Tommy Fleetwood will be bidding to defend his Abu Dhabi Golf Championship as the sixth European Tour event of the season gets underway at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Wednesday.
Here, we look at four talking points ahead of the tournament.
Can Fleetwood make it three in a row?
The Southport man proved his 2017 success was no fluke by lifting the title again last year, finishing two shots ahead of Ross Fisher and Rory McIlroy.
The 28-year-old has been in stunning form since his triumph in the capital last January, with a second place finish at the US Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship to add to his eight top-10s and ten top-20s last season.
That’s not to mention his exceptional four wins alongside Francesco Molinari at the Ryder Cup in October.
While a repeat of last year’s heroics in the UAE might seem too much to ask, Fleetwood certainly has the class to mount a challenge.
Only four players have won the same European Tour event three times in succession and they happen to be Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Ernie Els.
A win would be a serious tonic to start the year, but any form of strong finish would represent a positive as he goes in search of a first major in 2019.
Koepka’s chance to reclaim world No1
The American returns to the UAE for the first time since 2014, seeking to reclaim the world number one spot if he finishes inside the top three.
Life has been different for Koepka since he missed the cut in the capital five years ago and now the Florida man is among the true warriors of the game.
Three major wins is a lot to be desired, especially when they were all achieved in the space of 18 months, but now the 28-year-old must prove he has the freshness and drive to follow on from that success last season.
All the top guys have the potential to win on any given week but it comes down to the hunger, the ruthlessness, the selfishness to put golf first before other things come in and contaminate the mindset.
Koepka needs to keep this form up and not let the outside music distract the melody he is making.
Stenson’s late bloom in 2018 can continue through New Year
The Swede endured a mixed 2018 season due to a niggling elbow injury. But a minor procedure after the Ryder Cup in October worked, and he finished the season with fourth places finishes in Indonesia and the Hero World Challenge as well as T12 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
Back in action this week, the 42-year-old will be looking to continue that remarkable run.
The former Abu Dhabi resident has two runners-up finishes in the capital. Another top notch performance could set the wheels in motion for another tilt at the title – the only Middle East trophy missing from his mantelpiece – on his 14th attempt.
Teeing off alongside the likes of Dustin Johnson, Fleetwood and Koepka will be no mean feat, but if there is any player with experience and intelligence for this course, it is Stenson.
Can dominant Dustin go one better?
The former World No1 is the favourite for most events he competes in but can he convert the fancy this weekend?
The American finished second at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2017, one shot behind an inspired Fleetwood, and went on to seal a top-10 finish after struggling in the first round last season.
To underlined his consistency last campaign, Johnson triumphed three times and recorded nine top-10 finishes. His missed cut at the Open Championship in July was the first time he had a disastrous opening two rounds since the 2017 US Open – 22 tournaments before.
Of course, numbers mean nothing and the real tests awaits this weekend with Koepka and Fleetwood both likely to have a say in where the trophy goes. However, Johnson needs to prove he can go out and win more tournaments rather than simply being tipped to do so at the beginning of the week.
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