Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Abu Dhabi Championship 2015

As is becoming the norm at Abu Dhabi in recent years, some of the world's best will tee it up this week on the European Tour. World Number Once, Jordan Spieth will do so for the very first time and will see him do battle with Rory McIlroy, who despite excellent course form goes in search of the Falcon Trophy for the first time. The Irishman has pocketed an incredible four runners-up spots, two either side of his missed cut when playing with his new Nike clubs for the first time in 2013. He also boasts two other TOP5s ! If Rory has course form then what can be said about Martin Kaymer, who let's be honest, really should have won this for the fourth time twelve months ago who at one stage in the fourth round had a ten shot lead only to see Frenchman, Gary Stal take the spoils. Kaymer hasn't won since but be assured he'll be out to put the nightmare of twelve months ago to bed here and kick off 2016 in fine form. The aforementioned, Spieth has already kicked started 2016 in spectacular fashion by taking out the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii by a whopping eight shots ! If those three players don't whet our appetite enough, we can look forward to strong challenges from the World Numbers five and six, Stenson & Fowler ! It's a star studded line-up and its sure to have its drama played over the 7,600 yard course where strong GIR stats for the week will complement decent driving stats for the victor.

We may be in a post-Tiger Woods era, where a new Big-3 or indeed Big-4 are emerging but there are plenty of challengers from all quarters that cannot be discounted lightly. In a sport where the mental aspect can play such a huge part in achieving success, this week's tournament presents us, the spectator, the betting man, a conundrum as to who is most likely to taste success come Sunday evening. Will it be in the in form, hot Texan or will the Ulsterman be motivated to put one past his pretender to the throne early in the season ? Will Kaymer show is class again on a course that he knows so much better than anyone else or will one of the young guns continue their rise within the game and take the scalp of the big boys ? The latter scenario offers probably the most likely outcome where if we were to look at the results over the past four years, the hot favourites have been defeated by less fancied players ; Rock, Donaldson, Larrazabal and Stal having taken the honours ahead of the likes of McIlroy, Woods, and Kaymer.

So, of the two leading protagonists, I would tend to side with Rory over Jordan here despite the American's red-hot form of late. Why? Spieth will play in Abu Dhabi for the first time and whilst he is the type of player that can suit any course, he may find a "low-key", ordinary European Tour event different to that of a Major or WGC and may take some time to adjust whereas, Rory, despite making his seasonal debut here (as he always does here) has the edge over him in terms of course knowledge and has been practicing out in the desert for a week or so at this stage - Rory's fired up for this week and would like to close the gap on Spieth quickly and put down his marker ! With both players priced up @ 9/2 (5.50) I'll take my chances further down the field in the hope that Rory's putter doesn't heat up under the desert sun.

Haydn Porteus may have taken some inspiration from his good friend, Brandon Stone when winning last week and the same inspiration could  be sought by their compatriot, Branden Grace this week too. As alluded to in my preview on this blog twelve months ago, South African's have tended to go well here, especially coming off form in the South African swing and Grace will be glad to have dusted off the new year cobwebs when finishing TOP5 at Glendower two weeks ago despite not hitting top gear. He produced a TOP20 twelve months ago along with a TOP5 in 2013 but this is a much improved player from those outings. He ranks high for GIR and is no slouch off the tee either. Coming into this week, Grace has 3/3 TOP10s this season, and should be ready to go.

Another who may be just inspired or simply motivated to have a good week is Danny Willett. Willett was undefeated in the EurAsia Cup the weekend and should be motivated to make the Ryder Cup team later in the year. Having run Rory to the wire in last season's Race to Dubai, the Englishman has stepped up over the last twelve months, and despite mixed course form (just the one TOP10 in seven visits and that on his debut), he could be a factor this week. On the other side of the coin to Willett's successful contribution last week is Tongchai Jaidee who was a member of the defeated Asian Team in Malaysia. The 46 year old has solid course form having played here for the first ten instalments, producing two TOP10s and a further four TOP15s. Those two TOP10s came on his last two visits and although I'm inclined to favour the young brigade these days, the 46 year old Thai could be smarting from the heavy team defeat and produce a result at a nice price. At 66/1 he's certainly better value than those around him in that price bracket and he wont fear the big guns.

Daniel Im has got off to a prefect start to his first season on the Tour with back to back TOP10s in South Africa. He can maintain his form this week and if driving the ball as well as of late could be worth chancing in the TOP10/20 markets (16/1, 7/1). The American won on the challenge tour last year as did Stone and Porteous and who's to say he can't maintain form in a stronger field this week ?

I could back a few here this week, particularly Chris Wood and Peter Uihlein, and were it not for better course form I probably would include. I also wanted to back Alex Noren this week but as he makes his comeback yet again, I'm happy to take a watching brief here and hopefully get involved in Qatar where course form is better than here. However, another, like Rory who has been out in Dubai for over a week practising and acclimatizing ahead of the tournament, is Joost Luiten, who has produced two sixth place finishes in his last two visits. Luiten produced just one TOP10 on the European Tour in 2015 but has 1/1 already this season when finishing 5th at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in November. Luiten will be determined to make Hazeltine in September but to do so, he needs to take advantage when the opportunity arises. He seems to be focused and prepared for this week and he's the TOP10 selection @ 6.50

0.25 pts e/w T. Jaidee  @ 67.00
2.5  pts J. Luiten TOP10 @ 6.50
3 pts D. Im TOP20 @ 8.00

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