Abu Dhabi Championship: Prolific Olesen worth chancing at a tasty price

Thorbjorn Olesen - one of three Punter's picks in Abu Dhabi
Thorbjorn Olesen - one of three Punter's picks in Abu Dhabi

Rory McIlroy may have withdrawn from the Abu Dhabi Championship but it's an event that's jam-packed with quality players so read The Punter's in-depth preview of the 2017 Desert Swing's first event here...

“In-and-out performer, Thorbjorn Olesen, is another player that often starts too slowly to compete but I’m happy to take a chance on him at 70.069/1. He romped to victory in Turkey in November and that was his third win in 56 starts so he’s fairly prolific.”

Tournament History

As much as I enjoyed last week's BMW SA Open, it always feels as though the European Tour is really up and running when we kick off the Desert Swing with the Abu Dhabi Championship.

This will be the 12th edition if the event and once again we've still got a stellar field to assess, even though world number two, Rory McIlroy, has had to withdraw with a rib injury.


Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Course Details

Par 72, 7,600 yards
Stroke Index in 2016 - 71.5

Designed by Peter Harradine and opened in 1998, Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a long, flat, heavily bunkered and fairly exposed track. The fairways are Paspalum and the greens, which usually run at around 12.5 on the stimpmeter, are Bermuda.

The rough is usually over-seeded with Rye grass to provide a proper test and the course is usually tinkered with in some way in-between editions. A few bunkers have been added this year but the biggest change is on the final hole.

The 18th is a fairly easy par five and it's been the easiest hole on the course for at least the last five years. It averaged just 4.55 12 months ago but this year they've added a completely new tee which is elevated and to the left of the previously used tee. The new tee is said to give "a new and more challenging perspective to the final hole".

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 03:30 on Thursday.

Last Five Winners

2016 - Rickie Fowler -16
2015 - Gary Stal -19
2014 - Pablo Larrazabal -14
2013 - Jamie Donaldson -14
2012 - Robert Rock -13

What Will it Take to Win the Abu Dhabi Championship?

This is another event where what happens off the tee is somewhat inconsequential. Last year's winner, Rickie Fowler, ranked fourth for Driving Accuracy and 27th for Driving Distance. The 2015 winner, Gary Stal ranked 12th for DA and only 54th for DD, whilst the 2014 champ, Pablo Larrazabal only ranked 59th for DA and 22nd for DD.

In the early years, length off the tee appeared more important than accuracy and I'd still favour distance over accuracy but the most important stat is Greens In Regulation.

McIlroy has been placed in each of the last three years having hit more greens than anyone else and seven of the last ten winners have ranked inside the top-ten for GIR.

Is There an Angle In?

After Chris DiMarco had won the inaugural event in 2006, Paul Casey (twice) and Martin Kaymer (three times) were the only two players to win the event over the next five years. Course form stands up fairly well and a number of other players also have fine records here but the last five winners didn't have a previous top-ten finish at Abu Dhabi Golf Club between them before they won.

Fowler had finished 66th on debut the year before he won, Gary Stal had missed the cut 12 months earlier on his only previous visit, Pablo Larrazabal's form figures read 42-42-11-MC-39 before he won here in 2014, Jamie Donaldson, the 2013 winner's course form figures read MC-23-50-20-11-30 and the 2012 victor, Robert Rock, had figures of 59-47-MC-MC. I wouldn't get too hung up on course form.

Desert golf is quite unique so favour those that have already shown an aptitude for it. Look at results for the Dubai Desert Classic and the DP World Tour Championship. Anyone already possessing a good record in the UAE is worthy of close inspection.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Rickie Fowler went off at around the 20/1 mark 12 months ago but the four winners before him were all huge outsiders. Stal was matched at 320.0319/1 before the 2015 edition and Larrazabal, Donaldson and Rock were all matched at a triple-figure price so don't be afraid to back an outsider or two.

The first and last winners were both Americans but the ten in-between were all European.

