Nicolai Hojgaard is with his brother Rasmus in Ras Al Khaimah
Nicolai Hojgaard is with his brother Rasmus in Ras Al Khaimah Image Credit: Supplied

The DP World Tour’s curtain will fall on the ‘UAE Swing’ as the Ras Al Khaimah Classic begins on Thursday morning, with nearly 100 top golfers fighting it out at the inaugural $2 million tournament at Al Hamra Golf Club.

Over the past three weeks in the UAE, fans have followed Thomas Pieters claim the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, new world No. 3 Viktor Hovland win the Dubai Desert Classic and Nicolai Hojgaard triumph in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship. Now we more have 72 more holes of drama ahead at Al Hamra Golf Club for the first ever RAK Classic.

The action starts at 7.10am on Thursday morning as Gaganjeet Bhullar, Eddie Pepperell and Ross McGowan go out in the first group on the first tee in RAK. Sebastian Soderberg, Jonathan Caldwell and Joakim Lagergren start at the same time from tee 10.

While Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard grabbed the headlines in Ras Al Khaimah last week, he will have some big names trying to stop him doing the Al Hamra double, including twin brother Rasmus. In the field, the Danes will be up against UAE-based players Rafa Cabrera Bello, who was second in Abu Dhabi at Yas Links, Adrian Otaegui, Adri Arnaus and Ahmad Skaik. Richard Bland, who lost out to Hovland at Emirates Golf Club in a playoff, will also tee it up, alongside the likes of Jordan Smith, Pablo Larrazabal, Stephen Gallacher, Scott Hend, Ashun Wu, Haotong Li, Robert MacIntyre, David Howell, Jamie Donaldson, James Morrison and Andy Sullivan.

However, Hojgaard will not be taking things easy after his win last week as he wants to do the RAK double.

Nicolai needs one more win to equal his sibling’s tally of three DP World Tour titles and he is in confident mood.

“I’m feeling pretty good. It was a grind out there and I had to dig deep so it felt really good and I’m really looking forward to teeing up again on Thursday,” the Dane said. “The phone has been buzzing the last few days so I haven’t talked or texted anyone yet, I’m trying to get into tournament mode now and focus on the week ahead, and hopefully play some good golf again. For me the most important part of this victory was that I was struggling quite a bit before coming here and then I struggled around 9 to 12. I had to dig deep, two shots behind with six to play. From there on I played some really good golf and that gave me some confidence. I think I can use that quite a bit in the future.

“It’s been one of my focus points after the first two weeks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai — my driving. It’s always been my strength it’s just about keeping it in play and last week it just clicked. I didn’t hit many fairways but you don’t have to hit many fairways here.

“I just tried to free up a bit more, just play golf instead of overthinking and navigate it to the fairways and that helped me a lot so that’s what I’m going to try do this week. If I keep my focus on the right things and free up and commit to what I have to do, I definitely have a chance again this week.”

Dubai-based former Ryder Cupper Cabrera Bello makes his debut in RAK this week, having claimed a share of second three weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, while Haotong’s tied-third last week in RAK continues his return to the kind of form which earned him two titles and saw him become the first Chinese player to enter the world’s top 50 in 2018.

Cabrera Bello said: “To be fair I’m happy with my start to the season, I made three cuts in a row. I had a really good chance in Abu Dhabi. The last two weeks I haven’t played as well at the weekends as I’d have liked to but I don’t feel there’s any reason for me to worry and to not see myself in contention this week.

“I like the course, I like the shape and the fact that the fairways can be a little tricky. You have to shape your ball a little, the more you play it the more you know when you can cut the corners and so forth.

“I can see there are some tricky pins there and a little bit of slope around the greens. I haven’t played it when it’s windy yet. I was talking with my partner and thinking, eight under in the Hero Challenge — these guys must have played really good, because we played well but we didn’t get close to that. I think it will be different with a little bit of wind though.”

Haotong added: “It’s very pleasing to finish like that last week. It was a bit disappointing at the last hole but it was solid golf and I gained a lot of confidence from that.

“The last two years I haven’t been able to get home and then I finally got back for two months last year. I think that has helped a lot, to see a lot of old friends, my brothers and sisters. They have been very helpful, they’ve helped me to believe in myself and play good golf again.

“I just felt super-lonely, just myself and trainer. By the end my parents came out but it’s still difficult, I never had that experience before and I never thought golf would seem so tough. Normally if I have two weeks off I would fly back to China but the last two years I was based in Dubai a lot, so it’s been different.

“I felt I got the driver yips the last two years, but now I can drive the ball very well. It was one of my strengths before which I didn’t realise, it just became more enjoyable to play golf and enjoy everything then.

“I have had a good start to the season and my game is very sharp right now so hopefully I can win one and return to the winner’s circle.”