Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE European Tour returns from its winter hibernation with Lee Westwood defending his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title in a field that also features former winners Tommy Fleetwood, Martin Kaymer and Shane Lowry. And they will be joined by Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas in the first Rolex Series event of the year at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. The tournament has added significance as it marks the resumption of the race to accumulate Ryder Cup points.
Westwood’s victory in Abu Dhabi meant he became the first active golfer to win across four separate decades and he now has 25 European Tour wins to his name. The former World Number One entered the final day with a one-shot lead 12 months ago and, while he was briefly caught, he was never passed, carding a 67 to get to 19 under and finish two shots ahead of Matthew Fitzpatrick and Fleetwood, and Frenchman Victor Perez, to win his second Rolex Series title.
Following golf’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the 47-year-old played a central role in the European's Tour return to action, hosting the Betfred British Masters at Close House in July before going on to make history at the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai. The Englishman birdied two of the last three holes of the season to secure solo second place and became only the sixth player to win the Harry Vardon Trophy three times or more, while also becoming the oldest winner of the Race to Dubai.
“Winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship was a very proud moment for me and set the tone for what would be an extraordinary 2020 season,” said Westwood. “Not just winning my second Rolex Series title but also proving to myself that I still have what it takes to win at the highest level on the European Tour. It was the perfect start to a memorable year.
“I’m excited to come back to Abu Dhabi Golf Club and defend such a prestigious title, and with Ryder Cup points to play for, I know the competition will be fierce and we will have some of the best players in the world coming to this iconic golf course.”
(Rory McIlroy - Looking For His Best in 2021)
Open champion Lowry, who won his maiden Rolex Series title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship earlier that year, also has a Ryder Cup place in his sights as he targets a first appearance in the biennial contest. “To win a Rolex Series event was very special,” said Lowry, who trailed Richard Sterne by four strokes with seven holes to play in 2019 before lifting the Falcon Trophy. “It gave me a lot of confidence going into the rest of that season and set the platform for what happened at Royal Portrush just a few months later. It’s a fantastic golf course and the facilities really are world class. It’s an iconic venue and an iconic championship, I’m really looking forward to coming back.”
Fleetwood, a two-time Rolex Series winner at the 2017 Open de France and 2019 Nedbank Golf Challenge, successfully defended a title for the first time in his career when he won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in 2018. The Englishman’s victory at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2017 kick-started a run of form which saw him finish that year as European Number One and make a memorable Ryder Cup debut at Le Golf National in 2018.
“I have very special memories of this tournament,” said Fleetwood. “The win in 2017 was the culmination of a lot of hard work behind the scenes and to come back the following year and defend was a fantastic achievement. Abu Dhabi has so much to offer us as golfers, both on and off the course, and I always love spending time with my family here to start my season.”
Kaymer, a three-time winner of the event, won by a record eight strokes with his third success in 2011 and will look to start his 2021 Race to Dubai season with an event close to his heart. He hasn’t won anywhere since his victory at the US Open way back in 2014.
“The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship has brought me so much joy over the years,” said the two-time major winner. “Any victory is special because it is such a difficult thing to achieve, but to have success on three occasions at this golf course is something I am truly proud of and I can’t wait to come back in January to start my year with another world-class Rolex Series tournament.”
(Martin Kaymer - Three-time Champion)
It will be fascinating to see how McIlroy fares in a rare appearance on the European Tour. Last season turned out to be a bitterly disappointing one for the Northern Irishman. It was summed up by his performance at The Masters, where he played himself out of contention during a dreadful first round, and then played brilliantly for the next 54 holes. He finished the year without a victory and will be determined to put that right quickly.
Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “We are delighted to welcome back defending champion Lee Westwood to Abu Dhabi for our award-winning Championship in Abu Dhabi, and some of our wonderful past champions in Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry and Martin Kaymer.
“Lee’s remarkable performance last year is something that we all remember fondly and is consistent with the sporting excellence that we associate with our tournament. Abu Dhabi is a global capital of world sport and the presence of players such as these only strengthens that position and reinforces our esteemed reputation.”
The tournament was won in 2015 by Gary Stal, in 2016 by Rickie Fowler, in 2017 and 2018 by Tommy Fleetwood, in 2019 by Shane Lowry and last year by Lee Westwood.
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Tips
Justin Thomas. Has no weaknesses
Rory McIlroy. All eyes will be on the Northern Irishman
Tommy Fleetwood. Looking for a hat-trick of wins here
Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Fantasy Picks
Justin Thomas. Hasn’t come here to finish second
Rory McIlroy. Desperate to put a dreadful year behind him
Tommy Fleetwood. Loves this part of the world
Lee Westwood. Enjoying a spectacular Indian summer
Shane Lowry. Has the game to win here again
Tyrrell Hatton. The Englishman has become a global star
Robert MacIntyre. Now a proven winner
Ian Poulter. It’s Ryder Cup year - expect big things from the Postman
Andy Sullivan. Looking to kick on after a great 2020
Matt Wallace. Feisty character
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Tags: european tour