Abu Dhabi: World No 1 Dustin Johnson, even before coming into the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, had signalled he is ready for a career-best season by winning the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.
Seven of the world’s top 10 golfers were there in that field, and at the capital course Johnson will be preparing to meet a star-studded line-up.
Standing in Johnson’s way is defending champion and the 2017 European Tour prize money winner Tommy Fleetwood, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy and 2016 Open Champion and Olympic silver medallist Henrik Stenson.
They will be also joined by American Ryder Cup star and Olympic bronze medallist Matt Kuchar, two-time championship winner Paul Casey, who has had a remarkable 2017, with a strong performance at the US Masters and the Bridgestone Invitational, and Martin Kaymer, who has won here three times.
Despite laying the foundation for the 2018 PGA Tour season with a dominant performance at Kapalua’s Plantation course on Maui, the 33-year-old was of the view that it is not necessary for him to win here, even if he puts up another top-class performance.
“It’s hard to say, yeah, I’m going to go out and win,” he said. “That’s really tough. It’s a very good field. There’s a lot of great players in the field, so you know, I could have a really good week and still lose. That’s just how golf is. You lose a lot more times than you win, and it’s always going to be like that.”
Johnson’s 17th US Tour victory a little over a week ago ensured he has a win in 11 consecutive seasons since debuting in 2008.
“I would love to win. But still, it’s four rounds. So for me, when it comes Sunday, I just want to be in a position where I have a chance to win.
“You know, and if I do all the right things for the next few days, then I definitely will have a chance when it comes Sunday.”
Johnson finished runner-up, a stroke behind Fleetwood, on his debut here last year.
“Abu Dhabi is a place where I enjoyed coming last year,” he said. “So I was excited to come back and looking forward to this week. Felt like the golf course, it’s in good shape and the game is in pretty good form, too.”
Although McIlroy is playing in his first event since the since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship last October, having recovered from a rib injury, many would be inclined to tip the Northern Irishman to walk away with the trophy.
McIlroy is expected to give his all this weekend as this is one tournament that has slipped trough his fingers not once but four times (there times by one stroke). The Middle East has been his forte as he has 10 top 10 finishes here and has won four times in Dubai — twice each in the DP World Tour Championship and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“Obviously, this is the first real test of getting back and seeing how I am,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to just getting out there and seeing how I perform when I need to.
“It’s a place I’ve done well before and obviously a golf course I know well, so it’s a comfortable place to come back and make a fresh start of the year.”
Additionally, you cannot write off Kaymer, at least not in Abu Dhabi, as he has finished in the top five here a stunning six times, including three wins. Last year, too, he ended up tied for fourth place.