Thomas Pieters survives brutal conditions, wins Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Each year, a select few events on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) draw the entry of some of the best players in the world. The first of those events comes in Abu Dhabi, where the HSBC Championship’s $8 million purse earns the tournament the distinction of being the first significant event on the DP World Tour calendar.
This week, Rory McIlroy joined the likes of Ian Poulter, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Adam Scott — among many others — in Abu Dhabi. When the dust settled, Hovland ranked first among the group of aforementioned pros, but still fell to the eventual winner, Thomas Pieters.
Who won: Thomas Pieters (even-par 72; 10-under 278)
How it happened: Sometimes, tournaments are won on Sunday. Sometimes, they’re simply clinched. Such was the case in Abu Dhabi, where a perfectly even-keeled, even-par 72 was enough to nab Thomas Pieters the HSBC Championship. Pieters won on Sunday with just one birdie and one bogey, gliding on 16 pars and the weight of his early rounds to victory. Perhaps the decisive moments of the week came before the weekend. On Thursday, an opening-round the 64 shot the 29-year-old Belgian out of a cannon to the top of the leaderboard, while on Friday, Pieters managed to survive vicious conditions at only two-over, giving him a stranglehold on the lead he wouldn’t surrender.
As the rest of the field struggled throughout the weekend, Pieters kept his cool, entering Sunday with a two-stroke lead. Rafa Cabrera Bello and Shubhankar Sharma applied ample pressure — Bello pulled even for all of one hole — but in the end, pars on each of his last seven holes were enough to clinch a one-stroke victory.
Blown away: Wind gusts of up to 30 mph whirled the field into a frenzy on Friday, sending scores skyrocketing, carnage-lovers snickering, and leaving Rory McIlroy to posit “I’ve never been so glad to get off a golf course.”
Lee Westwood, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Thomas Pieters all shot second-round 74s, with Yas Links in Abu Dhabi doing its finest impression of linksland golf along Scotland’s North Sea. The blustery conditions were a source of frustration for everyone on Friday, but perhaps no one more than Tyrrell Hatton, who was heard releasing an only slightly hilarious profanity-laced tirade into the gusts.
Bombs Away: Speaking tirades, Hatton had one for the ages after his final round ended Sunday. The target of his vitriol: the par-5 18th at Yas Links.
“That I would love for a bomb to drop on it and blow it up to oblivion to be honest,” Hatton told reporters. “It’s just such a terrible finishing hole. And the fact that they moved the tee back today is ridiculous. I hit a really good tee shot and still got 290 front. I could peg-up driver up and still not get there. It would be a much better finishing hole if you’re actually rewarded for hitting the fairway, which as it stands, you’re not.”
Why it matters: The victory is the 7th of Thomas Pieters’ European Tour career and 8th overall, and will likely vault him to his highest-ever Official World Golf Ranking position. Pieters, 29, could find himself in the top 20 in the world next week, depending upon how the final round of play from the American Express shakes out.
Notables: Viktor Hovland finished T4 at -8. Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter finished T6 at -7. Adam Scott finished T10 at -6. Rory McIlroy finished T12 at -5. Collin Morikawa finished T62 at +5.
Up next: The DP World Tour stays in the U.A.E., heading to Dubai for the Desert Classic. Morikawa, Hovland and McIlroy will all travel from the HSBC to Dubai for the event.