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Desert Storm: Under the Radar Picks For the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

By: Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads

The Euro Tour returns with the Middle Eastern swing, starting in Abu Dhabi.

It’s a strong field highlighted by Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, who are making rare Euro appearances. The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is hosted by Abu Dhabi Golf Course. It’s a par 72 playing a whopping 7,642 yards, but it’s in the desert so the ball is going to travel a bit further than usual.

Abu Dhabi Golf Course

PICKS TO WIN

Justin Thomas hits out of a bunker on the third hole during the final round of the 2020 Masters in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Per our model, one of Thomas, McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Matthew Fitzpatrick has a 41% of winning this week. In the interest of fun, we’re going to stay away from discussing these four and highlight some of the other golfers in the field.

OTHERS WHO COULD CONTEND

Ian Poulter is a solid pick to bounce back from a poor showing in Abu Dhabi last year. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Ian Poulter

Poulter had a poor showing in Abu Dhabi last year but did finish tied for sixth two years ago. Poulter is known for his putting, which makes him extremely well-rounded. On a course with a lot of different hole types, players who specialize in one particular hole type don’t get to fully lean in to their dominant skill. Even the par 5s this week aren’t the highest scoring par 5s on tour, and the variance for the par 5s match the variance on both types of par 4s. Poulter’s well-roundedness should suit the course well, and we like his odds as next best after the top 4.

Lucas Herbert

Herbert hasn’t appeared on tour since October, so it may take some time to shake off the rust. If he can shake it off quickly, we love his fit for the course. He’s made the cut both of the last two years, but has played poorly on the weekend and finished in a disappointing position. However, he won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic last year, so knows how to play in the desert. He’s projected to come in ninth in par 5-scoring this week at plus-0.59 strokes per round, so even if he loses some opportunities on the short par 4s, where he isn’t as good, he can make up some strokes in a big way on the par 5s.

David Lipsky

Lipsky holds dual membership on the European Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour, though he spends most of his time playing in the United States. While he’s a longshot to win, he’s a consistent golfer who should keep himself out of trouble while showing an ability to score on the par 5s. He has the third-lowest variability in the field, ahead of only Aaron Rai and Henrik Stenson. His best holes are the short par 3s, where he’s projected to score seventh best in the field at plus-0.35 strokes per round. We’re looking more at a top-10 finish for Lipsky this week, but that would be a big accomplishment in this strong field.

Ryan Fox

On the European Tour, Fox is the ultimate hit-it-and-pray player off the tee. The Aussie has one of the highest driving distances on tour but he hits the fairway less than half the time. He’s a high variability golfer, which is something we like to see in a longer-odds player. With some wind in the forecast, being closer to the hole could be valuable, but it could also push some of his wayward drives even further offline.

Garrick Higgo

Like Fox, Higgo is a long hitter with some accuracy issues. His appeal this week is his par 5 scoring, where he’s projected to perform 13th in the field at plus-0.44 strokes per round. He’s abysmal on long par 3s, but this course only has one, and even then it’s on the shorter side of the long par 3s. He doesn’t have a ton of experience in the middle east, but as a South African he’s familiar with some sandy, desert-like conditions.

 

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