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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Tommy Fleetwood can chase home Pieters and McIlroy

Top-class trio to deliver thrilling finale

Tommy Fleetwood is the Race to Dubai champion
1 of 1

Sky Sports Golf, 8.30am Sunday

Story so far
Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters, 55-1 and 45-1 on tournament-eve, are joint-leaders of the Abu Dhabi Championship with 18 holes to play of the high-class European Tour event.

Fisher and Pieters played alongside each other in the final third-round threeball, both men retaining a position on the leaderboard, but Rory McIlroy moved menacingly into third spot to apply pressure going into Sunday.

McIlroy has finished Abu Dhabi runner-up four times and is seeking to claim the title for the first time. The former world number one is a best-price 9-4 to get the job done, with Pieters available at 4-1 and Fisher at 9-2.

Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood and four-times European Tour victor Matthew Fitzpatrick are tied for fourth place, so a thrilling final-round shootout appears on the horizon.

-17 Ross Fisher, Thomas Pieters
-16 Rory McIlroy
-15 Tommy Fleetwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick
-14 Chris Paisley, Andrew Johnston, Thomas Detry
-13 Branden Grace, Paul Dunne, Dylan Frittelli
-12 Paul Casey, Alex Levy, Bernd Wiesberger, Fabrizio Zanotti, Dustin Johnson

Best prices
9-4 R McIlroy, 4 T Pieters, 9-2 R Fisher, 9 T Fleetwood, 11 M Fitzpatrick, 28 D Johnson, 35 B Grace, 40 T Detry, 50 A Johnston, 60 P Casey, 66 C Paisley, 70 D Frittelli, P Dunne, 100 bar

Final-day advice
Bookmakers have given Rory McIlroy the nod for Sunday, and the four-times Major champion probably deserves slight favouritism, but there is not much juice in a best-price of 9-4 given how much quality is around him on the leaderboard.

McIlroy can be thrilled with the way he has started his 2018 campaign, looking fighting-fit and swinging with assurance, and the three-month break has clearly done him a world of good. He has dropped only one shot – a bogey at the par-three 15th in round three – in his three rounds. This season looks set to be a hugely successful one for McIlroy, regardless of what happens in the Abu Dhabi final round.

There is no urge to support the favourite at skinny odds, though, with Thomas Pieters, Ross Fisher, Tommy Fleetwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick surrounding the Northern Irishman. McIlroy has had issues getting over the line in front in this particular tournament, and that apparent hoodoo could enter his head if things remain tight, as seems likely, all the way to the final few holes.

Fisher is on a long winless run, stretching back to March, 2014, and the low-grade Tshwane Open. He had a couple of outstanding chances to end his barren spell at the end of last season, but was struck with an ugly strain of seconditis again, finishing runner-up in the Dunhill Links Championship and Italian Open.

Fisher can get too defensive when in contention, while his putting can be tentative at the best of times. His high ball-flight is not ideal, either, with a windy final day forecast for Abu Dhabi.

Pieters is a surprisingly big price at 4-1 entering the final round, as he was when the Racing Post Sport headline selection at 45-1 ante-post. The gap between McIlroy and Pieters in the outright betting is too large.

Pieters has come into this year looking sharp, a pre-Christmas training camp in the south of France swiftly followed by some excellent golf in the EurAsia Cup last week. Rickie Fowler enjoyed some good fortune to beat Pieters by a shot at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2016 and the Belgian bomber relishes this set-up.

Pieters made a mess of the final two holes of round three, slicing a couple of drives, but he still managed to scramble a pair of pars, and it should be noted how a sudden and severe increase in the wind speed made those two holes play much tougher than they had for the earlier groups. Holing a mid-range, downhill putt at the 18th for par was crucial for Pieters, keeping him in pole position for his crack at a fourth European Tour triumph.

Pieters can edge Ryder Cup teammate McIlroy in a Sunday shootout for the trophy, with Fleetwood, Fitzpatrick and Fisher filling the places. Anyone starting round four behind that illustrious quintet has an enormous task on their hands to threaten the silverware.

Fleetwood is a surprisingly generous 10-11 with Coral and Ladbrokes to finish in the top five. The Race to Dubai champion, one of the best ball-strikers in the world, is extremely comfortable playing in a strong breeze. From a tie for fourth, Fleetwood should hang around on the board for the full 18 holes. The current top five are good enough to leave the rest behind.

The field went out in threeballs for round three, with morning fog forecast, but Sunday will see traditional twoballs. Fleetwood, who has grown used to competing for prestigious titles in recent months, can see off Thomas Detry in the 8.32am UK and Ireland time match, while Bernd Wiesberger should prove too strong for Fabrizio Zanotti in the 7.56am contest.

Outright recommendation
T Fleetwood top-five finish
2pts 10-11 Coral, Ladbrokes

Twoballs recommendation
T Fleetwood
2pts 8-13 Coral, Ladbrokes

B Wiesberger
2pts 8-11 bet365, Coral, Ladbrokes

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Pieters has come into this year looking sharp
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