Thomas Pieters wins the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the sixth and biggest title of his career

The Belgian clinched the title from Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and India’s Shubhankar Sharma.

Thomas Pieters carded an assured final round of level-par 72 on a day of nasty pin placements at Yas Links to claim the 2022 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The Belgian's 10-under 278 total left him one shot clear of Spain's Rafa Cabrera Bello and India's Shubhankar Sharma, with many of the big names in the field - Rory McIlroyShane Lowry and Adam Scott among them - tripping up on and around the greens.

Pieters, in contrast, defied a reputation for hot-headness with 16 pars, one birdie and one bogey on a day when the middle of the green was a safe option.

"The pin positions were tricky, questionable at best," the winner said. "You needed to just pick your spot on the green, hit that, and two-putt. I wasn't really expecting anybody to go crazy low just because of the pins so that kind of played into my hands. I could just par on my way in. I'm over the moon."

It is his second win in three starts and marks a u-turn after two years of struggles. He was quick to credit his team after lifting the trophy.

"I stuck with my coach, I stuck with everybody," he said before acknowledging a key equipment change late last year. "The guys from Titleist analysed my putting. I'd been working hard with my coach and wasn't getting results. They gave me a new putter and I've been making a lot of putts."

The Pieters Principle

It's the law that should forever remind us that one very fine performance at the highest level does not lead inevitably to further immediate success there.

Because in the immediate aftermath of Europe's defeat at the 2016 Ryder Cup the continent did, at least, feel confident that in the tall, powerful, and seemingly-at-ease-in-the-highest-company form of Thomas Pieters there was huge consolation.

Few would have predicted then that he would not play in either of the next two matches.

Not least because in the 15 months after that Ryder Cup debut, which reaped four points from five matches in a 17-11 loss, he continued to thrive among the world's elite.

In 2017 he finished second in the Genesis Invitational, tied fourth in his Masters debut, twice landed top fives at World Golf Championship events, and, in his first start of 2018, headed into the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship leading the field.

That Sunday four years ago, although he travelled backwards in the final round, he ended the week with a third top five finish at the course in five starts.

It was almost like an end-point of the good times because in the next three visits to Abu Dhabi he'd never return to the top 10 and his form dropped off elsewhere too.

He did win the Czech Masters in 2019, but it was a bolt from the blue; his only top five in two years of golf, a dismal set of results which contributed to an almost complete absence of elite level invitations: he played only two Majors in 2020 and 2021 - and he hasn't made a WGC appearance since 2018.

Late last year, his form changed. A pair of top 10s in September hinted at it, victory in the Portugal Masters backed that up, and his victory in Abu Dhabi seems to confirm it.

It was his first triumph in an unquestionably high quality field, it will prompt a leap to a predicted 31st in the world, granting him that treasured opportunity to re-introduce himself to the best players in the world.

"I kind of disappeared for a couple years I guess," he said. "Happy to be back.

"As a golfer, the world's top 50 is your strive point. Honestly, it's everything. I took it badly (dropping out) but happy to be back again. I want to play all of the big tournaments and hopefully this gets me close."

Big name struggles on Sunday

Rory McIlroy began the weekend with little hope after opening rounds of 72-75, but he added a Saturday 67 and at 6-under-par through 13 holes of his final round he reached 8-under for the tournament. The prospect of setting an imposing clubhouse target seemed real. Whereupon he pressed too hard at the short par-4 14th, made bogey and added two more to finish T12th.

Shane Lowry had ended the third round in a chipper mood and was drawn in the final three-ball. Game on? In theory, and he duly found the first fairway, but that was the end of the good news. He needed another six blows to complete the par-4, added a second front nine seven at the par-5 seventh, and limped home in 77 shots to end the week alongside McIlroy on the leaderboard.

Tyrrell Hatton might hope never to see the par-5 18th hole ever again. His final round 67 boosted his bank balance, and earned him tied sixth, but taking seven shots at 18 on Friday, and nine there on Saturday, decimated his hopes.

Viktor Hovland fought hard for tied fourth, but when he erred it proved not just costly but very costly: a triple bogey-7 at the third and a double bogey-6 at the 15th.

Adam Scott struck the ball beautifully tee to green, but his weaknesses remain apparent on the putting surface where he repeatedly missed golden birdie opportunities and, late in the day, fluffed short par saves as well. He did, however, land an 11th top 10 in 23 new year first starts.

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