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Viktor Hovland plays a shot during the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links. The Norwegian doesn't believe in celebrity status and wants to be as normal as possible. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Viktor Hovland has shot to prominence over the past 12 months and now the world No 7 is targeting a sixth professional win at the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club this week.

The 24-year-old Norwegian is still coming to terms with his rise up the rankings and is a little coy about becoming a ‘celebrity’.

“It is still a bit strange and I don’t see myself that way yet,” he said after his Pro-Am round on Wednesday. “I am walking around and I see people react in a certain way because they think I am something because of my ranking and so on. I have to be aware of that, but it is still strange. I have some great friends who keep me humble and try to push me down a little bit.

“I certainly don’t like the word celebrity and I don’t like to be treated that way and I just want to be myself and hang out with my friends.”

Following his breakthrough year — winning the BMW International Open and playing on the European team in the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September — Hovland himself is still getting used to being around idols of his own.

“The Ryder Cup was pretty surreal for me. Not just the players but the vice-captains — Robert Karlsson, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson — and captain Padraig Harrington are legends of the game I grew up watching,” Hovland said. “They have been involved in golf for the last 20-25 years and I was watching them every single week for half of my life.

“Now it is even cooler that I can consider them friends as well as teammates and colleagues. I haven’t been able to go home as much to experience my ‘celebrity’ there. I’m not on any billboards or anything. But I played last summer and a post went out that I was playing and all of a sudden there were 300 fans on the first tee. That’s a bit crazy but other than that I don’t notice it too much.”

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Paul Casey knows what he needs to do to defend the Dubai Desert Classic title. Image Credit: AFP

Phenomenal golf

It is a different story for defending Dubai Desert Classic champion Paul Casey, who has been on tour since 2000 and has 15 European Tour titles to his name. However, he has struggled since claiming the title here at Emirates Golf Course last January and the 44-year-old is the first to admit his fitness was not where it once was.

“My general conditioning and golf conditioning went a little and my coach told my I was not in as good shape as I used to be, to which I said: ‘Great, thanks’” Casey joked. “It was just a case of getting back on the horse, but balancing the family life with the gym work is so tough now. Time management is so difficult. The sun isn’t coming up until around 7-7.15am and I am dropping my daughter at school at 7.30. Getting up at 5.30am for a bike ride in the pitch black is not ideal. We will get there.”

Casey knows what he needs to do to defend his title in Dubai but he is banking on a little fortune, too.

“What will it take? It will take some phenomenal golf from me, which I know I can play,” he said. “I think it will also requires a little bit of luck. If you look at guys such as Collin Morikawa, I need those guys to falter slightly if I am to prosper here or later in the season.

“(World No. 1) Jon Rahm’s best golf against my best golf — I think Jon is gonna win, plain and simple. But there is no reason why I can’t do it. I have all the attributes to win here. The young players are so mature and it took me some time to get there. But there is no lack of desire or passion on my part, so there is no reason why I cannot challenge here or at somewhere like Augusta.”