Defending champion and freshly-crowned European Tour prize money winner Tommy Fleetwood will go head-to-head with world number one, Dustin Johnson, four-time Major winner, Rory McIlroy and 2016 Open champion and Olympic silver medallist, Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
With three of the world’s top-10 confirmed for the field, the UAE capital will welcome another stunning line-up of the world’s best at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club from January 18 – 21 next year.
The headlining pack 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.
The official world golf rankings end of season list confirmed that the 2017 Championship boasted the second-strongest field on the 2017 European Tour season — not including the Majors and World Golf Championships — a list calculated by the number of top-30 and top-200 world ranked players competing at every event.
Previous championships have seen over 80,000 spectators attend in person, as well as broadcast reach consistently exceeding 450 million viewers.
Over the four-day championship, 126 players will compete for a total prize purse of $3,000,000, an increase of $300,000 from previous years.
McIlroy will be returning to Abu Dhabi despite struggling with injury for much of 2017. The Championship should suit McIlroy perfectly having played the course several times before and with his focus having shifted to the 2018 Masters rather than the end of the 2017 campaign, Abu Dhabi will be the perfect tournament to kick-start his year.
McIlroy said: “I am 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.”
Johnson is looking to start 2018 in Abu Dhabi with the same form that has seen him sit at number one for a consecutive 39 weeks and 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. Renowned as one of the PGA Tour’s longest drivers, he’ll feel right at home in Abu Dhabi.
“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,” said Johnson. “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.”
Sweden’s Stenson returns to Abu Dhabi for his 13th consecutive year and will be looking to win a tournament that has so far eluded him.
The two-time runner-up said: “I am 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.”
Two-time champion in 2007 and 2009, the 14th-ranked Casey will be looking to continue his recent fine form in January.
“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 (Kaymer’s) record there,” he said.
Kuchar has posted a strong 2017 season, almost going all the way on a couple of occasions. Undoubtedly his best performance was his second place at the Open, followed by a tied fourth place at the Masters. He’ll be hoping to go one better on his UAE capital debut.
Kuchar commented: “I have heard so many good things about the Championship from my friends on the tour. I am 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.”
Justin Rose has also announced his attendance. The Brit recently won the World Golf Championships – HSBC Champions tournament, so will no doubt be looking to begin 2018 in the same vein.
“Starting 2018 off in Abu Dhabi is something many of the players on tour look forward to,” said Rose. “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.
“It’s a really enjoyable yet testing course which gives us players a challenge each round, and I’m sure I’m not the only one looking to take the falcon trophy off Tommy this year.”
Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, owners of the championship, said: “Today’s announcement continues our tradition for attracting the best names in world golf. Over the past 12 editions the Championship has welcomed the likes of Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Today’s announcement shows our commitment to maintain the calibre of field and we are thrilled to announce the ‘Magnificent Seven’.
“We have also, together with the unwavering eight-year support of our headline supporter HSBC, built an off-course offering which is the envy of many and a significant draw in its own right – we are enhancing this further with the support of our recently welcomed presenting partner, EGA.”
The tournament, held at the showpiece Abu Dhabi Golf Club, was recently renamed as the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA.
The deal means that EGA is now backing both key UAE championships on the early-start Desert Swing – the other being the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. EGA is the only company to sponsor both events.
In a positive move for UAE golfers, this year the organising committee confirmed that it will re-introduce an 18 hole qualifying tournament to provide opportunities for local pros and amateurs the chance to compete at the 2018 Championship.
Both male professionals and amateur golfers with a handicap of scratch or better (as of November 1 2017), will be invited to Saadiyat Beach Golf Club on Monday December 11 for their chance to qualify.
Three qualifying spots (one professional, one amateur and one UAE national) will be available, earning them a place to play alongside the world’s best at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
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The 28-year-old American carded a final round 72 to finish in a tie for 36th place.
He said: “I still had a good time. I finished off on a high note with a couple of birdies. I’m looking forward to getting back in action in the States next week. I had a blast.”
Fowler will play in the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego this week alongside Tiger Woods.
There was an endearing moment involving Tommy Fleetwood during Saturday’s third round that shows why the Englishman was such a popular winner of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday.
As part of it Future Falcons programme, young children had won the chance to tee up with the professional during their competitive rounds. The tiny tots would hit their tee shots into the par-3 15th hole from the forward tee and then walk with them to the green.
Most professionals, being the nice guys that they are, would do fist-bumps and high-fives with the kids and then move on. Not Fleetwood.
In the heat of the battle, and despite the fact that he wasn’t really having a very good day, Fleetwood had an amazing interaction with the youngster. Not only did he spend time talking to him, he put his arms around him and kept chatting and laughing all the way to the green.
That’s just the person the 25-year-old from Southport is. And even though he said he had decided with his caddie that one of the goals this week was to keep smiling on the golf course, he is a genuinely nice person and a fine golfer.
There is a terrific urge in him to get better. In almost Nick Faldo-like fashion, he decided to change his swing when he was playing good golf in 2015, hoping to become an even better player. That did not work out and he had to make a lot of changes in his life – including switching coach and caddie – to get back in the groove.
One of the most remarkable statistics in his 17-under par effort for the four days was that he hit as many as 66 greens in regulation out of possible 72. That’s a staggering number, one that is generally associated with someone as dominating as Henrik Stenson.
The other impressive thing about his game is that even though he hits the ball a long distance off the tee – don’t get fooled by his slender frame – he is also very straight.
In Abu Dhabi, his average driving distance was 302.1 yards, which placed him 12th in the field, and he found 9.5 fairways out of 14 every day. That made him tied third in driving accuracy.
As we have seen with Stenson and McIlroy, once you start hitting it long and straight, and then usually find the green in regulation, only a very bad day with the putter can deny you a good score.
It may be too early to compare Fleetwood with the two men who have, in between them, won the last five European Tour Race to Dubai titles, but there is no doubting the immense potential that the young man has.
The tournament itself was once again a massive success, even though, this was the first time in several years when the Sunday crowd was not up to the mark one expects in Abu Dhabi.
But Thursday and the weekend was just fabulous. And as always, the organisers did a fantastic job in making it a family outing. There were more food options at the Village this time, and the grassroots programmes with Future Falcons and ME Touch was brilliant.
All this would have gone to waste if there was not a strong golf course, and Abu Dhabi Golf Club was once again in excellent shape for the tournament. Clinton Southorn and his team did a superb job, and when you have a battlefield as good as this, the battle normally is engrossing, as was the case once again.