Abu Dhabi Championship: Steve Palmer's story so far and final-day tips
Thomas Pieters can chase home pacesetting Shane Lowry
Sky Sports Golf, 7am Sunday
Story so far
Shane Lowry had not played in the Abu Dhabi Championship for five years, had missed his last three cuts at the course, and started this edition as a 50-1 chance, but the Irishman has forged a three-shot lead through 54 holes.
Lowry has spent a fortnight in the Middle East, preparing for the tournament, and that focus has resulted in rounds of 62, 70 and 67 for a 17-under-par three-round total. The leader is a best-price 4-7 to convert his advantage into the fourth victory of his European Tour career.
Richard Sterne, six years older than Lowry and with six European Tour titles under his belt, is alone in second place, two shots ahead of Ian Poulter, who moved into third place with an eagle at the 18th hole.
Ante-post favourite, Dustin Johnson, is tied for 40th place, 13 shots behind, while his compatriot Brooks Koepka is eight shots off the pace and a 40-1 chance for a come-from-behind triumph. Defending champion, Tommy Fleetwood, is tied for 50th spot.
-17 Shane Lowry
-14 Richard Sterne
-12 Ian Poulter
-11 Pablo Larrazabal
-10 Scott Jamieson, Soren Kjeldsen, Max Kieffer, Thomas Pieters
-9 Lee Westwood, Brooks Koepka, Paul Waring
4-7 S Lowry, 9-2 R Sterne, 12 I Poulter, 22 P Larrazabal, 28 T Pieters, 40 B Koepka, 66 S Kjeldsen, L Westwood, S Jamieson, 100 bar
Shane Lowry worked hard in the close-season to make sure he made a flying start in the opening event of the European Tour year and the Offaly man has been rewarded for his efforts. Abu Dhabi glory looks at his mercy.
A windy final day is forecast for the event, which started Wednesday and finishes on Saturday, and the conditions will hold no fears for Lowry. The former Irish Open champion is comfortable controlling his ball in a breeze and should relish the challenge of defending his three-shot advantage. A level-par round would probably be enough to secure the silverware given the expected wind and the distance he has put between himself and most of the chasing pack.
The par-three performance of Lowry this week has been jaw-dropping – he has made nine birdie-twos and is eight under for the 12 par-threes he has tackled – and the confidence he has going at that quartet of short holes stands him in excellent stead.
The two negatives for Lowry's gang of supporters, who have been vocal in their backing of their man over the first three days, are the fact he has not won a tournament for three-and-a-half years and that his putting can often be X-rated stuff.
His last victory was a WGC affair though – the 2015 Bridgestone Invitational – so he is a proven champion in elite company. And his putting has been superb this week – he lies second in the putting stats and may have found an answer to his flat-stick problems over the Christmas break.
Richard Sterne is the world number 281 and badly struggles for consistency these days, so the main threats to Lowry may come from deeper on the board. Ian Poulter has got his tail up after his final-hole eagle, Pablo Larrazabal is a former Abu Dhabi champion, Thomas Pieters is well capable of finishing with an enormous flourish, while the same comment applies to Brooks Koepka.
Expect Poulter, Larrazabal, Pieters and Koepka to make a charge at Lowry, but the frontrunner has probably got enough in hand to repel them.
Pieters, a proven Abu Dhabi performer who appears close to rediscovering his A-game, is the most appealing option in the without Lowry betting. BoyleSports go each-way, a quarter the odds the first three.
Final-round twoball punters are pointed towards super-talented rookie Jack Singh Brar, who could cause an upset against Eddie Pepperell in the 6.25am (UK and Ireland time) contest. The final twoball of Lowry and Sterne is due on the tee at 8.50am.
T Pieters without S Lowry
1pt each-way 9-1 BoyleSports
J Singh Brar
1pt 13-8 general
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