Thomas Pieters banks on happy memories ahead of Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title defence

The Belgian prevailed by a solitary shot on Yas Links' debut last year - his sixth win on the DP World Tour

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Back at the scene of last year’s hard-earned victory, Thomas Pieters was happy on Wednesday to reminisce about that first Rolex Series success.

And anyway, he really couldn’t avoid it, not that he would want to.

“They definitely remind me that I've won here; my face is on every building,” Pieters said at Yas Links, a day out from the beginning of his title defence at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. “I've never had that before. It's such a strange feeling.

“But playing the back nine yesterday was kind of special. It was my first Rolex Series, and to relive those shots with my caddie was, I'm not going to say emotional, but was very special.”

Twelve months ago, Pieters began the final round in tied for second, one shot behind Scott Jamieson, and by the time there were only four holes to play, he shared the lead with Rafa Cabrera-Bello.

However, Pieters stayed strong though Yas Links' difficult closing stretch, parring every hole to seal a one-shot win over Cabrera-Bello and Subhankar Sharma.

A sixth DP World Tour triumph, though, most probably took root during the Friday, when 30mph winds blew away the majority of the field’s chances of capturing the Falcon Trophy.

Pieters held in there, shooting a two-over par 74 to remain in the top 10 and allow the weekend surge.

“That was the key to setting myself up to win,” Pieters said. “And then there's a guy shooting 10-over par that day – it was brutal. It was one of the toughest the days I've had on the golf course, just because greens are that slow and balls are just flying off everywhere.

“To keep your composure is really important, and it's going to be the same this week. Got to hit good golf shots here.”

Thankfully for the defending champion, and the rest of a field that includes Irish debutant Seamus Power and former champions Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton, the weather this week is likely to be a little more forgiving.

Although, the wind is welcome.

“It needs a lot of breeze,” Pieters said. “I think tomorrow we'll have some breeze and then it calms down during the weekend. Again, the more wind, the better players are going to come out on top, especially on this course."

No matter what, at least Yas Links is in fine shape. Just ask Power, the current leader of the FedEx Cup standings on the PGA Tour, who seems to be really enjoying his trip to the UAE.

“If it's not the best-conditioned course I've ever seen it's definitely close,” Power said as he prepares to compete for the $9 million purse. “Beautiful setting. My first time on Yas Island.

"I didn't realise what I was coming to. It's gorgeous. That whole set-up is top-notch. It's been great.”

Updated: January 18, 2023, 11:25 AM