Rory McIlroy will make his first appearance of the 2016 season in this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, where the reigning Race to Dubai champion renews his battle for world supremacy with tournament debutant Jordan Spieth.
The first leg of The European Tour Desert Swing has again attracted a formidable field, with no fewer than eight Major Champions, 87 European Tour winners, six European Tour Number Ones and five World Number Ones descending on Abu Dhabi Golf Club, which is hosting the US$2.7 million event for the 11th successive season.
In his last European Tour appearance in neighbouring Dubai last November, McIlroy claimed both the DP World Tour Championship title and The Race to Dubai crown to complete another stunningly successful season.
It was McIlroy’s fourth victory in Dubai – he also won the DP World Tour Championship in 2012, and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on two occasions – but the Ulsterman is yet to taste success in Abu Dhabi, although he did enjoy a big milestone here last year when he holed out for his first professional hole in one at the par three 15th hole.
Given that he has finished lower than 11th just once in eighth appearances, McIlroy will be confident of starting his 2016 campaign in the same manner that he finished last year’s.
Remarkably, McIlroy has finished runner-up on four occasions, most recently 12 months ago when Gary Stal sprang a surprise by claiming his maiden European Tour title at the expense of Martin Kaymer, the Frenchman having started the final round eight shots in arrears of the German.
Frenchman Gary Stal claimed a maiden European Tour title in Abu Dhabi last year
A double bogey on the ninth hole and a triple bogey on the 13th wrecked Kaymer’s hopes of claiming a record fourth victory in the tournament, having prevailed in 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Should Kaymer win for a fourth time, he would join an elite group of eight players – including his friend and mentor Bernhard Langer – who have won the same official European Tour event four or more times.
Kaymer has compiled an incredible record in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship since making his debut in 2007. From his 32 rounds at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the former World Number One is an aggregate total of 104 under par, and has a stroke average of 68.75.
Spieth is yet to compete in a regular European Tour event, but it would be little surprise if the Texan were to make a winning debut this week after his sensational performance a fortnight ago in Hawaii, where he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions by eight shots from European Tour Member Patrick Reed.
World Number One Jordan Spieth makes his debut in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship this week
His aggregate winning score of 30 under par was not only a personal best for Spieth, it was also only the second time a player has reached that mark on the US PGA Tour.
Spieth’s compatriot and former Ryder Cup team-mate Rickie Fowler will be returning to Abu Dhabi following his debut last year.
The World Number Six last appeared in a regular European Tour event at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open last summer which yielded victory.
Other notable names in the stellar line-up include World Number Five Henrik Stenson, who has two runner-up finishes to his name; Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke, who returns to playing duties after leading Europe to glory at last week’s EURASIA CUP presented by DRB-HICOM; and Scotland’s Russell Knox, the reigning WGC-HSBC Champion who became a European Tour member at the start of the season.