Lee Westwood is already eyeing the Ryder Cup captaincy in 2022, but admits he must stay “in touch” with the new generation in the meantime – or end up like Tom Watson.
The former world No.1 had ruled himself out of contention for the reins in 2020, with Padraig Harrington subsequently selected to lead the European charge at Whistling Straits.
The century-old tournament will arrive in Italy for the first time ever two years later and Westwood believes he’ll be at the right age, at 49, to assume leadership.
However, he has every intention of playing alongside his potential selections on the European Tour until then, fully aware of the problems Watson encountered.
In 2014 the eight-time Major winner presided over USA’s disastrous tournament at Gleneagles, having been 15 years removed from regular appearances on the PGA Tour.
“I’d love to have it in Italy. I’ll not lie to you,” said Westwood of the captaincy. “That would be ideal for me to be captain in Italy. I think this time around (for 2020), I proved the end of last year, that I can still win tournaments, and I feel like I can still qualify for a Ryder Cup team.
“After that, Italy, I’ll be 49, and that’s the ideal time to be captain in my point of view. I’ll still be playing out here. I’ll still be in touch with the players.
“You’ve got to be out here so you can keep an eye on the new talent coming out and you know in autumn the players that are going to be there or thereabouts. So you’ve got a connection with them.
“I think Tom Watson’s captaincy at Gleneagles pointed that out; that he was just a bit too old and out of touch with the players that were on his team.”
Not that Westwood is out hammering balls every day – the 24-time European winner revealed on Tuesday ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship he now spends more time sharpening his mind.
“I don’t really work on (his game) that much anymore, the physical side of it,” added Westwood, who lifted the 2009 DP World Tour Championship. “I work on the mental side of it and when I come out, I more or less practice my short game, and once I hit a few balls and got back into the swing of things, that doesn’t take long to get back.
“I work with a psychologist and I just run through scenarios in my head of the way tournaments can go and the way I’ll think about things on the golf course when things happen so I’m prepared for it.”
Ahead of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship that starts on Wednesday, we look at five star players set to shine.
Who do you think will win?
World Ranking: 2
Best results in 2018: Winner (US Open, PGA Championship, the CJ Cup)
Last five tournaments: T7-1-T16-12-24
Last five years at Abu Dhabi: MC-DNP-DNP-DNP-DNP
After winning three majors in the past 18 months, there will be pressure on Koepka to add to that tally in 2019. The 28-year-old possesses a magnificent swing and thrives on the feeling of being slighted. With his recent successes over the last twelve months, could the Florida man be the late bolter of this generation to end up with the most majors? All eyes will be on him come June, where he will be bidding to become the first player since 1905 to clinch three successive US Open titles.
World Ranking: 3
Best results in 2018: Winner (Sentry Tournament of Champions, FedEx St. Jude Classic, RBC Canadian Open)
Last five tournaments: T24-3-T30-7-T4
Last five years at Abu Dhabi: DNP-DNP-DNP-2-9
The battle between Johnson and Koepka will have most golf fans licking their lips, with DJ looking in solid form of late. Known for making a fast start to his season, the Abu Dhabi course should definitely suit his style of power golf. The 34-year-old’s T4 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago will certainly add confidence ahead of his return to the capital where he finished T2 in 2017.
World Ranking: 14
Best results in 2018: Winner (Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship), Runner-up (US Open, Alfred Dunhill Links Championship)
Last five tournaments: T9-T7-T7-T16-T14
Last five years at Abu Dhabi: 19-MC-MC-1-1
The 27-year-old is a four-time winner on the European Tour and has all the tools to be a force for years to come. His stunning final round 63 at the US Open and his 62 at the BMW Championship in Aronimink last season are examples of the damage he can do when in control. Not only is the defending champion super-motivated to have a positive start to the season, he is also in decent form of late with five top-10s and six top-20s in his last 14 events. More importantly, the Southport man seems to love the UAE conditions of late, with his driving a huge advantage.
World Ranking: 28
Best results in 2018: Fourth place (Arnold Palmer Invitational, Hero World Challenge, Indonesian Masters)
Last five tournaments: T69-T29-T12-4-4
Last five years at Abu Dhabi: MC-MC-3-8-8
Stenson has always had a reputation as a player who excels on tough courses and has reiterated his desire to clinch the Falcon Trophy – the one Middle East trophy missing from his mantlepiece. The former UAE resident had to contend with fitness issues early last season, but he finished the year strongly with a T12 in Dubai as well as fourth place finishes in Indonesia and at the Hero World Challenge. Could this be the year the 42-year-old finally wins the elusive Abu Dhabi title at the 14th attempt?
