A host of big-name players are set to battle it out at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, writes Michael Stoneman
The European Tour’s ‘Desert Swing’ is always highly anticipated by golf fans, with the early-season tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai bringing together many of the world’s leading players for their first competitive action of the year.
And 2017 is no exception, with a star-studded line-up set to tee off at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, including three of the four reigning Major champions and eight of the top 10 players from last year’s Race to Dubai.
With the late withdrawal of world no. 2 Rory McIlroy due to a rib injury, the field is headed by 2016 PGA Tour Player of The Year Dustin Johnson, who is making his first appearance in Abu Dhabi following his breakthrough Major victory at last year’s US Open.
“I’m really looking forward to it and pleased to have the opportunity to play in Abu Dhabi,” said Johnson. “I’ve heard really good things about the golf course, and about Abu Dhabi itself, so I’m really excited.”
While Johnson is making his Desert Swing debut, his Ryder Cup team-mate Rickie Fowler is returning to Abu Dhabi as the defending champion, and the 28-year-old is relishing the chance to tee it up once again at Abu Dhabi Golf Club after a mixed season following his victory in last year’s event.
“It's definitely nice to be back,” said Fowler. “I had a few good tournaments after this last year, but individually I didn't play as well as I would have liked to. It was definitely nice to get the win here to kick off the year.
“I’m excited to be back. I definitely have some great memories here and [I’m] looking forward to making some more.”
Among those standing in Fowler’s way of a second Falcon Trophy will be 2016 Race to Dubai and Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson, current Masters champion Danny Willett, Ryder Cup stars Thomas Pieters and Rafa Cabrera Bello, and former world no. 1s Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood. The American is therefore in little doubt about the challenge facing him as he seeks to defend his title.
“The field here is one of the best fields on the European Tour,” said Fowler. “A lot of the top players in the world and three of the Major champions from last year are here. It's not going to be any easier to win.”
Whoever triumphs, the opening tournament of the Desert Swing is set to provide plenty of early-season thrills for watching fans – as it has done for the last 11 years – and the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, which owns the tournament, is delighted to be able to attract such a world-class field to the region once again.
His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “It is brilliant for Abu Dhabi and the golf fans here that we are welcoming yet another phenomenal field of players to compete in the capital. The championship has become renowned for bringing the world’s best players to the region and this year is no different. We can’t wait for another landmark championship to begin.”
And neither can the fans.