Thomas Pieters claims Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title at Yas Links

Belgian, who celebrates his birthday this week, holds off challenge of Cabrera Bello and Sharma

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Buying birthday presents for the world’s elite golfers must be a fraught business. Such are the rewards lavished on those at the top end of the sport, most must want for nothing.

Pity, then, the family and friends of Thomas Pieters. Whatever they have planned for him turning 30 this week, it is going to struggle to match the new ornament he earned for himself in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Maybe they could buy him a new trophy cabinet. One that is large and sturdy enough to house the sparkling Falcon Trophy he landed as the winner of the 2022 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

In his final round at Yas Links, he made one birdie, one bogey, and all the rest pars. All of which was good enough for a 10-under par total for the tournament, and a one-stroke win over Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Subhankar Sharma.

Shortly after he tapped in for par at 18 to clinch victory, a band started playing in the Championship Village, and the strains of Alphaville’s Forever Young were drifting across the fairways.

Thursday, when he will be teeing it up on the opening day of the Dubai Desert Classic, is Pieters’ 30th birthday.

That remains no age in golf. It is, though, a reminder that the idea Pieters is a coming talent of the game is outdated.

This win was confirmation he was back on the upward curve after the rapid ascent of his early years in the game had been slowed.

“I kind of disappeared for a couple years I guess,” Pieters said. “[Now I’m] happy to be back.”

Victory vaulted him back into the world’s top 35, much to his delight. “Honestly, it's everything,” he said.

“As a golfer, the top 50 is your strive point, and when I jumped out maybe three years ago, I took it badly, but I’m happy to be back again.”

It was his sixth win in all on the DP World Tour, a second title in his past three starts, and, in so doing he became the first Belgian winner on the Rolex Series.

“I just hope all the juniors back home are watching this,” Pieters said.

“I used to watch as a kid and think it's impossible for me. But then when Nico [Coelsarts] came on the scene and started winning, it's stuff like that that inspires kids. Hopefully I can do that back home.

“I feel like I've turned the corner and playing really good golf. I'm really in control of my ball flight. It's nice to feel like that and making putts as well. My putting has improved massively and I felt like that's the thing that really kept me going on the weekend.”

With four holes to play, Cabrera-Bello – in the penultimate match - had held the joint lead with Pieters, who was playing in the final group.

Back-to-back bogeys eventually counted him out, but the Spaniard still professed himself satisfied with his week’s work.

“I put a lot of hard work in the off-season and I am really happy it's paid off,” Cabrera Bello said.

“I'm not happy with my current world ranking [he started the tournament 161st]. I think I can play better and obviously I'm working hard to get back into the top 50 in the world, and this week is going to give me lots confidence towards that goal.”

Sharma, who birdied the last to ensure he shared second place with his playing partner Cabrera-Bello, was equally delighted with his endeavours over the links.

“It was very important and it just gives me a lot of confidence going forward into the season,” Sharma said.

“Some of the top players in the world were here this week, and gives me a lot confidence that I can finish high up on the leaderboard and compete with them. There's so much to look forward to now.”

Updated: January 23, 2022, 2:53 PM