The DP World Tour gets back in action this week as the Desert Swing begins a four-week stint in the UAE, and the field in the capital for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is stacked with stars.
Three of the world’s top 10 will tee off at Yas Links on Thursday as DP World Tour champions and world No. 2 Collin Morikawa will do battle with the likes of four-time Major winner and world No. 7 Viktor Hovland.
Title-holder Tyrrell Hatton also returns to defend his crown alongside former champions Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Pablo Larrazabal and Robert Rock.
From local amateurs Ahmad Skaik and Josh Hill to elder statesmen of the game Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Harrington — all three are former Ryder Cup captains — the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship represents the full spectrum of the men’s game.
With the announcement of the Ras Al Khaimah Classic replacing the Qatar Masters due to COVID restrictions from February 10 to 13, the UAE now has an unprecedented four DP World Tour events back-to-back, and one man who is targeting a flying start is American Morikawa, who stormed back to win the 2021 season-ending DPWTC and Race to Dubai titles at Jumeirah Golf Estates in November, becoming the first American to top the Tour’s standings.
Morikawa returns to the UAE this week for his Abu Dhabi debut, and the reigning Open Champion hopes his talents on links courses can help him on Yas Island’s challenging layout.
“It feels great to be back on the DP World Tour,” said Morikawa. “You know, I’ve been announced for a handful of months now as the Champion Golfer of the Year, but this is the first time someone brought up being the reigning Race to Dubai Champion, and there’s a lot of weight that’s on your shoulders right now.
“It’s a great weight to have and I want to come back as strong as ever. I want to start these first weeks off on a real high note and hopefully come out with a couple trophies.
“There’s a lot that’s been going on, I’d say even since I’ve turned pro. It’s a very unusual two-and-a-half years in professional golf, obviously with COVID and a lot of other things in the world.
“It’s just embracing being in the present, I think that’s the biggest thing, how do I enjoy the time wherever I am in the world, be with family, friends, whoever it maybe, and it’s just really fun. Just travelling to these place and meeting people.
After a couple of weeks in Hawaii competing on the PGA Tour, Morikawa is impressed with the set-up at Yas Links.
“It’s a very good golf course,” he said. “Coming from Kapalua where the fairways are about a hundred yards wide, this looks pretty narrow.
“I think the conditions are going to prove tough. We’re going to have a lot of wind this week, a lot of different winds from what we are seeing on Monday and Tuesday compared to what the tournament is going to be. A lot of slopes in these greens, a lot of undulations and a lot of run-offs.”
Two-time Abu Dhabi HSBC Champion Fleetwood, meanwhile, is relishing the challenge of a new venue after the tournament shifted from its traditional home at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, and the Englishman will be hoping to return to winning ways at a tournament he loves, following a frustrating 2021.
““It’s going to be a completely different test,” the Englishman said. “I think I’ve played this course once, maybe twice. But being honest, it was a friendly round, I remember very little about it.
“The course is a different test, but I think you obviously draw on the fact I’ve had success in this event. It is the first event of the year and you never quite know what to expect. I always feel very aware that I haven’t played a tournament for a while and you feel rusty.
“I think once you get going, you start to pick up things about your game and you feel a lot more in the flow of things. I just need to draw on all the good experiences I’ve had in this event, and learn about the course and start again.
Fleetwood knows the competition will be stiff, but finds that that is the case at most tournaments these days. “It’s got a lot of great players playing,” he said. “I’ve been saying it for a while, no matter where you play now, the standard of golf now is so high, the margin for error is so small, and no matter where you are you’re not going to get away with playing mediocre, really. You have to turn up and give it some form of your best or highest level to compete with everyone out here.
“So there’s not really any sort of easy weeks off. But that’s great for the sport and it’s great for this event to have so many great players here, and I’m always excited to come back. I love playing over here. I love golf over here. I love how popular it is.
Fleetwood admitted he has found the going tough lately and there is a fine line between success and failure
“It’s always a fine balance because without being too hard on yourself and without being overly critical, you don’t get anywhere near as far as what you want in life,” the 31-year-old told BBC Sport. “But at the same time you can take it too far and be detrimental to yourself, so you’re always on a knife edge.
