiness was to be an issue for Koepka off the tee, the rough may not have as big an impact as he cited.
And with some bad weather over the last couple of weeks in Abu Dhabi, some moisture on this course is only going to play into Koepka’s hands even more.
Louis Oosthuizen is admittedly tempting too at 14/1, but his struggles to win in South Africa when leading twice on day four make it hard to believe that he will be able to complete the job if leading from the front in this type of field.
Next up, I’m backing Bernd Wiesberger (33/1) to start 2020 just like he played throughout 2019 and get off to a winning start.
Wiesberger has for a few years now, ignoring the injuries, been one of the best players on the European Tour. Last year the Austrian kicked on to a new level, winning three events (two being Rolex Series events) and finishing in the top 10 another four times.
This propelled him to a personal all-time high world ranking of 21st, and that taste of success is only likely to help the Austrian get even closer to the top of the world rankings this year.
Previously, despite having multiple wins on the European Tour I would have had question marks over Wiesberger’s ability to convert a top 10 into a win, particularly in an event like this. But after his success last year, there is no doubt this is an event Wiesberger can win if he continues to play as we witnessed throughout last year.
He also has a good track record in Abu Dhabi, with his last four visits reading 42-15-4-26. Not once missing a cut while posting a top 10 and top 20 certainly shows he has a fondness for this golf course and therefore makes him a strong contender this week.
My last pick is from an each-way perspective, and I don’t see anyone better from the higher end of the market than Pablo Larrazabal (70/1).
First and foremost, the Spaniard is a former winner here, seeing off major winners Phil Mickelson and McIlroy in what was a very impressive victory in 2014.
Even since then, when considering that the Spaniard has had quite a difficult few years, his form has generally been pretty impressive in Abu Dhabi.
T26 in 2016, T2 in 2017, MC in 2018 (which can only be seen as an anomaly) and T6 in 2019 illustrates that he is extremely comfortable on this golf course, even when he hasn’t been playing particularly well.
In addition to that, Larrazabal won for the first time since 2015 on his last start back in December. That is likely to have given Larrazabal an enormous confidence boost which will only help him going into this tournament.
Last year he finished T9 at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and followed it with a T6 here. So coming into this week after winning the Alfred Dunhill Championship is only going to increase the positivity he usually has going into this event.
Over on the PGA Tour this week, some of the big guns return after their winter break like the European Tour. Mickelson, Tony Finau, Francesco Molinari, and Rickie Fowler all play in the American Express tournament, formerly known as the Career Builder Challenge and last year as the Desert Classic.
Adam Long, who surprised everyone by beating Phil Mickelson with a clutch birdie putt on the last, is defending champion this week.
The event is played across three different courses, PGA West Stadium Course, PGA West Tournament Course, and La Quinta Country Club while also having an unusual 54-hole cut.
My first choice for the American Express is the host of the event this year, Mickelson (33/1). It’s hard to predict his form at any given time of the year let alone right at the start of the season.
BET | Phil Mickelson to win the American Express – 11/1 with Bet365
However, having finished both second and third here, Mickelson clearly has an affection for this tournament. As mentioned before, Mickelson came extremely close to lifting the trophy here last year and will be desperate to make amends.
He hasn’t played since late October and may be heading towards the twilight of his career, but Mickelson will almost certainly have been working hard both on the course and in the gym getting himself ready for the new season.
There may be an element of added pressure being host, but I believe it will only make him more determined to put on a performance to make sure he is in and around the lead come Sunday.
It’s understandably a huge risk to take on somebody who lacks so much tournament sharpness, but solely based on his performances in this event and the pedigree that the five-time major winner holds, he is worth the risk.
My second pick for this week in the US is going to be Brendan Steele (75/1) each way. With a second-place finish last week where he was leading by three going into the final round, Steele is evidently playing some good golf.
Granted this event has a tougher field than last week at the Sony Open, but Steele’s recent form here reads 57-20-6-34-2 which is excellent for a 75/1 shot.
He may not be able to come away with a win, but the opportunity of a place at 75/1 is of extreme value and his form here suggests he is most definitely worth a punt.
Freelance writer/tipster bringing you tips on each week’s golf events. Previous for Golf Monthly, Daily Mail and #TheClub.