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  • Alistair Tait

Is Pieters Back To His Best?

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

As reappearing acts go, Thomas Pieters’s return to the limelight has been pretty good. Two wins in his last three tournaments suggests the Belgian is back to his best, but who knows: who’d have thought after the 2016 Ryder Cup that Pieters would be looking to kick his game back into shape at this stage in his career?

Or that he’d arrive for the first event of the year 69th on the Official World Golf Ranking, and that he wouldn’t have played a second Ryder Cup.

Victory in the $8 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship takes Pieters to 31st on the world pecking order. It’s his first return to the all-important top 50 since April 2018. He sank as low as 131st in the interim.

The Belgian, the 2013 NCAA champion while he was at the University of Illinois, knows just how important winning his first Rolex Series event is to his status:

“Winning a Rolex Series event is as good as it gets in Europe,” said Pieters, who turns 30 on 27th January. “Hopefully this lifts me. I want to play all of the big tournaments and hopefully this gets me close. I kind of disappeared for a couple years. Top 50 is your strive point, and when I fell out of that maybe three years ago, I took it badly. I’m happy to be there again.”

Pieters is yet another seminal reminder that success in this game can be ephemeral if your name isn’t Tiger Woods. Remember, Pieters was the star of the 2016 European Ryder Cup team, the one bright spark in a dismal performance at Hazeltine Golf Club. He won four points out of five and seemed destined to kick on from that showing. Yet until winning the Portugal Masters late last year, all Pieters had to brag about was victory in the 2019 D+D Real Czech Masters.

Only he knows where he disappeared to. Whether he’s back, only he knows too. One thing’s for sure: Pieters hasn’t even come close to fulfilling the potential he showed at Hazeltine six years ago. If he does, then look out European Tour.

Speaking of fulfilling potential, how about Victor Dubuisson getting into contention in Abu Dhabi with a T4 finish? The enigmatic Frenchman is another who shone in a Ryder Cup – two and a half points out of three to help Europe win the 2014 match – only for his star to fizzle out afterwards. He’s now 322nd on the Official World Golf Ranking. He was 15th in February 2015, and hasn’t won since that year’s Turkish Airlines Open, his second win in the event following his 2013 victory. Those are Dubuisson's only two European wins. As with Pieters, who would have predicted that?

There’s Just No Pleasing Some

You have to laugh at the game’s top players. They moan when courses are too easy, and complain when they’re too hard. Read John Huggan’s story on the Golf Digest website and you’re left with no doubt as to Tyrrell Hatton’s feelings for the 18th hole at Yas Links. The Englishman, the defending champion in Abu Dhabi, took a nine on the hole in the third round, and then unloaded as only terrible Tyrrell can:

“I would love for a bomb to drop on it and blow it up to oblivion to be honest,” he said. “It's just such a terrible finishing hole.”

Then, in the understatement of the year so far added:

“I'm obviously not a fan. If we're coming back here next year, it would be nice if they redesigned it. But I think that's a bit of an ask. Perhaps I may not be back.”

Seems Rory McIlory isn’t a fan of Yas Links either. When told the tournament is slated for the same course for the next three years, McIlroy’s response was: “See you in 2026.”

Wait, is this the same Rory McIlroiy who once complained European Tour courses were too easy? It sure is.

Don’t know about you, but it was refreshing to see a course offer a stiff challenge to Europe’s best rather than the other Abu Dhabi course where winning scores have been in the 260s rather than the 270s. (Pieters won with a 10-under 278. Martin Kaymer was 24 under when he won the 2011 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.)

There’s just no pleasing some of these pampered professionals. Still, bet Thomas Pieters is a big fan of Yas Links. He’ll happily return next year to defend his title. Hopefully he’ll still be inside the world top 50 where he feels he belongs.

#JustSaying: "He’s got the full package. He hits it long, he has a good iron game and chips it well. Any time he’s going to roll it well he’s going to be dangerous. I think he can be really, really good." Nicolas Colsaerts talking about Thomas Pieters in 2015

Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the European Tour

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