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Champion Fleetwood facing tough challenge in Abu Dhabi

Star-studded line-up include world No. 1 Johnson, McIlroy, Stenson, Rose and Kuchar

Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
Tommy Fleetwood in action during the DP World Tour Championship last week. The reigning champion will be looking for a repeat next year starting his campaign in Abu Dhabi in January.
Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Reigning champion and the 2017 European Tour prize money winner Tommy Fleetwood will be returning for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA to be held from January 18-21.

Fleetwood will be looking for repeat against a strong field comprising of the world No. 1, Dustin Johnson, four-time Major winner, Rory McIlroy and 2016 Open Champion and Olympic Silver Medallist, Henrik Stenson. With three of the world’s top ten already confirming their availability, the capital is all set to welcome a start studded line-up.

The top starts will be joined by American Ryder Cup star and Olympic Bronze medallist, Matt Kuchar, making his Middle East debut and two-time championship winner Paul Casey, who has had a remarkable 2017, with a strong performance at the Masters and the Bridgestone Invitational.

McIlroy will be returning to the capital at the back of an injury layoff which saw him miss much of the 2017 season. Having played this course in the past, McIlroy was of the view that the Championship would be a perfect start to his season before his focus shifts to the 2018 Masters.

“I’m looking for a strong start in 2018 and Abu Dhabi is the perfect place to open my season’s campaign. Having come really close here on more than one occasion, I will be completely focused on trying to win the coveted Falcon Trophy and getting myself back into the winners’ circle — that would be a real confidence boost to start the New Year,” said McIlroy.

Johnson too is looking to start 2018 season on a high, displaying the same form that saw him attain the World No 1 ranking for a consecutive 39 weeks.

“Abu Dhabi is great, it’s a fun course to play and I felt I played really well during my first appearance there, aside from my first day troubles with the putter of course. I am sure this year I’ll put myself in a good position to compete and hopefully I can go one better than 2017. Aside from the majors, 2017 has been a really good year for me winning a multitude of titles and hopefully Abu Dhabi can act as the perfect springboard for me in 2018,” said Johnson, who also cement a place in history, as he joined Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, as one of only four golfers in PGA Tour history to win a title in each of their first 10 seasons.

This will be the 13th consecutive appearance for Henrik Stenson but the title have continued to elude him despite coming close twice, finishing runner-up.

“I’m hoping 2018 will finally be my year. I know the UAE well having lived there for almost 10 years and think the course is magnificent, particularly the 18th hole, Par 5, whose green is surrounded by the grandstand. Having played every year, the inaugural Championship will always live long in the memory having come so close to winning the title,” said the Swede.

Double champion in 2007 and 2009 Paul Casey is also keen to win his third title here. “Abu Dhabi is an incredibly special place for me, having won the Championship twice. After a strong start to the season so far, I’m confident heading into the Championship and know what it takes to get the job done. It would be great if I could equal Martin’s record there!,” said the World No. 14.

Justin Rose has also announced his attendance at the 2018 Championship. The Brit recently won the World Golf Championships — HSBC Champions tournament, so will no doubt be looking to start 2018 in the same vein: “Starting 2018 off in Abu Dhabi is something many of the players on tour look forward to. I’ve had a strong end to 2017 and I’ll be hoping to carry on that momentum as I arrive in the capital once again,” said Rose.

Matt Kuchar, whose best performance was his second place at the Open Championship, followed by a tied fourth place at the Masters, is making his first appearance and is keen to make the most.

“I have heard so many good things about the Championship from my friends on the tour. I’m very excited to finally be playing in Abu Dhabi and experience everything it has to offer. Despite there being a lot of emerging talent coming up through the ranks, I am confident that if I can keep up my rich vein form from 2017 I’ll be well-placed come Abu Dhabi in January.”