Thomas Pieters became the first Belgian to win a Rolex Series event after outlasting a star-studded field with a superb display of poise and composure to claim the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title.
In the opening Rolex Series tournament of the DP World Tour era, the former Ryder Cup player was calmness personified while the others fell away in the challenging breezy conditions at Yas Links.
A birdie at the eighth hole moved him three shots clear but Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Shubhankar Sharma were among the many stars to move in and back out of contention at various points during a thrilling final day.
Pieters dropped just a single shot thereafter, at the par five 11th, and signed for a level par 72 and a ten under total, leaving the 30-year-old one clear of India's Sharma and Spaniard Cabrera Bello and earning him a sixth victory on the Tour.
That elevated him to the top of the 2022 DP World Tour Rankings and moved him firmly back into the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time since April 2018.
Norway's Viktor Hovland shared fourth place with another former Ryder Cup player, France's Victor Dubuisson, while last year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Champion Tyrrell Hatton and Ian Poulter were a shot further back in tied sixth, alongside James Morrison and Denmark's Jeff Winther.
The Championship and the trophy ceremony were attended by His Excellency Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al Qasimi, President of the Emirates Golf Federation, His Excellency Dr. Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of the Department of Community Development, Aref Ahmad Al Awani, Secretary General of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, and Abdulfattah Sharaf, CEO of HSBC Bank Middle East and Head of International Business Department.
Dubai-born Englishman Josh Hill signed for 75 in his final round to end the week tied 58. The 17-year-old amateur became the first UAE national to make the cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, finishing three-over for the week. Hill now heads to the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic next week.
After his victory, Pieters said: "I'm happy I can finally get Adam a gold bib (for Rolex Series winners). We've been talking about this for years. It's fantastic. I was well in control of my ball all day and putting maybe wasn't there but early on I felt really confident.
"I kind of took (my emotions) out, I was going to go for it (on 18), the scoreboard on 17 was broken, so I didn't really know. But Adam told me I was two ahead so I decided to lay up.
"When you're in control of your ball flight and the golf ball, it's fun. You know, you can be creative and that's how I felt out there today.
"I just hope all the juniors back home are watching this. I used to watch as a kid and think it's impossible for me but then when Nico (Colsaerts) came on the scene and started winning, it's stuff like that that inspires kids, and hopefully I can do that back home.
"I feel like I've turned the corner and playing really good golf. Like I said, I'm really in control of my ball flight and it's nice to feel like that and make putts as well. My putting has improved massively, and I felt like that's the thing that really kept me going on the weekend."
His Excellency Dr. Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Department of Community Development (DCD), noted the 2022 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship again showcased the excellent organisation of major sports events in Abu Dhabi, commenting: “Thanks to the wise visions of the leadership, Abu Dhabi has become a global sports hub and the destination of champions, elite athletes, world stars and stakeholders in the international sports movement.”
“This is in line with the Abu Dhabi government’s objectives towards developing the sports sector, which is considered one of the most important sectors supporting societal cohesion and its role in enhancing the quality-of-life and supporting the development of the economic and tourism resources of the Emirate.”
H.E. congratulated Thomas Pieters for winning the Championship title, praising the distinguished role of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and the exceptional efforts by all the concerned authorities and organisers of the event in providing the highest safety standards to keep everyone safe.
Al Khali added: “The success of the tournament strengthens Abu Dhabi’s position and consolidates the achievements made by Emirate in this vital industry, which has become a connecting point between East and West.”
H.E. Aref Hamad Al Awani, General Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “We would like to congratulate Thomas Pieters for his fantastic victory at the 2022 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. All players performed exceptionally well, and we enjoyed every moment of this tournament”.
“The successful Championship signifies a distinguished start to an exciting calendar of sporting events in Abu Dhabi, which confirms the Emirate’s leading position on the global sports scene.”
Extending his thanks and appreciation to all sponsors, partners, and all parties that contributed to the success of the tournament, Al Awani continued: “We are proud of organising this tournament despite the challenges. Right from the start, all precautionary measures were followed to ensure the safety of all participants.”