Four-time Major Champion Rory McIlroy hopes to continue his strong run of form at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as he starts his 2021 season at the first Rolex Series event of the year.
In ten appearances the Northern Irishman has finished runner-up three times and third on three further occasions, admitting that he has done “everything but win” around Abu Dhabi Golf Club. The 31-year-old is no stranger to success in the Middle East, claiming four of his 14 European Tour titles in the United Arab Emirates as well as winning the Race to Dubai three times.
McIlroy will begin his campaign in the company of defending champion and reigning European Number One Lee Westwood, and World Number Three Justin Thomas. The 2017 US PGA Championship winner admits he has been an avid viewer of the tournament in the past as he prepares to make his first appearance in the Middle East.
Former champion Tommy Fleetwood will go in search of a third win in the space of five years at this event. After a near three and a half year wait for his second European Tour title, Fleetwood won the 2017 edition which he then successfully defended the following year. In 2020, he finished runner-up to Westwood.
Rory McIlroy: “It’s good to be back. I started my season in Abu Dhabi from 2008 to 2018 and it’s worked well for me. It’s a golf course I’ve done well at and played well on. I’ve done everything but win here and yeah, I’ll try again and see if I can get the job done.
“I enjoy playing in the desert, this style of golf. Obviously last year was a different year and I really didn’t travel back over this part of the world and play at all. But now with things, it’s still obviously not where we want it to be, but I think we know a little bit more about what’s going on in terms of how the virus is and how it affects you or how it doesn’t affect you in many cases and feel a little more comfortable traveling.
“It’s great to be out here and playing. It’s a great way to start the year. It’s a big event. Got some great players here. Obviously J.T. has made the trip over, as well. The start of our Ryder Cup points starting again, so a lot of guys will want to start well and get themselves off to a fast start in regards to that, too.”
Justin Thomas: “I’m very excited. This is a tournament and a place that I’ve watched on TV many times back home and it’s an unbelievable place. You know, it’s even nicer being on a Troon property for me, a partner that I have and I’m very close with, and it’s an unbelievable course. It’s in immaculate shape.
“It definitely is going to help driving it well. It seems like a course that if you’re driving the ball well, you have the opportunity to make a lot of birdies. The greens are pretty soft and they are in very good shape to where if you put the ball in the right place on the greens, you can make a lot of putts and really go low. That’s kind of been our priority here this week is just figuring out lines, figuring out shots and what I want to hit off the tees.”
Tommy Fleetwood: “I think it’s a great way to start the year. Everybody seems to like coming out to the Middle East just after Christmas and New Year, do some practise, and you come out here and you have some great tournaments to start the year.
“It was never really a course that gave me much pleasure, really. I missed a lot of cuts to start off with and all of the sudden in 2017, things kind of turned around and I started hitting good golf shots around the golf course. I’ve been on a lovely run in this event.”