Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is no longer the domain of the likes of Martin Kaymers and Paul Caseys. New winners, like England’s Tommy Fleetwood this year, is a testimony to the immense progress the championship has made since its inception in 2006.
Tournament Director Peter German needs a lot of credit for the role that he has played in dishing out fresh challenges with his ‘refinements’ over the years. A big purse and a star-studded field has been a huge plus in garnering a reputation among the golfers to look forward to on the European Tour.
The victory has taken Fleetwood from 102nd in the rankings to just outside the top 50 and his assessment of playing the capital course was: “It definitely makes this course easy when you’re hitting greens, because it’s tricky. The greens are perfect, but they are firm and they are fast.
“You want to avoid sort of — you want to avoid chipping or hitting bunker shots as much as you can; and if you’re not going to make many bogeys, which you shouldn’t do if you hit the greens,” said Fleetwood, who missed the cut thrice in his past six appearances.
For World No. 3 Dustin Johnson also, the sailing wasn’t that easy and he acknowledged it is a course where one needs a few rounds to adapt. DJ, who is normally very good at making the most on par-fives, couldn’t capitalise. His stunning finish with an eagle on the 18th, however, showed that he was very much getting in the zone towards the end.
“I enjoyed it. Hopefully I’ll be back next year. I like the golf course. I think it sets up well for me now, now that I’ve played it a few times, get a little more comfortable on it and what lines I need to take off the tee and what clubs to hit,” said Johnson, whose company would have inspired Larrazabal, the 2014 Champion, to come good in the final round.
European No. 1 Henrik Stenson, despite figuring in all the 11 editions, has still not found the key to success here at the capital course and had to once again leave with ‘mixed feelings.’ After finishing joined eighth with 13-under along with his compatriot Peter Hanson and England Lee Westwood, Stenson said: “I think I played good enough to potentially go all the way this week, but at the same time, I played 18 holes in six weeks and that was the Pro-Am here on Wednesday. You’re going to make one or two little mistakes when you haven’t played much golf, and given that, I’m really happy with the state of my game and managing to be up in contention,” said the 40-year-old.
For Martin Kaymer, who had once made Abu Dhabi his backyard, the tournament was clearly his first stop in his quest for redemption. He was in the mix all through but still not good enough to win. His inability to hold his nerves at the crush was evident. This weak chink has repeatedly come to the fore and left him dry without a title for three years now.
“I made a couple of mistakes. The bogeys I made were really from nowhere. It was a 9-iron on the ninth hole, and then pitching wedge, or a gap wedge, actually, on 13.
“Bogey on the par 5 on 10, you never really want that. And then kind of like I was almost out of the tournament. I was just trying to give myself chances, hoping for a couple putts to drop in. That didn’t quite happen,” said the German.
The rise of Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Korean Wang Jeunghun and Byeong Hun An was reassurance that Asian golf is heading in the right direction. Aphibarnrat’s 15-under for joint fourth with Kaymer and Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger, speaks volumes of his ability to keep doing well on European Tour.
For the UAE golf, the invitation handed out to Indian expat Rayhan Thomas was one of the biggest positives to come out from this event. The 17-year-old, born and brought up in Dubai, grasped that opportunity with both hands. Though he didn’t make the cut, the golf that he dished out to stay on par in the round before finish three over, showed that the youngster has a cool head on his shoulders.
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