Lee Westwood holds aloft the Falcon Trophy at the Abu Dhabi Golf Course last year. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: Reigning Race to Dubai champion Lee Westwood is rejuvenated after the short European Tour off-season and is eager to get back on the golf course at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

The Englishman rolled back the years by rolling in the puts as he claimed the European Tour points title 21 years after he first claimed the crown. He set a sensational season in motion by convincingly winning in Abu Dhabi last January, and consistently turned in top 10 finished throughout the year, culminating with a second place at the DP World Tour Championship in December to take the Race to Dubai prize in the UAE.

With this year’s Abu Dhabi Championship once again right around the corner — the tournament runs from January 21 to 24 — the 47-year-old Westwood is one of the elder gentlemen of the tour. But he will not let age get in the way of his attempt to successfully defend his title in the UAE capital, and continue his love affair with Abu Dhabi.

Lee Westwood loves to play in Abu Dhabi

“Abu Dhabi is such a good place to start the season. It is a great city and a great course that doesn’t beat you up too much,” Westwood told Gulf News in an online chat. “Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s course is not too tough, but just tough enough to test the field. Abu Dhabi is right up there as one of my favourite courses.”

Westwood is also hoping for a more settled calendar in 2021 after coronavirus caused chaos to the schedule last season.

“It was very stop-start, but I picked up really well after the COVID-19 break. I am obviously hoping for more of the same and pick up where I left off. My two best results last season were in the UAE — with the win to start in Abu Dhabi, and then second in the DP to take the Race to Dubai title. I can’t wait to get started.”

Westwood also continues to be impressed at how the UAE as a whole has become a major global sporting destination.

“On top of some of the best golf competitions, there is UFC, Formula One, tennis — the list goes on,” he said. “I’m not the biggest UFC fan but I have been to the tennis and the F1 and they were amazing. The facilities here for so many sports is top-notch.”

With the 50th anniversary of the UAE being celebrated, Westwood has seen the nation transform first-hand. “I first came here in 1994 for the Desert Classic and there was not much to see between the airport and the golf course,” he said. “The change has been staggering. It is amazing now and one of the best places in the world.”

Despite his age, Westwood plans to get in plenty of events — balancing recuperation time with competition. “I hope to get in 24-25 tournaments this season,” he said. “At 47, I have learnt that recovery weeks are the key. I’m not afraid to take time off now for three or four weeks and then go again. When I was younger I could do 35-40 events in a year, but now I am comfortable with taking time off and recharging the batteries.”

Lee Westwood was named European Tour golfer of the year
Lee Westwood was named European Tour golfer of the year Image Credit: AP

Lee Westwood factfile

Full name Lee John Westwood
Born 24 April 1973
Height 6ft (1.83m)
Weight 205lb (93kg)
Nationality English
Turned professional 1993
Professional wins 44
Highest ranking 1 (2010 — 22 weeks)
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour 2
European Tour 25 (8th all time)
Japan Golf Tour 4
Asian Tour 8 (Tied 6th all time)
Sunshine Tour 3
PGA Tour of Australasia 1
Other 3
Best in major championships
Masters 2nd/T2: 2010, 2016
PGA Championship T3: 2009
US Open 3rd/T3: 2008, 2011
The Open 2nd: 2010
Achievements and awards
European Tour Race to Dubai champion 2000, 2009, 2020
European Tour Golfer of the Year 1998, 2000, 2009, 2020