In-Play Tactics

I can't look at the in-play performances of the winners without mentioning the most spectacular loser! Having already won here three times, and having led after rounds one, two and three, when Martin Kaymer birdied three of the first four holes to take a ten-stroke lead on Sunday, he was matched for over £50k at 1.011/100 two years ago and I'm not surprised. He looked an absolute certainty to go on and win the title for a fourth time but a bogey at the sixth, a double-bogey at the ninth and a triple at the 13th, saw him come back to the field. It was a horrendous collapse and he's not won since.

That capitulation allowed Stal to win from eight shots adrift after 54 holes and not surprisingly, that's the furthest any winner has trailed by after three rounds. Three shots adrift is the furthest any other winner has trailed by.

Casey was eight back and tied for 43rd after round one in 2007 and Fowler trailed by six after the opening day's play last year so a fast start isn't essential.

A couple of quirky things of note are that in the 11 editions to date, there has never been a playoff and that in each of the last five years; a star name arguably should have won. In addition to the aforementioned implosion by Kaymer, McIlroy hit a low of 2.26/5 very early on in the event last year, Rock outgunned Tiger Woods in 2012, Justin Rose gave up a two-stroke 54-hole lead when Donaldson won, and Larrazabal got the better of both McIlroy and Phil Mickelson in what transpired to be another fascinating final round.

Market Leaders

Jordan Spieth finished tied for fifth here 12 months ago, two weeks after he'd romped to victory in the SBS Tournament of Champions in Hawaii and this year it's the turn of fellow high-ranking American, Dustin Johnson, to make his Abu Dhabi debut. This course should suit him nicely but it's hard to gauge how he'll fare. He was sixth two weeks ago at the SBS Tournament of Champions so he's had a pipe-opener and he's a worthy favourite if he takes to the course.

Henrik Stenson's first three course visits yielded form figures reading 2-8-2 but in his seven subsequent starts he produced figures reading MC-20-42-MC-23-MC-MC. He appeared to have lost any love he had for the course but he rebounded last year when finishing tied for third alongside Rory so it's anybody's guess which Henrik turns up this time around. This is his first start since he finished ninth at the DP World Tour Championship in November and the lack of a recent outing is off-putting.

The only other player trading at less than 20/1 is the defending champ, Rickie Fowler, but he makes little appeal. He's never got close to successfully defending a title before and he hasn't played competitively since October when he finished sixth at the HSBC Champions in China.


Matthew Fitzpatrick hasn't been seen since winning the DP World Championship in November and he has a habit of starting slowly so I've not gone overboard but I thought he was worth chancing at 30.029/1. That win shows his obvious liking for desert golf and as highlighted above, not having strong course form hasn't been a barrier to success here of late so I'm not unduly concerned that in two previous visits he missed the cut in 2015 before finishing 26th last year.

In-and-out performer, Thorbjorn Olesen, is another player that often starts too slowly to compete but I'm happy to take a chance on him at 70.069/1.

He romped to victory in Turkey in November and that was his third win in 56 starts so he's fairly prolific. He finished 2016 really well as he followed that win with victory at the World Cup of Golf alongside Soren Kjeldsen and he's also got a bit of form around here too. Olesen finished eighth on debut in 2012 and runner-up in 2013. His last three visits haven't been quite so productive but he did at least make the cut.

My third and final pick is Jeunghun Wang who really shouldn't be trading at a triple-figure price. He won back-to-back tournaments in Morocco and Mauritius last year after graduating from the Challenge Tour and he finished runner-up at the prestigious Nedbank Challenge in November.

He also finished second at the Dubai Open on the Asian Tour in 2014 and rounds of 65 and 66 at the weekend at the DP World Championship in November show he can play desert golf. This is his Abu Dhabi Championship debut so that's a bit of a negative but he's a rapidly rising star who could be vastly over-priced.

Matthew Fitzpatrick @ 30.029/1
Thorbjorn Olesen @ 70.069/1
Jeunghun Wang @ 110.0109/1

I'll be back tomorrow with my Career Builder Challenge preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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