Abu Dhabi HSBC experts' picks

January, 24, 2012

With the top four players in the world -- and Tiger Woods -- teeing it up in the Middle East this week, we take our prognosticating across the globe.

Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories below: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows this track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who can take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

Horse for the Course

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Martin Kaymer
Heck, if you don't think the guy who's won this tournament three of the past four years is the horse for this course, you might not understand what "horse for the course" means. And the guy he lost to in 2009 by 1 shot (Paul Casey) has a dislocated shoulder.

Farrell Evans: Luke Donald
In 2011, the 33-year-old Englishman was the most consistent player in the world. Every course suits his game. But if he is to finally break through at a major in 2012, he might need to slow his globe-trotting and rest more throughout the season.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Martin Kaymer
The fourth-ranked player in the world clearly likes the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where three of his 10 European Tour victories have occurred, including each of the past two years.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Martin Kaymer
I'd be willing to bet that my cohorts also typed up the German for this category, but if ever there was a pairing that defined Horses for Courses, Kaymer and Abu Dhabi Golf Club would be the perfect fit. That's because he's won the event three of the past four years. And the year he just didn't have it? That would be when he finished second to Paul Casey in 2009.

Birdie Buster

Michael Collins: Tiger Woods
He's shown himself coming back into form with his win late last year. He still hasn't put four solid ballstriking rounds together against a full field in more than two years, but I expect that to change this week.

Farrell Evans: Branden Grace
Two weeks ago, most of us had never heard of this 23-year-old South African kid, who was just out of the European Tour Q-school. But now, after winning in back-to-back weeks in his homeland, he is the early leader in the season-long Race to Dubai.

Bob Harig: Branden Grace
The South African was fighting his way through the European Tour Q-School last month. Now he has back-to-back victories, including a playoff win over Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

Kevin Maguire: Luke Donald
Sure, the Brit missed his first cut of the 2011 season and is making his 2012 debut in the desert, but that was long before he became the No. 1 player on both sides of the pond. Admittedly, it was a toss-up on whether Donald fell into this category or the winner's slot.

Super Sleeper

Michael Collins: Wen-chong Liang
The guy hasn't won a tournament since 2007, but Monday the 23rd is the Chinese New Year. It's the year of the dragon, and he plays out of the Dragon Club. Karma, baby! I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

Farrell Evans: Miguel Angel Jimenez
At 47 years old, Jimenez is the cigar-chomping senior statesman on the European Tour, but don't be fooled by his potbelly and funky stretching routine. The Spaniard can still play. In 2011, he had five top-10s, including three second-place finishes.

Bob Harig: Jose Maria Olazabal
Injury and illness have kept him from playing his best for some time, but he did finish sixth this past week in South Africa.

Kevin Maguire: Nicolas Colsaerts
The Belgian is up to 72nd in the world ranking and, with another strong finish in such a top-notch field, has a shot at qualifying for the WGC-Match Play in late February. He might not be a household name in the U.S., but he did finish 20th on the European Tour's money list last year.


Michael Collins: Rory McIlroy
Fifth ('09), third ('10), second ('11) … those are his past three finishes in this tournament. I might not have ever taken statistics in school, but it's pretty obvious where this is gonna end up for Rory.

Farrell Evans: Sergio Garcia
This past October, the 31-year-old Spaniard won in back-to-back weeks in Spain on the European Tour. If he is truly back to world-class form after a couple of years of slumping, we'll learn a lot from his game this week in Abu Dhabi.

Bob Harig: Rory McIlroy
It would be some way to start the year for the world's third-ranked player, who would garner plenty of attention with a victory over a strong field.

Kevin Maguire: Charl Schwartzel
Call his 2011 Masters victory a fluke if you like, but Schwartzel claimed 11 top-10s last year. Although he got the weekend off at his first event of 2012, Schwartzel was knocking on the door of a playoff this past week at the Volvo Golf Champions event. With two top-10 finishes in three starts at Abu Dhabi, you'll see why a victory in the desert is no stretch for the South African.



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