Thomas Pieters has won in the opening Rolex Series tournament of Europe’s rebranded DP World Tour, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, held at Yas Links.
The victory puts the Belgian golfer back in the top 50 world rankings again for the first time since April 2018.
The win also made it 517 wins on the DP World Tour by former European Challenge Tour players.
Pieters opened with a par but immediately went ahead of Scott Jamieson, who had held the lead overnight, and continued to make par on the next six holes before making birdie on the eighth, which put him at a three-shot advantage.
While a couple of minor blunders set him back to just one shot ahead by the 11th hole, he seemed to find his form again, making par on every hole after that, and finishing with a level par of 72.
His previous score cards of 65-74-67 left him with a 10-under total, and an overall win.
The win rewarded Pieters with a $1.3m payday, which is the best of his career so far, and perhaps equally importantly, sent him back to number 31 in the world rankings.
As Pieters himself said: “As a golfer, top-50 is your strive point, and when I dropped out of it three years ago, I took it badly, but I’m happy to be back again.”
The 2016 Ryder Cup player came in just ahead of another former Challenge Tour player, Spaniard Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who finished in a tie for second with India’s Shubhankar Sharma.
Frenchman Victor Dubuisson came in fourth, with Norwegian Viktor Hovland in fifth place.
Pieters, 30, has already had a long career in the sport.
After starting playing as a child, he enjoyed a celebrated amateur college career in the US.
During his college years, he won the 2013 NCAA Division I Golf Championship, during his sophomore year at the University of Illinois, beating three-time major champion Jordan Spieth and former World Amateur number one Patrick Cantlay.
Pieters’ first Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in 2016 saw him become Europe’s best-ever Rookie, with four points out of five appearances, ahead of the previous rookie record of 3.5 set by Paul Way in 1983, and equaled by Sergio García and Paul Lawrie in 1999.
Pieters was partnered with Rory McIlroy, and the pair won all three matches they played together at Hazeltine.
Whether Pieters is back in top form remains to be seen, but the Abu Dhabi win, the best prize fund of his career, and the chance to re-enter the world top 50 will have boosted his confidence.
As he said after the tournament: ”I feel like I’ve turned the corner and am playing really good golf again. My putting has improved massively and I feel like that’s the thing that really kept me going over the weekend.”
The rebranded DP World Tour will feature a minimum of 47 tournaments across 27 countries, including new tournaments in the UAE, Belgium, South Africa and Japan.