Ras al Khaimah Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
WHILE many of the world’s best golfers are chasing vast sums of money in Jeddah, Danny Willett, Bernd Wiesberger and the Hojgaard twins Nicolai and Rasmus will lead the field at the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Championship, which heralds a new chapter on the DP World Tour.
The Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah will host a DP World Tour tournament for the first time, when some of the Tour’s biggest stars battle it out at the spectacular coastal venue of Al Hamra Golf Club, which has previously hosted three Challenge Tour events.
Willett, who triumphed at Augusta National when he won The Masters in 2016, is a two-time winner in Dubai, just 70 miles southwest of Ras Al Khaimah along the Persian Gulf, and is looking forward to visiting a new Emirate.
“I have some great memories from my time in the United Arab Emirates,” said the Englishman, who won his eighth title at the 2021 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, on his 34th birthday. “It’s a place I’ve always enjoyed visiting and I’ve obviously won twice in Dubai, so it’s exciting that we have a new region to visit and a new golf course to play on this year. We always receive a warm welcome when we play in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and I expect it’ll be the same when we visit Ras Al Khaimah in a few weeks’ time.”
Like Willett, Wiesberger has started his 2022 campaign with consecutive events in the United Arab Emirates, starting with the back-to-back Rolex Series events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai before playing in Ras Al Khaimah for the first time.
The eight-time European Tour winner made his Ryder Cup debut last September at Whistling Straits, becoming the first player from Austria to represent Team Europe.
“Last year was a great year for me, with the win in Denmark and then making my Ryder Cup debut,” said Wiesberger. “I’ve worked really hard since returning from injury in 2019 to compete at the biggest events in golf and I want to continue pushing myself as we start an exciting new era on the DP World Tour.
“I really enjoy playing golf in the Middle East, the only thing I’m missing there is a victory, so I hope to have a strong start to my season in the UAE.”
Last year, twins Nicolai and Rasmus Hojgaard made history by becoming the first brothers to win in back-to-back weeks on Tour. Rasmus earned his third DP World Tour title at Omega European Masters and Nicolai won the DS Automobiles Italian Open the following week.
Also joining the field in Ras Al Khaimah are former Ryder Cup Captains Thomas Bjorn, who led Europe to victory at Le Golf National in 2018, eight-time European Number One Colin Montgomerie and three-time Major Champion Pádraig Harrington.
China’s Haotong Li is something of an enigma. He is a two-time winner on the old European Tour, his most recent victory coming at the 2018 Dubai Desert Classic, when he went head to head with Rory McIlroy and came out on top. He is still only 26 but is as likely to shoot an 83 as a 63. That he possesses an abundance of talent is beyond dispute but he definitely has a questionable temperment. If he can get off to a decent start this week he could easily contend. He showed what he is capable of when finishing in a tie for 12th place at the recent Sony Open in Hawaii, with four rounds in the 60s. But he then headed to Abu Dhabi and promptly missed the cut.
Alexander Bjork is also surely due to add to his solitary victory at the China Open in 2018. The Swede finished joint runner-up at the DP World Tour Championship and had a top-20 finish in Abu Dhabi despite a poor weekend.
Al Hamra Golf Club previously hosted the European Challenge Tour over three consecutive years from 2016-2018. It was initially the venue for the Ras Al Khaimah Golf Challenge in 2016 and 2017, before hosting the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final as the final stop on the Road to Ras Al Khaimah in 2018.
During the Ras Al Khaimah Challenge Tour Grand Final, Spaniard Adri Arnaus finished one shot clear of France’s Victor Perez, with the pair ending the season in second and third position on the 2018 Challenge Tour Rankings behind Denmark’s Joachim B. Hansen. All three players are now firmly established on the European Tour.
Keith Pelley, the European Tour’s Chief Executive, said: “For decades the Middle East has been a hugely important region for the European Tour and today’s announcement further illustrates that. We are delighted to take our Tour to a new Emirate, Ras Al Khaimah, for the first time.
“Our traditional spell in the Middle East at the start of each calendar year is always very popular and these five consecutive events in early 2022 will provide fantastic playing opportunities for our entire membership.
“I would like to thank our presenting partner Phoenix Capital and their Chairman Abdullah Al Naboodah for his personal vision and commitment; the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority for their support of this new tournament, as well as everyone at the Al Hamra Golf Club. All our staff who worked on our Challenge Tour events there have told us what a special venue it is, and we look forward to enjoying the unique Ras Al Khaimah hospitality next February.”
Designed by Peter Harradine, Al Hamra Golf Club is a par 72 measuring 7,325 yards. Built on salt flats, its construction involved moving five millions cubic metres of sand. The course meanders around four huge lagoons that flow into the Arabian Gulf and features several elevation changes.
Bernd Wiesberger will start the week as one of the favourites, and quite rightly. He is an eight-time winner and now that he is fully fit again he seems to be there or thereabouts every time he tees it up. Makes top-10 finishes for fun. Danny Willett loves this part of the world, having won twice in Dubai. And he got back to winning ways at the Dunhill Links Championship last year. He has struggled with injuries but says that he is fully fit and is looking for a big year. Sweden’s Alexander Bjork should have more than one win to his name and has been showing some decent recent form - and this course should suit his game. With three wins to his name, it is hard to believe that Rasmus Hojgaard is not yet 21 years old. His last missed cut came at the BMW PGA Championship in September.
Bernd Wiesberger. Has become a serial winner
Alexander Bjork. Showing some consistently good form
Rasmus Højgaard. A class act
Five to Follow:
Bernd Wiesberger. Gorgeous golf swing
Alexander Bjork. Ready for another big week
Rasmus Højgaard. A future Ryder Cup players
Danny Willett. Loves this part of the world
Guido Migliozzi. Hugely gifted young Italian
Five Outsiders to Follow:
Miguel Angel Jimenez. Still producing the goods
Thorbjorn Olesen. Gradually getting his career back on track
Thriston Lawrence. Already a winner
Grant Forrest. Looking to rediscover last season’s form
Nicolas Colsaerts. Still a beautiful ball striker
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