Players to Watch at the Dubai Desert Classic
Since it began in 1989, the Dubai Desert Classic has grown into being considered among the European Tour's most iconic stops, crowning a star-studded list of champions that includes Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson, and Rory McIlroy.
The Emirates Golf Club has been the site of much drama through the years, with the 2020 edition set to be no exception, as American Bryson DeChambeau plots his defence of the title that he secured in dominant fashion 12 months ago.
Ahead of the event, we have taken a closer look at several of the likely contenders, noting their pre-tournament thoughts. If you haven't done so already, don't forget to check out Golfshake's Derek Clements' Preview Picks & Analysis.
Winner of the Nedbank Challenge and runner-up at the DP World Tour Championship, the popular Englishman began the new decade with a second-place finish at the Abu Dhabi Championship. Remarkably, the 29-year-old hasn't missed a cut - anywhere in the world - since the 2018 Open de France at Le Golf National. You can't argue with that consistency.
"I think it's important to keep the same attitude, so just because you've done well last week, doesn't mean you come into this week feeling great, everything's fine. You want to prepare and play this week like you missed the cut last week almost and make sure you're pushing. There's things everybody wants to improve. There's things that people have worked on over the winter that really you're only going to find out how it goes when you get under pressure."
Rolling back the years in Abu Dhabi, the 46-year-old has now claimed European Tour victories in four decades, beginning in 1996, with talk of a potential return to the Ryder Cup now a strong possibility. Despite his considerable success, it may be a surprise that he hasn't won this event - finishing second in 2012 - but there is no pressure on his shoulders.
"I think the more you win, the more you get used to getting back to being on an even keel, really. A lot of people, if they are won early in their career, they struggle to bring themselves back again, but I've won a lot of tournaments and I've won weeks back-to-back. Obviously over the years, I've had to really kind of evaluate everything, take it all in, process it, if you call it that -- I hate that term -- and then get ready for the following week. Yesterday I came up, hit a few balls, but being here, letting people congratulate me, kind of being around, being present and getting that out of the way, let's me focus on this week's tournament quicker."
Here on an invite, the hugely impressive former U.S. Amateur champion has been relatively quiet since booking his ticket onto the PGA Tour at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. However, the 22-year-old Norwegian has already shown he belongs at this level, and a maiden professional victory is surely a matter of when rather than if. Maybe it could be this week.
"It's a little different course than last week. Everything's very intimate and all the holes are very close together, and obviously seeing the skyscrapers in the background is really cool. Conditions are a little different, too, as well. I would say the greens are a lot firmer and faster, and the greens are a lot smaller, and the rough is probably thicker than it was last week. So it will be a little interesting."
Winner in 2007, the big Swede is back in one of his favourite parts of the world in encouraging form having ended 2019 with a triumph in Tiger Woods' Hero World Challenge. The 43-year-old still believes that he has many seasons of highly competitive golf ahead of him - with major ambitions in mind - and it would be a surprise if he didn't contend in Dubai.
"I have made Dubai my home as you all know for ten years, and great to be back and be in a very familiar environment. Know a lot of people. Obviously I know the golf course very well. Played it probably as much as any golf course that we play on Tour, and possibly one of the ones I've played the most out of all the golf courses in the world."
Now 40, the Spaniard's win in Dubai three years was the prelude to his dramatic major breakthrough at the Masters in 2017. Despite a victory at the KLM Open, 2019 was a season dogged by controversy and unfortunate headlines, with Garcia looking to establish the quality of his golf as the main topic of discussion.
"Course is playing a little bit different than we've seen it in the past. Rough is a lot thicker. Greens are probably as firm as I've seen them on a Tuesday and Wednesday. It's going to be -- I think it's going to be a strong challenge with a little bit of wind predicted for at least Thursday and Sunday. So it should be a nice test of golf for us."
Defending champion - winner by seven shots last year - the American returns to Dubai in search of another international triumph, but his form has slumped somewhat in the months since. Missing the cut in Abu Dhabi, the 26-year-old will be searching for some improved play ahead of his return to the meat of the PGA Tour schedule.
"I'd say all in all, it's one of my favourite places to be, just because of how technologically advanced I feel like the place is, and the golf course is in immaculate shape. The greens are perfect. The rough is longer this year, which is pretty interesting and I also just love hitting it off the fairways out here. It's a lot of great fun, and a lot of scoring opportunities. So for me, it's a great test of golf and I had a lot of fun last year. Let's hopefully do it again."
Making his debut in the Dubai Desert Classic, Scotland's rising star impressed many during 2019, recording three runner-up finishes and a tie for sixth place in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush, ending the year with the accolade of European Tour Rookie of the Year. The youngster from Oban has been nursing an injury of late, but he will be determined to claim that first title on the circuit.
"I've not looked further than April if I'm being honest with you. I've just got one goal, Top-50 in the world by April, and if I do that, then I think my start of the season would have been as good as the end of last. I'm just going out there, play aggressive, play free and hopefully pain-free."
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