McIlroy Looking to Overcome Ghost of Abu Dhabi

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The first European Tour event of the year gets underway on Thursday with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship!

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy has finished runner-up four times in the Abu Dhabi Championship – as well as third three times – so this tournament has been a nightmare for the Northern Irishman over the years.

Twice before he has suffered two-shot penalties in the event – once for carelessly brushing some sand off the fringe of a green, then on another occasion for not dropping his ball in the right place after taking relief – finishing runner-up both times.

Can McIlroy finally lay the Ghost of Abu Dhabi to rest on Sunday? He is 11/2 for victory this week and will have plenty of supporters given his consistent record at the event – and in the Gulf generally.

The first-round draw has played into his hands, too, with the four-times Major champion out in the only period over the first two days which is forecast to have calm conditions – Thursday morning.

McIlroy has not competed since the Masters in the middle of November though, so will probably have plenty of rust to deal with, and reports suggest he will be using a new driver for the first time.

Thomas Seeking to Bounce Back From Hawaii Hell

Justin Thomas has not had the best start to the year and will be eager for a positive week in Abu Dhabi.

Thomas finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions in his last outing, failing to make the playoff by just a shot, and he also found himself in hot water with the watching world after he was recorded making a homophobic comment in the wake of a missed putt.

A chorus of condemnation followed – and Ralph Lauren ended their sponsorship of the player – so Thomas left Hawaii full of regret. This week the Kentucky man tees up for his Abu Dhabi debut, so may need time to adjust to the unfamiliar terrain.

His cause has been helped, though, by being drawn alongside McIlroy in the Thursday morning marquee group. Thomas is available at 11/2 for victory. He is the highest-ranked player in the field.

Hatton Can Continue Rapid Rise up Rankings

Tyrrell Hatton could be the man to topple McIlroy and Thomas – and the 12/1 against the Englishman’s name seems sure to attract attention.

Hatton has just enjoyed the most successful season of his career – he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill for a PGA Tour breakthrough in March, then followed up by winning the European Tour’s flagship event in October – the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

There is no obvious reason why the streak of success should stop in 2021 and a windswept Abu Dhabi Golf Club seems a perfect place for him to start his year.

Hatton’s short-game skills are the envy of his peers and the windy forecast for the next four days means everyone in the field is going to miss their share of greens. The scrambling qualities of Hatton may prove decisive.

*All odds correct at time of writing.

Steve has been a Racing Post columnist, golf tipster and punter for most of his working life. One of the most well-known tipsters in the country, his columns featuring golf betting tips have been must read material for years.

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