“Last year, I didn’t swing it well. I definitely didn’t drive it well. With that top end of my bag, I struggled and was always on the edge of losing my ball somewhere and that makes it very difficult.
“I lacked consistency over four days. I quite often had a good round, but there were far too many bad rounds and holes that cost me.
“I lacked rhythm throughout the year and it’s easy to start forcing it and overly searching. I wouldn’t say I was lost by any means, but it is easy to start pushing too hard and force it.”
“Without putting too much emphasis on results on a day-to-day basis, just doing the right things consistently, that’s what I want to set out to do,” I’m looking forward to the year, looking forward to playing and seeing what I’ve got and what I can do.”
7:20 Sean Crocker, Victor Perez, Edoardo Molinari
7:30 Daniel Gavins, Masahiro Kawamura, Alexander Levy
7:40 Thorbjorn Olesen, Daniel Van Tonder, Antoine Rozner
7:50 Matthew Southgate, Connor Syme, Marc Warren
8:00 Dale Whitnell, Scott Hend, Scott Jamieson, Scott
8:10 Justin Harding, Ashun Wu, Sami Valimaki
8:20 Shubhankar Sharma, Jack Singh Brar, Wade Ormsby
8:30 James Morrison, Mikko Korhonen, Thomas Detry
8:40 Steven Brown, Ricardo Gouveia, Tapio Pulkkanen
8:50 Chris Wood, Adrian Meronk, Ahmed Al Musharrekh
9:00 Matthew Jordan, Richard Sterne, Julien Brun
11:45 Takumi Kanaya, Garrick Higgo, Thomas Pieters
11:55 Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood
12:05 Ian Poulter, Shane Lowry, Rasmus Hojgaard
12:15 Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett, Padraig Harrington
12:25 Erik Van Rooyen, Andy Sullivan, Jeff Winther
12:35 Colin Montgomerie, Adri Arnaus, Grant Forrest
12:45 Richie Ramsay, Brandon Stone, Dean Burmester
12:55 Rikard Karlberg, Jazz Janewattananond, John Catlin
13:05 Ahmad Skaik, Kalle Samooja, Ross Fisher
13:15 Jonathan Caldwell, Jorge Campillo, Alfredo Garcia-Heredia
13:25 Adrian Otaegui, Haotong Li, Haotong Oliver Bekker
7:20 Rafa Cabrera Bello, Alexander Bjork, Richard Bland
7:30 Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton
7:40 Adam Scott, Bernd Wiesberger, Nicolai Hojgaard
7:50 Guido Migliozzi, Min Woo Lee, Robert MacIntyre
8:00 Joachim B Hansen, Matt Wallace, Thriston Lawrence
8:10 Pablo Larrazabal, Robert Rock, Jamie Donaldson
8:20 Thomas Bjørn, Charl Schwartzel, Laurie Canter
8:30 Nicolas Colsaerts, Marcus Helligkilde, Sam Horsfield
8:40 Callum Shinkwin, Ryan Fox, Soren Kjeldsen
8:50 Victor Dubuisson, Josh Hill, David Drysdale
9:00 Justin Walters, Thongchai Jaidee, Chris Paisley
11:45 David Law, Joost Luiten, Maverick Antcliff
11:55 Paul Waring, Jason Scrivener, Andrea Pavan
12:05 Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Romain Langasque, David Horsey
12:15 Marcus Armitage, Matthias Schwab, Fabrizio Zanotti
12:25 Frederic Lacroix, Santiago Tarrio, George Coetzee
12:35 Wil Besseling, Matti Schmid, Kristoffer Broberg
12:45 Noino Bertasio, Alejandro Canizares, Darren Fichardt
12:55 Francesco Laporta, Matthieu Pavon, Maximilian Kieffer
13:05 Marcus Kinhult, Joakim Lagergren, Julien Guerrier
13:15 Sebastian Soderberg, Stephen Gallacher, Lukas Nemecz
13:25 Ewen Ferguson, Nacho Elvira, Jordan Smith