The first event of the new season sees a star-studded field head to Abu Dhabi including defending champion and reigning European Number One Lee Westwood, who is aiming to emulate Tommy Fleetwood in lifting the trophy in back-to-back seasons.
Martin Kaymer is the only three-time winner of the event, and he is one of nine Major winners in the field, alongside Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Danny Willett and European Ryder Cup Captain Pádraig Harrington.
Joining them are the likes of World Number Nine Tyrrell Hatton, DP World Tour Championship winner Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Christiaan Bezuidenhout, who closed out the end of 2019 with back to back victories in South Africa before a top 15 in Dubai.
The prestigious tournament restarts the European Points List for players targeting qualification at this year’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Lee Westwood began 2020 by making history in the Middle East with the 25th Tour victory of his career in Abu Dhabi, and ended it by winning the season-ending Race to Dubai in December – 20 years after being crowned European Number One for the first time.
The Englishman now returns to the Middle East to defend his title in Abu Dhabi, while making his 10th appearance in a tournament where he has a range of success, including a runner-up finish in 2008 and a tie for eighth in 2017.
Speaking ahead of the event, Westwood admitted the UAE is somewhere he feels comfortable, and he is looking to restart this year’s season in a similar fashion.
“I’ve always played pretty well in this part of the world,” he said. “And, you know, my two best results for the last year were Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the very beginning to the very end of the year.
“So I’ll be hoping for that again this year. You know, sort of fast here in these first three tournaments and then see where I was at the end of the year again when we get back in.”
Rory McIlroy has an incredible record at the event, with four runner-up finishes and four third-place finishes in his 11 appearances, with the Northern Irishman excited to return for the first time since 2018 to try and make it a winning start to the new season.
McIlroy made his Abu Dhabi debut as a teenager and, in 10 starts since 2008, has stood on the podium seven times – yet remarkably has never held aloft the trophy.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to Abu Dhabi,” McIlroy said. “It’s always a great event for the players and it’s the perfect place for me to start the 2021 season.
“Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a world-class golf course, one that I have come close to winning on several times over the years, so hopefully I can do well again and be right up there contending come Sunday.”
Two Englishmen who also have good records here are Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood – who is a two-time champion at this event.
In fact, both have solid histories on desert courses in the Middle East, with Fitzpatrick winning the European Tour finale in Dubai twice – most recently last month.
The only golfer in this week’s field to have played competitively this year is Justin Thomas, who was third at Kapalua two weeks ago.
Thomas’s appearance will be his debut in the Middle East and just his fourth start in a regular European Tour event, having previously played the 2013 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, 2018 Open de France and 2019 Scottish Open.
“I’m excited to play for the first time in Abu Dhabi,” said Thomas. “I’ve heard really great things about the course and with it being the first Rolex Series tournament of the year, I’m sure it is going to deliver a strong field.
“I enjoy new challenges, I like playing different golf courses around the world, and competing against the best players in the game, so of course I have my eye on trying to take home the Falcon Trophy.”
After rounding-off last season with a couple of tournaments in the Gulf States, the Tour heads back to the region for three more lucrative events with this being the opening Rolex Series event of the new campaign.
First staged in 2006, the event has remained at Abu Dhabi Golf Club throughout its history and is now one of the foremost stops on the European Tour schedule.
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