Tuesday, 19 January 2016
(L-R)  Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler of the United States pose on Golfboards   (Getty Images)
(L-R) Henrik Stenson of Sweden, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler of the United States pose on Golfboards (Getty Images)

Henrik Stenson returns to this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship for his first appearance of 2016, and the Swede admits he only has a few years left to achieve his career goals in the face of stiff opposition from the young stars at the top of the game.

Stenson will celebrate his 40th birthday in April and is the oldest player in the top six in the world, which features Major Champions Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, as well as Players Championship winner Rickie Fowler.

And although Ernie Els, Darren Clarke and Phil Mickelson were all over 40 when they won The Open in successive years from 2011, Stenson knows he faces a tough task to claim a first major title or Olympic gold this season.

I don't think I have forever to accomplish what I want to do. It has to happen in the next three or four years - Henrik Stenson

The Ryder Cup star underwent keyhole surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee in December and admits just walking 18 holes four days running will be a challenge this week at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

"I don't feel old, but the body certainly starts to feel it I guess," said Stenson, who has been paired with defending champion Gary Stal and Martin Kaymer in Abu Dhabi, with Spieth, McIlroy and Fowler going out together one group ahead.

"In my mind I'm still probably somewhere mentally between 15 and 18 and I'll try to stay that way for as long as possible.

"But of course it's normal. Every sport develops and the young players now they are better at an earlier age. You have all the technology and all the help that you can get to become even better, quicker and the competition is tougher.

"I don't think I have forever, that's for sure, to accomplish what I want to do. It has to happen in the next three or four years, I'm pretty certain of that."

Jordan Spieth

Stenson has not played competitively since finishing second in the Nedbank Golf Challenge on December 6, the 39 year old undergoing surgery three days later in Orlando.

"It all went well," he added. "The knee looks fine on the inside but obviously it takes some time to recover and it's a fairly quick turnaround. I had exactly the same time span between when they operated on my left knee in 2011 and when I teed it up here in 2012 and it feels the same as well.

"It was a challenge to get back to walking back then and it's the same now. Hitting balls is not an issue; just getting back to walking normally and putting it to the test of walking 18 holes five days in a row is going to be the challenge.

“It's a big, exciting year ahead of us, a lot of golf, and preparation is going to be key. We've got this early part of the year to really put things in place and set yourself up for a busy time of the year.

“So there's nothing better in my book than to be here in good weather on good golf courses with good practice facilities, good competition to start off the year, and that's why I've been back here year in and year out.”

Fowler has already had a top-five finish in Hawaii this year, and is looking to continue his impressive start to 2016.

“I feel like it's a great spot to get the year going over here,” he said.

“Obviously great weather, the golf course is in perfect shape from what I can see, being out there yesterday.

Rickie Fowler

“HSBC has done a great job here, and I think we've got a pretty strong field, having four of the top six in the world, and plenty more guys behind us that are ready to play some good golf. So it's going to be a fun week.

“It's going to be a fun ride this year. A lot of guys are playing well, but you look at some of the top guys in the world, and ready to go kind of beat up on each other. All really good friends. It's going to be an exciting year for golf.”

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Tournament Leaderboard

Pos Player nameNatHolePar
1FOWLER, RickieUSA18-16
2PIETERS, ThomasBEL18-15
T3STENSON, HenrikSWE18-14
T5SIEM, MarcelGER18-11
T5SPIETH, JordanUSA18-11

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