The Punter's De-Brief: Tommy defends in style and Rahm moves to world number two

Tommy Fleetwood with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship trophy
Tommy Fleetwood with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship trophy

Tommy Fleetwood has won in Abu Dhabi again and Jon Rahm in California. Our man looks back at all the action, with market moves and lessons learned with his customary Monday morning piece here...

“Eight players have won the CareerBuilder more than once and Arnold Palmer won it five times! Rahm kicked off the week in sensational style with a ten-under-par 62 around La Quinta on Thursday but it was a grind after that. He played well but he can play better than he did over the last three days and he’s so well suited to this desert test that I could see him going in again.”

Few will have enjoyed yesterday more than European Ryder Cup captain, Thomas Bjorn. Sergio Garcia romped to a five-stroke victory in Singapore, Jon Rahm moved up to number two in the world with a victory on the PGA Tour and not only did Tommy Fleetwood successfully defend his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title, the top-ten there was made up almost entirely of European Tour team members! Paris is still a long way off but Bjorn will be happy with how 2018 has kicked off.

Pre-event favourite, Rahm, who went off at around 10.519/2, had to work hard to win the CareerBuilder Challenge and some big-hitting punters were made to sweat. Rahm was matched for almost £30k at 1.84/5 on Saturday and before Andrew Landry birdied the 72nd hole to pull alongside the Spaniard, Rahm was matched for another £30k at just 1.061/18. He hit a low of 1.051/20.

A week after the Sony Open had gone to a sixth extra hole, last week's PGA Tour event went to four. Both Rahm and Landry played well in the playoff (especially off the tee) but both missed chances inside ten feet for the win. Landry, who had begun the week as a huge 300.0299/1 outsider, hit a low of 1.528/15 before he missed from about eight feet on the third extra hole and Rahm eventually claimed his fourth title in a year at the fourth extra hole as darkness descended.

A year ago, yesterday, Rahm was the 237th ranked player in the world. He wakes up today as the second best. And I thought the below tweet was a good indication of just how good the young Spaniard might be.

Poor Ross Fisher, who ended 2017 finishing runner-up to Tyrrell Hatton two weeks in-a-row, looked the most likely winner in Dubai as he made the turn. The 80.079/1 chance, who was matched at a high of 110.0109/1 before the off, was matched at a low of 1.341/3 after the ninth but he made a mess of the par five 10th, eventually holing a 20-footer for bogey, and all momentum was lost.

In contrast, Fleetwood poured in a similar length putt at the 10th for birdie and never looked backed. The Race to Dubai Champ, followed that with birdies at 12, 13, 15, 16 and 18 to come home in 30 strokes and to win the title by two. It was an outstanding performance and his most impressive victory to date.

Fleetwood, who was a 34.033/1 chance before the off, is now the 12th ranked player in the world.

My Bets

As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I backed Fleetwood prior to the final round and I also backed Rahm before the off in the States so it's been another nice week. And for good measure, my each-way fancy, Matthew Fitzpatrick, finished third. I think the Christmas break has done me good!

I was always happy to oppose Fisher yesterday but I did get Rory McIlroy onside in-running, at an average of 5.49/2, so my winnings were diluted a bit.

Over at the CareerBuilder, I quite fancied third round leader, Austin Cook, to put up a solid performance yesterday and I played him at 4.3100/30 but you just can't tell how the vast majority of players will perform from one week to the next. Cook had won the RSM Classic in impressive fashion in November but he was absolutely hopeless yesterday - eventually finishing tied for 14th after a three-over-par 75.

I layed Rahm in-running at an average of 1.330/100 just to level things off but the playoff was a stress-free affair given I'd gotten Landry onside at halfway.

Will Rory Ever win in Abu Dhabi?

Justin Ray's tweet below says it all really. What a record Rory has at Abu Dhabi Golf Club! The only poor performance, the missed cut in 2013, happened when he played with Nike clubs for the very first time so that can be forgiven. It's patently obvious that the course really suits him, and he was matched at a low of 2.6413/8 again this year, but he just can't get across the line.

This tends to be his first event of the year so there's always at least some rust to chip away and I'd love to see him have a pipe opener somewhere else before coming here. It might make a big difference. That was in fact the plan last year when he played down in South Africa but he injured a rib there and didn't make the line-up in Abu Dhabi.

A previous outing could be a big plus for Rory and it certainly helped those that were involved in the EurAsia Cup last week as James' tweet demonstrates below.

That's also worth looking at to see what the first round leaderboard looked like. A fast start is clearly a plus.

What Have We Learned This Week?

We've now had 13 editions of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and three men have won more than half of them. Martin Kaymer has won the event three times, and Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood have both won the title twice.

Greens In Regulation is the key stat - Tommy topped the GIR stats for the second year in-a-row and nine of the last 12 winners have now ranked inside the top-ten for that stat.

Over at the CareerBuilder Challenge, I felt like I may have missed a trick. The wind blew at its hardest on Saturday and those that played tree-lined La Quinta that day benefited nicely. It's the easiest course of the three played in rotation but the scoring differential between courses was even more acute on Saturday because of the wind and that was something I didn't consider when assessing the field at halfway.

Despite failing to birdie any of the par fives on Sunday, Rahm still ranked first on the long holes for the week and Landry bolstered the Par 4 Scoring angle-in, ranking first for that stat.

Eight players have won the CareerBuilder more than once and Arnold Palmer won it five times! Rahm kicked off the week in sensational style with a ten-under-par 62 around La Quinta on Thursday but it was a grind after that. He played well but he can play better than he did over the last three days and he's so well suited to this desert test that I could see him going in again.

We're in for some cracking golf again this week with the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour and the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour and I'll be back later today and tomorrow with my previews.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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