Niall Lyons previews the tournament in the Middle East and picks out five golfers in particular.
The heat is cranked up on the European Tour season this week as Abu Dhabi takes centre stage, the place where Tommy Fleetwood hopes he can continue this whirlwind of victories which started out here last year. The Abu Dhabi GC in the UAE has been a successful venue now for many years with the iconic Falcon clubhouse that stares back at you as walk up 18. Greens in regulation have always been important on this course and those whose long game isn't firing will probably be packing early. It will take good scores to contend, but that will mostly rely upon how well you hit the ball from tee to green.
Dustin Johnson blew the Hawaii field apart a few weeks ago and looked more like the DJ who was winning events for fun before he took that tumble down stairs on the eve of the Masters. He looks set for a big push towards the first Major of the year and jaunts to these places will do him no harm. The quotes of 5/1 are far too short for me to get involved however. There are plenty of good tee to green games that could contend here and although DJ is a class apart I am prepared to let him go unbacked at these odds when he is playing in the Far East. Rory McIlroy looks better value as he has a tremendous record here. Four runner up spots and another three top 5 finishes doesn't quite tell Rory's full story here. Two of those runner up spots were with penalty shots taken off after his round due to once testing the sand, and another relief issue from a spectator walkway. He could quite easily hit the ground running but I can't advise as I think he is best played in running. If getting off to a solid start I would happily take around the 6/1 mark. However, there is a slight question mark, and I'd rather wait to see how he looks after he tees off.
The top three in the betting rarely win so it may pay dividends to look elsewhere. For someone who performs consistently well in this part of the world I think RAFA CABRERA-BELLO (Best Price 35-1) has a fair chance of playing well.. He is someone who has a very solid long game and all the tools to make a bold fist of this title. He has two top tens here and another three top 20s and with a win and runner up spot in Dubai, three runner up spots in Qatar and Hong Kong, the evidence is there that he relishes these tests. The sound putting surfaces help Bello as he knows the putts for the most part are totally pure. A win last year at the Scottish Open was long overdue, even though it fell onto his lap so to speak. He plays far too well in this part of the world to be discounted and having last seen him finish 2nd in Hong Kong he should be in decent nick.
NICOLAS COLSAERTS (best price 150-1) is finally showing signs of returning to the form of yesteryear and I think this could be the venue where he gets back in the winners enclosure. The Turkish Airlines Open at the back end of last season was where he nearly got there finishing in runner up spot. Although inconsistent last term, a performance like that in Turkey had been on the cards. When playing better stuff Colsaerts had three top 30 finishes here including an 11th spot in 2011. We all know how Greens In Regulation is important around here and it is worth noting that the Belgian topped that stat in 2011 and was 2nd in 2015. This is a place that suits his long game and if he can hole a few putts he may well just get into the argument.
Plenty of golfers have numerous high finishes in this event so it is certainly one where you must concentrate on previous results. DEAN BURMESTER (best price 100-1) has only had one attempt here which finished in a tie for 7th and he is certainly someone with enough talent to perform to this level or better again. He skipped last weeks offering to be fresh for this event and with his only other performance out in these parts resulting in a top 5 at the DP World Tour Championship, he could be a lively outsider.
He may have finished off 2017 with some lacklustre performances, but I think BYEONG HUN-AN (best price 66-1) is worth including this week. He has played well here in Abu Dhabi posting 10 and 12 round under par and never outside the top 15. The solid tee to green game is his biggest asset here and I think that's why his performances have solid. Interestingly he has some of his best finishes in this part of the world. 5th place finishes here and in Qatar have been backed up with fourth place finishes in the Dubai Desert in 2016 and the DP World Tour the previous year. It's a risky one for sure, but he has the talent to bounce back from those end of year performances.
Many readers of my column will know that I'm a huge RYAN FOX (best price 200-1) fan and that I think it'll only be a matter of time before he converts on the European Tour. I was surprised it didn't come last season after his superlatives in the Summer with top 6 finishes in France, Ireland and Scotland. I was very surprised he didn't perform too well after that but I've not given up hope for sure. His debut here last year resulted in four under par rounds just inside the top 20. He kicked off this year's campaign with a fourth placed finish last week on the Australasian circuit so he can take some confidence from that. He hits the ball a long way and if he can perform well on approaches to the green he could well out play his big odds.