It's almost two months since this season's only DP World Tour event to date - the Joburg Open - was reduced to 36 holes with the Omicron variant starting to surge so it's great to get back on track again and the Tour is back with a bang on Thursday.
The 17th edition of the Abu Dhabi Championship is the first of two consecutive Rolex Series events, with the Dubai Desert Classic next on the schedule, and we're in for a treat with a fabulous new venue and a cracking field that includes world number two and reigning Race to Dubai champ, Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, the defending champ, Tyrrell Hatton and Norway's world number seven, Viktor Hovland.
Yas Links, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Par 72 -7,425 yards
After 16 years at the Peter Harradine-designed Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the Abu Dhabi Championship is moving to a brand-new venue for the first time in the tournament's history.
Described as the first true links course in the UAE and designed by Kyle Philips, the man responsible for Kingsbarns, Yas Links only opened in March 2010.
The Paspalum grass Par 72 Championship Links course, which has rolling hills and seashore green locations, currently ranks 48th in Golf Digest's Top 100 courses in the world, and 60th in the World by Platinum Clubs of the World.
Yas Links was built on a perfectly flat piece of land and according to the designer, they "were able to significantly enhance and expand the existing shoreline and use the dredged sand to build an interesting variety of dune formations."
It looks like a spectacular course with a fabulous finish and this is what Philips told Nick Gordon about the 18th back in 2016.
"My favourite hole here is the par five 18th, a true crescendo as one can attempt to cut the corner and reach the green in two. This is one of the most dramatic finishing holes I have designed."
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 3:30 on Thursday morning in the UK
Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2021 - Tyrrell Hatton -18 14.5
2020 - Lee Westwood -19 140.0139/1
2019 - Shane Lowry -18 90.089/1
2018 - Tommy Fleetwood -22 34.033/1
2017 - Tommy Fleetwood -17 80.079/1
2016 - Rickie Fowler -16 21.020/1
What Will it Take to Win the Abu Dhabi Championship?
Although this is a new course, form in the region will almost certainly hold up. Links form stands up well at the old venue for this event, as well as the Emirates, the course used for next week's Dubai Desert Classic, and at Doha, the track that will be used again for first time in three years at the Qatar Masters next month.
Look to the Scottish Open, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and of course, the Open Championship for evidence of links form as what little evidence we have suggests Yas really is a genuine links track.
The Yas Links has hosted an annual pro-am event called the Abu Dhabi Invitational and the tournament's winners' roll call includes the likes of Darren Clarke, Steven Gallacher, Retief Goosen and Lee Westwood, who are all renowned links exponents.
Is There an Angle In?
One further angle in could be to look at results of tournaments played at some of Philips' other designs.
In addition to the Grove, which hosted the British Masters in 2016, won by Alex Noren, and the WGC- American Express in 2006, won by Tiger Woods, and Kingsbarns, which is one of the three courses used in rotation at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, Kyle Philips, is also responsible for four other tracks used on the European Tour...
Philips designed the Dundonald Links, which hosted the Scottish Open in 2017, the PGA Sweden National, which held the 2014 and 2015 editions of what is now the Scandinavian Mixed (formerly the Nordea Masters), Bernardus, which last year hosted the Dutch Open for the first time, and he also designed Verdura Golf and Spa, which hosted all four editions of the now defunct Sicily Open between 2011 and 2018.
It's going to be well worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast as an early start on Thursday could prove beneficial. At the time of writing, Friday looks by far the blusteriest day of the week with the wind beginning to pick up on Thursday afternoon. If that transpires to be the case, an early -late draw maybe better than a PM-AM slot but things can soon change.
Outsiders Fare Well in Abu Dhabi
Although generally a 90.089/1 chance, Shane Lowry was matched at 100.099/1 before the off three years ago and Lee Westwood was a 140.0139/1 chance in 2020.
Hatton was a well-backed 14/1 chance last year and Fleetwood was generally a 34.033/1 chance when successfully defending in 2018 - a year after winning at 80.079/1 - and Rickie Fowler was a well-fancied 20/1 shot in 2016 but the four winners before him were all huge outsiders.
Gary Stal was matched at 320.0319/1 before the 2015 edition and Pablo Larrazabal, Jamie Donaldson and Robert Rock were all matched at a triple-figure price so don't be afraid to back an outsider or two this week.
Previous Rolex Series winners command respect
As this is the first Rolex Series event of the year, I've listed all the previous series winners to date below. The Scottish Open apart, which is a bit of an outsider's event, they tend to go to fancied players.
The last two Rolex winners have been top-class Americans but it was no surprise to see the 2020 Wentworth winner, Tyrrell Hatton, come up trumps in this event last year. As many as nine of the last 15 Rolex Series events have been won by someone who had won at least one previously and it's probably only a matter of time before last year's Race to Dubai winner and Open champ, Morikawa, claims another Rolex event after his success in Dubai in November.
