Defending champion Beth Allen and 2019 Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew are among the leading names in the field at the second edition of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open, which begins in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
American Allen claimed victory in the inaugural event a year ago on her way to winning the 2016 Ladies European Tour Order of Merit.
The 35-year-old stormed to victory at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, firing a course record-equalling eight-under 64 to clinch the newest edition to the LET calendar by three strokes from England’s Georgia Hall.
Her superb 2016 led to a decision to cross over to the LPGA more in 2017, but it hasn’t exactly gone to plan.
She finished in a tie for 19th at the Indy Women in Tech Championship in Indianapolis at the end of September – her second best result of the season and highest finish since sharing seventh at February’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
She is currently ranked 110th on the LPGA money list, 92nd on the LET Order of Merit and 124th in the world rankings. Allen, however, has no regrets about making the step up to the LPGA after a 10-year absence from the tour.
“I think for this year it was the right move as I played so well last year,” said the California native. “As a professional athlete you’re always looking to challenge yourself and the LPGA is the strongest tour in the world so I wanted to see how I fared there.
“I played out there 10 years ago and then settled in Europe so I thought I’d see because I wanted to play in the Solheim Cup.”
Allen, who also won the LET Player of the Year award in 2016, did not make Juli Inkster’s US team as they beat Annika Sorenstam’s Europe 16.5-11.5 in Iowa, but insists her game is in good shape heading to Abu Dhabi.
“I had a good start to the year but then lost some confidence in the middle of the year and it’s difficult to play golf when you’re not feeling really confident,” added Allen, who left the LPGA in 2008 to join the LET and lives in Edinburgh.
“Luckily towards the end of the season I played better and had a top 10 in France a few weeks ago. I’m feeling like my game is there, I just need to be the confident player I was last year.
“This year hasn’t been as good as last year but it’s been a transitional year as I went over to the LPGA and I found it a little bit more difficult than expected, but I’m still really confident here.
“My golf isn’t that different and I really like the venue. I’ve found a bit of form recently too so I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully I can put up a really good defence.
“It feels great to be back. I always enjoy coming back to Abu Dhabi. We feel really welcome here and Saadiyat Beach Golf Club is a great venue. Obviously I have really good memories of last year and I’d like to keep my trophy, so I’ll do my best.”
Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu DhabI Sports Council, is proud of the field assembled for the second staging of the tournament.
“We’d like to welcome back our champion, Beth. She did a fantastic job last year and we hope there is good competition from others as we know she is intending to keep her trophy,” he said at the pre-tournament press conference on Monday.
“We have Solheim Cup captain Catriona Matthew too and we have assembled another fantastic field, so we cannot wait to see them showcasing their skills on the course.
“This tournament continues to cement Abu Dhabi’s reputation for hosting award-winning, world class golf events. We have the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, the Abu Dhabi Invitational and the Gary Player Invitational.
“This provides us with another, and gives us the opportunity to promote women’s sports in the UAE and showcase Saadiyat Island.”
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