2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship picks: McIlroy, Rose, Johnson lead loaded field

This week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship features a loaded field including Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood. This event is always one of my favorites early in the season to get up early here in the United States and follow. With McIlroy's much anticipated return to the course and Johnson and Fleetwood trying to replicate their shootout from a year ago, this year should be especially good.

Let's take a look at this week's contest.

Event information

What: Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
Where: Abu Dhabi, UAE | When: Jan. 18-21

Field and odds

  • Dustin Johnson: 5-1
  • Justin Rose: 8-1
  • Rory McIlroy: 8-1
  • Henrik Stenson: 18-1
  • Paul Casey: 18-1
  • Branden Grace: 20-1
  • Tommy Fleetwood: 20-1
  • Tyrrell Hatton: 22-1
  • Martin Kaymer: 25-1

Field strength: A

Goodness gracious, that's a field. I love that D.J. comes over to play this event as the No. 1 player in the world. Is there an appearance fee? Probably, but who cares. Adding that American star power to an already-packed group is outstanding for the tournament.

Three stories to watch

1. Rory McIlroy's return: It has been just over 100 days since we've seen McIlroy, and he was both optimistic and excited at his season-opening press conference. After what most would call a lost year in 2017, McIlroy said he worked on both his fitness and health over the winter and felt well enough to work on his game continuously.

"After that 3 1/2 months of a reset, I'm very happy to be back," said McIlroy. "I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I've been out here for ten years and it just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. Take a bit of sabbatical; I've been out here for ten years, get ready for the next ten, and I will feel like I've done that which is really nice."

I told myself on Monday that I wouldn't get sucked in by this inevitable hype. It's Tuesday. I'm sucked in.

2. Tommy Fleetwood's sophomore swing: Obviously this is not Fleetwood's second year on the European Tour, but I'm curious about how he follows up last year being the first player not named Rory McIlroy or Henrik Stenson since 2011 to win the Race to Dubai. 

"I think the difficult part is that last year, I made so many big strides from where I was, and you have to keep in perspective that the strides aren't going to keep getting that big," said Fleetwood. "So it's more you have to look at ... ways to improve. I have a baby now and a wife and a family at home, so time management becomes so much more important. It's not like I'm going to spend 12 hours a day working on my game and improving it that way. You have to work smarter and then figure out the ways to do it that way."

His progression or regression this year after winning twice in 2017 and having his big breakout year (including a victory at this event) are going is going to be something I'm tuned in to at the beginning of this season.

3. Opening Day: Just like Torrey Pines on the PGA Tour, Abu Dhabi always seems to be a marker on the European Tour side of things. It's one of the biggest tournaments of the first quarter of the year on either side of the pond, and we've gotten tremendous winners in past years. Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler, Paul Casey (twice) and Martin Kaymer (three times) have all won this tournament since its inauguration in 2006. The runner up list might be even more impressive. Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Thomas Pieters, Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson (twice), Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy (four times). Whoo buddy, let's get it going in the UAE!

Past winners

  • 2017: Tommy Fleetwood
  • 2016: Rickie Fowler
  • 2015: Gary Stal
  • 2014: Pablo Larrazabal
  • 2013: Jamie Donaldson

OK, so not all of the winners of this tournament have been great.

Abu Dhabi Championship picks

Winner: Dustin Johnson should be everyone's pick. I'm not sure how you, with a straight face, could say you truly believe someone other than D.J. will take the trophy this week. He's coming off a monster win in Hawaii and nearly won here last year after a 64-68 on the weekend. Odds: 5-1

Top 10: Martin Kaymer has finished in the top five here a stunning six times, which includes his three wins. He comes in having placed T4 last year. He also ended last year with four consecutive top-30 finishes on the European Tour. Odds: 25-1

Sleeper: Thomas Pieters stock is being sold, and I am purchasing all of it I can get my hands on. He missed the cut here last year (thus the somewhat low odds), but he finished second to Fowler the year before that. Odds: 35-1

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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