A year after overcoming Martin Kaymer on one of the two-time Major Champion's favourite courses, Gary Stal feels he is ready to prove himself as a European Tour winner.
Stal was ten shots adrift of three-time tournament winner Kaymer when the German birdied three of his first four holes during the final round of last year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but the Frenchman produced a sensational closing 65 to capture his maiden European Tour title.
The 23 year old then finished fourth in Dubai a fortnight later, but that was to prove his last top-five finish of the season and Stal admits becoming a European Tour champion took some adapting to.
“I feel really good,” he said ahead of this year's event at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“I love the course. It's going to be the first time that I defend a title, so that's going to be quite exciting.
Being a European Tour champion was something new and I had to deal with it. I feel now that I'm ready for the next step again
“Obviously I like to come here, and especially coming back as defending champion. The quality of the course is one of the best of the year, so I really appreciate the course.
“I have to approach it like any other tournament. I'm a professional, so I do it that way. But it definitely helped to be able to experience different courses that I had not been prepared for before.
“It's a common phenomena that when you win, you deal with things that you're not used to.
“I continued to practice and work hard, and I just have to accept that it will come back again. But for that period of time, it was something new and I had to deal with it. I feel now that I'm ready for the next step again.”
While many of the headlines 12 months ago focussed on the usually unflappable Kaymer failing to hang on to his lead, it should be noted that Stal carded seven birdies in a flawless final round to finish one ahead of Rory McIlroy, who went round in 66.
“I didn't miss a green and I had a lot of putts that did drop, so I feel that was probably one of the better ones,” Stal reflected.
“I feel that had I won the tournament on the 18th, because whoever was leading did a triple-bogey on the last hole, then I would have been lucky.
“But I knew that I was already leading on the 14th hole, and I resisted the pressure. I feel that I deserved the victory; on top of the fact that I shot 65. It was unfortunate, obviously, that Martin lost the lead by so many shots. But I feel good about my victory.”
Meanwhile Kaymer is preparing to think about his positive memories in the Middle East, rather than a disappointing last ten holes last year, having also claimed his first European Tour win here in 2008.
“It's very special because it was my first tournament ever that I won on The European Tour," he said. "What every child, what every teenager when they try to turn pro, that is what they dream of and that was the place where I could celebrate and fulfill that dream.