World Ranking: 44
Best results in 2018: Winner (Indian Open, BMW International Open, Made in Denmark)
Last five tournaments: T47-T5-T2-T15-18
Last five years at Abu Dhabi: DNP-DNP-DNP-DNP-32
The 28-year-old proved his class in 2018, with three European Tour victories and a second place at the DP World Tour Championship, adding lustre to what was a magnificent campaign. That’s not to mention the T5 finish at the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa or his T3 at the China Open, other tournaments where he showed his potential as a world class player. At world number 44, the only way is up for the Hillingdon native, with crisp iron play and consistent putting at the heart of what is an exciting and ferocious game plan.
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood tees off alongside world No2 Brooks Koepka and Tyrrell Hatton as the 14th Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship gets underway on Wednesday.
Here’s the groups and UAE tee times for the first round.
Tee 1 – 07:20: Liam Johnston, David Horsey, Justin Walters
Tee 10 – 07:20: Robert Karlsson, Richard Mcevoy, Joost Luiten
Tee 1 – 07:30: Ashley Cesters, Robert Macintyre, Richie Ramsay
Tee 10 – 07:30: Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson
Tee 1 – 07:40: Wade Ormsby. Romain Wattel, Ashun Wu
Tee 10 – 07:40: Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Tyrrell Hatton
Tee 1 – 07:50: Erik Van Rooyen, Tapio Pulkkanen, Scott Hend
Tee 10 – 07:50: Matt Wallace, Haotong Li, Thomas Pieters
Tee 1 – 08:00: Zander Lombard, Mike Lorenzo-vera, Pelle Edberg
Tee 10 – 08:00: Lucas Bjerregaard, Shane Lowry, Ross Fisher
Tee 1 – 08:10: Yusaku Miyazato, Jaco Van Zyl, Maximilian Kieffer
Tee 10 – 08:10: Bernd Wiesberger, José María Olazábal, Thomas Bjørn
Tee 1 – 08:20: James Morrison, Raphaël Jacquelin, David Drysdale
Tee 10 – 08:20: Andrea Pavan, Alexander Levy, Alexander Björk
Tee 1 – 08:30: Jens Dantorp, Victor Perez, Saif Thabet (AM)
Tee 10 – 08:30: Jordan Smith, Fabrizio Zanotti, Jeunghun Wang
Tee 1 – 08:40: Nino Bertasio, Richard Sterne, David Law
Tee 10 – 08:40: Gaganjeet Bhullar, Benjamin Hebert, Sebastian Soderberg
Tee 1 – 08:50: Adri Arnaus, Oliver Fisher, Stephen Gallacher
Tee 10 – 08:50: Pedro Figueiredo, Hideto Tanihara, Søren Kjeldsen
Tee 1 – 09:00: Jack Singh Brar, Yuxin Lin (AM), Min Woo Lee
Tee 10 – 09:00: Stuart Manley, Jason Scrivener, Bradley Dredge
Tee 1 – 11:45: Andrew Johnston, Darren Fichardt, Nicolas Colsaerts
Tee 10 – 11:45: Gonzalo Fdez-Castaño, Grant Forrest, Matthew Southgate
Tee 1 – 11:55: Eddie Pepperell, Ian Poulter, Thorbjørn Olesen
Tee 10 – 11:55: Alvaro Quiros, Kalle Samooja, Nacho Elvira
Tee 1 – 12:05: Rafa Cabrera Bello, Lee Westwood, Kiradech Aphibarnrat
Tee 10 – 12:05: Chris Paisley, Shubhankar Sharma, Joakim Lagergren
Tee 1 – 12:15: Branden Grace, Martin Kaymer, Byeong Hun An
Tee 10 – 12:15: Joachim Hansen, Scott Jamieson, Gavin Green
Tee 1 – 12:25: Pablo Larrazábal, Robert Rock, Andy Sullivan
Tee 10 – 12:25: Sam Brazel, Paul Dunne, SSP Chawrasia
Tee 1 – 12:35: Kurt Kitayama, Aaron Rai, David Lipsky
Tee 10 – 12:35: Paul Waring, Mikko Korhonen, Trevor Immelman
Tee 1 – 12:45: Ryan Fox, Tom Lewis, Lucas Herbert
Tee 10 – 12:45: Callum Shinkwin, Thongchai Jaidee, Marcel Siem
Tee 1: 12:55: George Coetzee, Andres Romero, Adrian Otaegui
Tee 10 – 12:55: Edoardo Molinari, Brandon Stone, Jorge Campillo
Tee 1 – 13:05: Peter Hanson, Jacques Kruyswijk, Dean Burmester
Tee 10 – 13:05: Renato Paratore, Haydn Porteous, Kristoffer Broberg
Tee 1 – 13:15: Steven Brown, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Sean Crocker
Tee 10 – 13:15: Marcus Kinhult, Matthias Schwab, Kim Koivu
Tee 1 – 13:25: Lee Slattery, Sam Horsfield, Thomas Detry
Tee 10 – 13:25: Thomas Aiken, Matthieu Pavon, Dominic Foos