On a weekend where complaining golfers were hardly difficult to come by, Thomas Pieters delivered a timely redemption tale. Tyrrell Hatton made his feelings regarding this venue, Yas Links, perfectly clear. On the PGA Tour, Jon Rahm was filmed lambasting a “piece of shit setup” in California. Enter Pieters, who expressed glee at returning to the forefront of his sport after a period in the wilderness.
Four days short of his 30th birthday, Pieters reminded us of the form that once took him into the world’s top 50, a tie for fourth at the Masters and into Europe’s 2016 Ryder Cup team with a one-stroke victory at the Abu Dhabi Championship. A fourth round of 72 saw Pieters claim the biggest victory of his career, at 10 under par, from Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Shubhankar Sharma.
“I disappeared for a couple of years, I guess,” said Pieters. “I’m so happy to be back. As a golfer, top 50 in the world is your strive point and when I jumped out maybe three years ago, I took it badly. I’m happy to be back again.”
Pieters needed a par five at the last to prevail and recorded one with relative ease. “Stuff like this inspires kids,” said the big-hitting Belgian. “Hopefully I can do that back home.”
Hatton doubled down on fierce criticism of the 18th hole here from Saturday, when he took nine at the par five. Asked what he thought when walking onto the same tee on day four, the defending champion replied: “That I would love for a bomb to drop on it and blow it up to oblivion to be honest. 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 had 290 yards to the front [of the green]. I could pick driver up again 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.”
There was more. Hatton won this event at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, meaning his desire for it to return there is perhaps logical. “Also, this place for spectators is just awful,” Hatton added. “Seeing where the rope lines are and where spectators have to walk, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear a lot of people have hurt their ankles and all sorts this week.
“For that alone, the other course is way better. It’s a much nicer course for spectators, and viewing points, as well.” Hatton’s admission that he “perhaps” might not be back should Yas Links retain the tournament felt like an understatement.
Rory McIlroy burst through the field and briefly threatened to produce an unlikely victory before coming unstuck from the 14th onwards. Until then, McIlroy was six under for the day and just two from the lead. He holed his second shot from 141 yards for an eagle at the 9th. Late stumbles meant McIlroy played his final five in three over and had to settle for a share of 12th.
“I will take the positives from the first 13 and learn from the loose shoots I hit coming in,” McIlroy said. “I had to make a birdie at the last on Friday night just to be here for the weekend and almost made the most of that. I played well yesterday. It was good to see where the game’s at. It was good to get an extra couple of days’ golf going to Dubai next week. Obviously it wasn’t the finish I wanted today but, big picture-wise, it was good to get another couple of days to play 36 holes.”