Abu Dhabi: Some of the world’s finest golfers including world number 9 Alexander Norén and last year’s runner-up by a single sroke, Thomas Pieters will be teeing off at the The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in less than two weeks for the biggest share of the $2.7m prize purse and a giant leap in the Race to Dubai rankings. Are they up for the challenge? XPRESS finds out
Alexander Norén, 34
World Ranking: 9
European Tour Wins: 8
Turned Pro: 2005
Looking back, you grabbed four European Tour victories in 2016, including the British Masters and the Scottish Open. It surely must have been your most memorable year in golf?
Last year was by far the best season of my career and definitely the most memorable, it all just seemed to click together. The more I played the more confidence I had and I just kept finding myself in a position to finish well or even win. Once I was in position I felt calm because I was playing well or had figured out a way to score without hitting the perfect shot every time and with the support and confidence of my caddie and Callaway clubs, I felt like I was in a great place. I’ll be doing everything I can to get 2017 off to a similar start at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
What kind of milestones have you set for yourself in the new year?
I haven’t really put a target or milestone on number of wins or anything like that because I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself but during my golfing life I’ve always seen a strong link between where my technique is and where my game is. Another goal is to be in contention in as many tournaments as possible. Its a fantastic feeling to be high on the leaderboard with the chance to win on the final holes.
What’s it like to play here in Abu Dhabi?
I’ve started my year in Abu Dhabi every year since 2007, apart from when I was injured in 2014, so it’s definitely somewhere I look forward to playing. It’s nice to play in great weather so early in the year and the National Course is always in immaculate condition, which again, is so important for my game.
How focused are you on finishing on a high here this time? What are your expectations?
I’ve played here so many times over the years so I feel like I know the course really well and enjoy the challenge it brings. I’m always trying to finish as high as I can in any tournament but like I’ve said before, I don’t tend to worry too much before about where I might finish before the tournament but just try to get my game in to shape so that I’m ready to compete.
Why do you like playing here in Abu Dhabi?
The field is always one of the strongest of the European Tour season and that’s one thing that stands out for me. As a professional you always want to compete against the best players in the world and HSBC do an amazing job in pulling in some of the world’s best like Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. To be able to judge yourself against the likes of those guys so early in the season gives you an idea of where you stand and can give you confidence for the rest of the year.
Thomas Pieters, 24
World Ranking: 47
European Tour Wins: 3
Turned Pro: 2013
You represented Europe in Ryder Cup in 2016. That must have been special?
The Ryder Cup was an unbelievable experience and one that I’ll never forget. I loved playing under Darren (Clarke) and for Team Europe and the support from all of the guys was like no other event we play in. I was lucky enough to play in all of the matches, which I could have never of expected, and I’ll certainly savour the moment for years to come.
You also played for Belgium in the World Cup. How big was that?
The World Cup was awesome too. It was great fun playing with Nicolas (Colsaerts). He’s one of my best friends on Tour and someone I looked up to as I was coming through the ranks. So to represent my country with him in a fun format was a nice change.
How excited are you about playing here in the capital again?
I’m really excited to be back in Abu Dhabi to start my season for the fourth year running. HSBC do a fantastic job of making this one of the strongest events of the year and it’s really important for me to test myself against some of the best players in the world at a stunning golf course. I’ve got some good memories here too and that always makes you happier about returning to a venue because you know you’ve had some decent results there.
What kind of finish are you expecting here in Abu Dhabi especially after last year’s result?
I came fourth two years ago and second last year so if I can somehow better that, I should be in a good position to win the Falcon trophy, right? In all seriousness though, I love the National Course, it’s always in perfect condition and really suits my eye. There’s a real premium on driving the ball well, which if I’m playing my best golf, is the best part of my game. The field is already looking as strong as ever and I’m really looking forward to returning.
Any memory from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – on or off the greens – that stands out?
Last year I shot a 64 in my third round which put me in to contention to challenge and it turned out to be one of my lowest rounds of the season so it’s definitely one I won’t forget in a hurry. Off the course, I always remember how well you get treated in Abu Dhabi, whether it is in the hotel, golf club or somewhere else, the people are always so helpful and out there to make our time so easy.