The European Tour kicks off the 2021 schedule with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and Matt Cooper has three each-way selections with the Betfair Sportsbook paying eight places...
"Of the 11 men who have won this week’s title in its 15 year history, nine of them have a top three finish on the linksland in their logbooks."
Main Bet: Victor Perez each-way @ 28/1
It still tickles me just what a remarkable September 2019 the Frenchman Victor Perez enjoyed - a month that demonstrated in full just how quickly fortunes can be transformed in professional golf.
The 28-year-old began it by missing two cuts and then had a week off when the tour headed to its Wentworth headquarters because his category wasn't good enough for him to earn even the sniff of a tee time.
Just a week later he carded two laps of 64 in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship to get himself into the last group on Sunday and he emerged triumphant in what became a final round head-to-head with Matthew Southgate.
In the immediate aftermath of that success, Perez gave every impression of being emboldened, as if his golf was a flower that had just needed a little water to blossom.
By the end of the year, he'd finished fourth in his World Golf Championship debut, made the play-off in the Turkish Airlines Open, and landed a top 20 on his DP World Tour Championship bow.
Towards the end of last season, he was again playing high-quality golf, this time in the European Tour's top two events.
He spent all weekend tussling for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and then did followers of this column a pre-Christmas favour when landing solo seventh and a full place payout on his return to the DP World Tour Championship.
The latter result was further proof that Perez has a distinct fondness for competing in the desert, a trend that has stood firm throughout his time on both the Challenge and European Tours.
On the second tier, he finished seventh and second at Al Hamra, the latter in the 2018 Grand Final.
Then, at the start of his 2019 main tour rookie campaign, he made four of five cuts on the Desert Swing and he markedly improved on that solid effort 12 months ago.
He opened slowly here at Abu Dhabi, with two laps of 70, but he closed 68-63 to set a clubhouse target which only Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick could match, and only winner Lee Westwood better.
A week later he was second at the Dubai Desert Classic with 18 holes to play and he led the Saudi International at halfway; both times he went backwards, but it was more experience of contending among the best players on the circuit.
In his eight professional starts in the U.A.E. Perez has landed four place payouts - and in his ten starts in the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, he's found himself in the top ten at some point during the week on seven occasions.
There's a final factor that clinches his selection - an unlikely link with links golf.
Maybe it's not so improbable because punters have long noted that Doha, which hosted the Qatar Masters, was a good spot for strong links performers.
But of the 11 men who have won this week's title in its 15 year history, nine of them have a top three finish on the linksland in their logbooks.
Delve deeper and six of those have a top four at St Andrews whilst a seventh has three top tens there.
Moreover, a glance at players who have finished second at Abu Dhabi further emphasises that Old Course pedigree seems handy: Rory McIlroy, Louis Oosthuizen, Ross Fisher, Thorbjorn Olesen, Richard Sterne and Henrik Stenson are all top three finishers at the home of golf.
Perez has already landed the Abu Dhabi-Old Course top three double, but he also has the game to upgrade it.
Next Best: Bernd Wiesberger each-way @ 33/1
After his triumphant three-win comeback season of 2019 it was perhaps inevitable that 2020 would be something of a struggle for Austria's Bernd Wiesberger.
However, he topped and tailed it in decent fashion and that's enough to fuel interest in him this week.
To take the latter factor first, he closed the year with nothing better than T36th at the DP World Tour Championship, but his record there has, with the odd exception, been somewhat lacklustre so I'm willing to overlook it.
More persuasive was his tied fourth at the RSM Classic and tied eighth at the Golf in Dubai Championship - especially the first of those since it was only his second top ten finish in 59 starts at PGA Tour level and bettered his previous best of tied ninth in the HSBC Champions.
And what of the start of 2020? Well, he carded a third round 65 here in Abu Dhabi to head into Sunday just one shot back of the lead before finishing tied eighth.
He seems to like the test because it was his fifth top 30 in his last six starts on the course, three of which would have earned a place payout.
It's also true that his failure to feature in the top 30 came when he was T42nd in 2019 and that result was better than it seems on first glance because it was his best effort in a run of ten starts which took in his last weeks playing injured and his return to action after rehabilitation.
Already a two-time winner of Rolex Series events, he can take aim at a third this week.
Final Bet: Joakim Lagergren each-way @ 125/1
Nobody would pretend that the European Tour's Strokes Gained stats are currently as trustworthy as those on the PGA Tour, but, accepting that and going on what we do have, winners on this Peter Harradine examination do tend to be performers who end a season in the higher echelons of the SG: Approach rankings.
It might not be so surprising in the case of world class performers such as Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey, but at their best Jamie Donaldson and Robert Rock also thrive in that element of the game.
Sweden's Joakim Lagergren didn't have a great 2019, but he still ranked 30th for Approach, and his improved 2020 saw him end the year fifth for the same category.
He's also owns three top four finishes on the Old Course (including a best of third), has made a play-off in the Middle East (at the Qatar Masters), and he's twice carded a 65 at Abu Dhabi.
He closed 2020 with three top eights in seven appearances and it's well within him to open 2021 with another at a tasty price.
MATT'S 2021 P/L
2020 P/L: -32pts