126 players. 4 days. 1 tournament. Here’s what to expect from the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
They have more accolades between them than we can count, but one thing’s for certain: these golfing heavyweights are leading the way in their sport.
We’re talking about the likes of four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, Olympic silver medallist Henrik Stenson, Olympic bronze medallist Matt Kuchar, world number one Dustin Johnson and up-and-coming superstar Tommy Fleetwood.
But they’re not here to show off their trophy cases. They’re here along with 121 other players for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA.
Kicking off the Desert Swing as part of the European Tour from 18th to 21st January, the 13th edition of the event is returning to our national course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club for four days of world-class golf, and it’s shaping up to be a strong field this year.
If competing for a prize purse of $3,000,000 (about AED 11m) wasn’t enough motivation, the players all have their sights set on the iconic Falcon Trophy as they vie to take the championship win and start the 2018 season on a strong note.
Defending the title is Englishman Fleetwood, whose game has soared over the past 18 months, leading him to become one of the top players on the European Tour.
Aiming to give him a run for his money are two-time championship winner Paul Casey and Irishman Graeme McDowell, who’s kicking off a new five-year plan in 2018 following a dip in performance in the past couple of years.
Joining them is Denmark’s leading man and 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn who has over 20 European Tour wins to his name.
“It’s going to be a massive year, so how we start at the championship in Abu Dhabi could help set the tone for the remainder of 2018,” Bjorn says. “I’ll not only be working on my own game, but I’ll be keenly watching how our European players get on against what is, once again, a world class field.”
Also on the roster is Ian Poulter, a self-confessed petrol head who most recently made headlines not for his golfing game but for wrapping his Ferrari in Christmas paper for the Elf on the Shelf challenge. Despite his antics off course, he’s going to be focused at the championship. Determined to avoid a slow start to 2018 in contrast to last year, he says: “Everybody knows 2018 is going to be massive. I want to get out of the block quickly and set the tone for my season.
“My main goal for the year is obviously to make the Ryder Cup team and I’m going to be working extremely hard to reach that goal – and it all starts in Abu Dhabi.”
For the fans
The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is renowned for being a community and family-friendly event that’s open to everyone, even if you don’t know your bogeys from your birdies. Aside from watching the action on the course, you can head to the Championship Village and watch trickshot performances, listen to live music, join in skills challenges, take part in a best-dressed competition – ladies, that one’s for you – and maybe even meet some of the stars themselves.
Those who are there to watch the action can walk the course to see the players up close.
Exclusive interview: Tommy Fleetwood
As he returns to Abu Dhabi to defend his title, reigning champion Tommy Fleetwood tells us how his personal life has affected his game and the biggest challenges of the Abu Dhabi course…
You have a young son, Franklin. How has becoming a father changed you?
Becoming a father has been one of the most exciting, surreal and amazing experiences of my life. I still can’t get used to it. I had a goal to win the Race to Dubai last year and Franklin was born at the end of September, which was right in the middle of doing everything I could to win the order of merit, so I actually ended up playing most weeks until the end of the season to achieve that, which was difficult being away. Clare [Franklin’s mum] has been amazing throughout the whole experience and I could not have played as I did without her support.
You travel a lot as a professional golfer. Is the jetsetting lifestyle as glamorous as it may sound?
It has its challenges when you are tired and travelling across a million time zones but at the end of the day, I love being a professional golfer and I never wanted to be anything else. I love travelling the world and experiencing different places and cultures and travelling is part of the job so you have to embrace it. Coming back to places like Abu Dhabi, where we get such luxury treatment from the hotels we stay in, and to all of the fans that come out and support us, certainly keeps me happy and eager to travel more.
You turned pro in 2010 but in the past 18 months you’ve really taken off and now you’re one of the top golfers in Europe. What was the turning point for you?
There are a couple of reasons, I think. Firstly, I am extremely settled off the course, which has made a positive impact to my game, whilst the influence of my caddie has also helped me feel comfortable – Ian Finnis, who has been a good friend of mine for around 15 years and used to caddie for me as an amateur and started caddying for me properly in the middle of 2016. After a few events, we could see that I was miles off where I needed to be but we worked at it together and he has made a massively positive influence on me. Winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last January really started our run off and we’ve been high on confidence ever since.
We heard you’re hoping to take part in the Ryder Cup in 2018. What other goals do you have?
I have not played in a Ryder Cup yet so it is definitely one of my career goals. I know I’m in a pretty good position from how I played in 2017 but I still need to perform this coming season and will be doing everything I can to be on the side. I played for my country and Europe when I was an amateur so to do it as a pro in an event like the Ryder Cup would be special. I played in all four Major championships this year for the first time in my career and had my first top five at the US Open so another goal would be to build on that and feature a little more in the Majors.
You won the Abu Dhabi championship in 2017. Can you describe the highs and lows of the course to us?
I’ve been playing in the tournament since 2012 and to be honest, until last year I had really struggled to score around there. My best finish until last year was 19th in 2014; it is a really punishing course if you’re not driving the ball well. Last year I drove the ball well and putted well so the score took care of itself. The greens are immaculate and the weather, for the time of year, is awesome.
This is a big event for the community that attracts even non-golfers. Does the energy at the event motivate you and the other players?
Absolutely. Playing in front of a crowd is always more fun and it gives you motivation to hit good shots. The tournament seems to grow every year and the crowd keeps getting louder and bigger, especially on the back nine on Sunday and particularly on the 18th. Whenever I look back to that Sunday and remember that winning feeling, I remember how the crowd reacted to my 3-wood into 18 and holing the putt to clinch it; the noise that the crowd made still gives me that buzz in my stomach. I can’t wait to return as defending champion in 2018.
Need to know
What: Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA
When: 18th-21st January, 6.45am-8pm, until 7pm on 21st
Where: Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Sas Al Nakhl
Tickets: From AED 50 for general admission, AED 150 for four-day pass
WORDS Rachael Perrett