Could this be the year that Henrik Stenson finally lands the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship?
The man who has enjoyed huge success in Dubai has been unable to replicate that form in the UAE’s capital, so far going without getting his hands on the Falcon Trophy.
But ahead of next week’s championship, Stenson is confident he is in a good position to end that barren run.
Speaking to the tournament organisers, Stenson says he is hoping to get his 2017 season off to a flying start.
Do you think Stenson will win in Abu Dhabi and who else do you think will be in contention?
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Rickie Fowler admits he has work to do before catching up with the top guys in world golf and is hoping that a second Falcon Trophy next week in Abu Dhabi will be the perfect start towards just that.
The popular 28-year-old American is the defending champion, having won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last year by one shot over Belgium’s Thomas Pieters and finishing two ahead of Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson – who have together won the last five Race to Dubai crowns now.
Coming off a stunning 2014 – in which he finished inside the top-five in all four majors – and 2015 – when he won three titles – the Abu Dhabi win was seen as the start of a year where he’d challenge for the world ranking crown.
But it did not finish that way. Fowler failed to win any title after that and dropped from fourth in the world ranking after his Abu Dhabi win to the 13th place he sits in currently.
Speaking exclusively to Sport360 before the championship – to be played at Abu Dhabi Golf Club from January 19-22 – Fowler said there was still a lot to be positive about from his 2016.
“Starting the year with a win was an amazing way to kick-off 2016, especially since I was up against such a strong field,” said Fowler.
“To not go on and win more was a little frustrating but I have a lot of positives to take from the season and I’m looking ahead to this year already.
“I always relish the chance to represent America and to be able to do my country proud. So, being able to play in the Olympics and then help win the Ryder Cup on home soil, I think I can look back on the year with some good memories.”
Fowler, who missed the Hawaii leg of the PGA Tour, will start his year in Abu Dhabi and said he knows he is close to playing his best golf.
“I had a short break over the holiday period where I mainly relaxed and did some minor swing work with Butch [Harmon] to make sure everything is doing what it should be, but apart from that, there isn’t one change that I think I need to make,” said the 2015 Players Championship winner.
“I know I’ve got a bit of work to do to match the big three or four guys but I think that’s just a case of sewing the last couple of years together and playing some of my best golf on all four days of competition or during a particular stretch of the season.
“Year 2014 was a standout one for me in terms of performances in the Majors, but I’m trying to look forward and not look back at what could have been. I’ve had some good performances since then and will always focus a lot of my preparation around those tournaments but I need to stay patient.
“If I can get my hands back on that Falcon trophy this year, I’ll hopefully be able to use it as another stepping stone for bigger things to come.”
This will be Fowler’s third straight appearance in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he has become a huge fan of the city and the tournament. So much so, he is understood to have played an important role in getting then world No1 Jordan Spieth to play the event last year, and in putting in a good world with Dustin Johnson, who makes his Middle East debut this year.
“I’m pleased Dustin is joining us in the desert and I think he’ll do really well in his first visit to Abu Dhabi,” said Fowler.
“The course suits good drivers of the ball and coming off an amazing season last year, he’s going to be one of the favourites for sure. He’s played well early in the season before too so he’s one to keep your eye on.
“There’s not a lot about his game not to like but his chilled approach is a massive positive of his as well as his obvious striking ability.”
Former World No. 1 Martin Kaymer is looking forward to returning to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which he has won three times, most recently in 2011.
The German, who finished 16th last year, says he loves the course at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“I think it’s a very good golf course already,” said Kaymer in a video posted by the tournament, before adding that recent changes to the golf layout have improved the course even further.
“They’ve done a few changes over the last two or three years. Those were good changes.”
The current World No. 53 cited the 18th hole, where the pin location has been moved.
“It’s a little bit more challenging tee shot now, and it’s a better hole [because of] that. It’s one of the best par-fives that we play. It’s unforgettable.”
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship will be held at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club from January 19 to 22. The tournament features a stellar list of golfers, with many star names having confirmed their attendance.