Rolex Series Winners
BMW PGA Championship 2017 - Alex Noren 22.021/1 1/2
Open de France 2017 - Tommy Fleetwood 25.024/1
Irish Open 2017 - Jon Rahm 18.017/1 1/3
Scottish Open 2017 - Rafa Cabrera-Bello 65.064/1
Italian Open 2017 - Tyrrell Hatton 20.019/1
Turkish Airlines Open 2017 - Justin Rose 9.28/1 1/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2017 - Branden Grace 18.017/1
DP World Championship 2017 - Jon Rahm 13.012/1 2/3
BMW PGA Championship 2018 - Francesco Molinari 22.021/1
Italian Open 2018 - Thorbjorn Olesen 130.0129/1
Open de France 2018 - Alex Noren 19.5 2/2
Irish Open 2018 - Russell Knox 27.026/1
Scottish Open 2018 - Brandon Stone 1000.0
Turkish Airlines Open 2018 - Justin Rose 5.85/1 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2018 - Lee Westwood 55.054/1
DP World Championship 2018 - Danny Willett 150.0149/1 1/2
Abu Dhabi Championship 2019 - Shane Lowry 90.089/1
Irish Open 2019 - Jon Rahm 10.09/1 3/3
Scottish Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger 46.045/1
BMW PGA Championship 2019 - Danny Willett 80.079/1 2/2
Italian Open 2019 - Bernd Wiesberger 55.054/1 2/2
Turkish Airlines Open 2019 - Tyrrell Hatton 20.019/1 2/2
Nedbank Golf Challenge 2019 - Tommy Fleetwood 20.019/1 2/2
DP World Championship 2019 - Jon Rahm 8.07/1 4/4
Abu Dhabi Championship 2020 - Lee Westwood 140.0139/1 2/2
Scottish Open 2020 - Aaron Rai 110.0109/1
BMW PGA Championship 2019 - Tyrrell Hatton 22.021/1 3/3
DP World Championship 2019 - Matthew Fitzpatrick 22.021/1
Abu Dhabi Championship 2021 - Tyrrell Hatton 14.5 4/4
Scottish Open 2021 - Min Woo Lee 330.0329/1
BMW PGA Championship 2021 - Billy Horschel 36.035/1
DP World Championship 2021- Collin Morikawa 11.010/1
With no previous course form to analyse we're in the dark to a degree but up with the pace is usually the place to be on links layouts if the scoring's good.
It may make sense to concentrate hard on the early leaders but as already stated, keep an eye on the weather. If the forecast gets much worse, it could be a case of just clinging on - on Friday and we may see more change on the leaderboard than usual.
Collin Morikawa is the narrow favourite and he's the one they all have to beat.
After claiming the Race to Dubai with a victory at the DP World Tour Championship in November, he blew a golden opportunity to win the Hero Challenge a fortnight later when he threw away a five-stroke 54-hole lead.
Having been matched at a low of 1.081/12 during the final round, it was a bizarre defeat, and he took his time to get going two weeks ago on his return to action at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He sat 22nd of 38 at halfway before weekend rounds of 67 and 62 saw him climb into the top-five.
That pipe opener will stand him in good stead for this week and as the reigning Open Champion, with winning form in the region, he's the worthy favourite.
The new venue may well be just what links specialist Rory McIlroy needs as how he hasn't won this tournament yet is a bit of a mystery given his remarkable tournament figures reading 11-5-3-2-2-MC-2-2-3-3-3. Rory has traded at odds-on in the event umpteen times, including at a low of 1.511/2 in round four last year and it's one he'd love to win.
Rory traded at a low of 1.192/11 at the DP World Tour Championship in December before a bit of bad luck and a poor finish let it the charging Morikawa and that may have left a mark. He was tied for the lead after the opening round of the Hero World Challenge two weeks later but limped home to finish 18th of 20 and we haven't seen him since.
That was the second time in-a-row he'd led after round one and not gone on to win and that's something that's now happened on 25 of 30 occasions so anyone wanting to side with the Irishman may be better off playing him in the first round leader market or by taking a back to lay position.
Rory isn't as prolific as the market suggest and the forecasted strong winds on Friday are also a bit off-putting so I'm more than happy to swerve him this week.
Having won back-to-back tournaments at the end of 2021, in Mexico and the Bahamas, Viktor Hovland started nicely enough at the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago but he soon faded to finish a lowly 30th.
Having finished third behind Morikawa at the DP World Tour Championship, the Norwegian has form in the region but that lacklustre performance in Hawaii a fortnight ago is off-putting and he looks short enough at 12.011/1.
Tyrrell Hatton successfully defended the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship title back in 2017 but he finished 2021 poorly and makes little appeal before the off, although among the market leaders, he's perhaps best equipped for the forecasted windy weather on Friday.
I'm a huge fan of Morikawa and I'm happy to take a small position on him before the off.
With the putter working nicely, Morikawa's finished inside the top-seven places in each of his last five starts so the 13/2 on offer with the Sportsbook with eight places up for grabs is more than fair.
Collin Morikawa - each-way @ 13/2 (Sportsbook)
I like a number of players at much bigger odds so I'll have one or two in this event in the Find Me a 100 Winner column tomorrow or Wednesday.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter