Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Players to Watch

A new year on the DP World Tour brings new hope for players who have been around long enough to know how fickle and unforgiving the game can be from week to week — shot to shot — even for the best in the world.The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, which begins on Thursday at Yas Links in the United Arab Emirates, should be no different. Some in the field will be in midseason form, while others will struggle, searching for answers before another season slips away.Here are five players to watch.Sepp StrakaStraka, 29, recorded his first PGA Tour victory at the Honda Classic last February and finished second at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October. Yet he also missed six cuts in a row in the middle of last season and missed three straight in November.His triumph at the Honda, in which he rallied from a five-stroke deficit with a four-under 66 in the final round, was the first on tour for an Austrian-born player. He had entered the week ranked No. 176 in the world.Straka, who lived in Austria before moving to the state of Georgia when he was 14, will have something to play for besides himself this year. He has a chance to be a member of Team Europe for the Ryder Cup matches in Rome.He opened the year by finishing tied for 21st at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii.Henrik StensonStenson, who had been appointed Europe’s Ryder Cup captain in March, was removed in July after he joined the LIV Tour. Luke Donald was named as his replacement.This will be Stenson’s first appearance on the DP World Tour since the dismissal. He and the others who bolted for LIV have been allowed to participate in DP World Tour events pending the resolution of a court case.Stenson, from Sweden, won his LIV debut at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey by two strokes over Dustin Johnson and Matthew Wolff. He earned $4 million for the victory in July.Tommy FleetwoodOne of Europe’s top players in recent years, Fleetwood has not won a tournament on the PGA Tour. Yet he fared well last year in the major championships, signaling he might notch that first victory before too long.Fleetwood, from England, missed the cut at the U.S. Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., but tied for 14th at the Masters in Augusta, Ga., tied for fifth at the P.G.A. Championship in Tulsa, Okla., and tied for fourth at the British Open in St. Andrews, Scotland. Fleetwood, who turns 32 on Thursday, was one of eight players to compile at least two top-5 finishes in the majors.Thomas PietersPieters, 30, from Belgium, was the winner in Abu Dhabi last year — or, more precisely, the survivor.During Friday’s second round the winds kicked up to 40 miles per hour. Rory McIlroy summed up how many players were no doubt feeling: “I’ve never been so glad to get off a golf course.”Yet Pieters managed a two-over 74 that day to stay within striking distance of the lead. He finished a stroke ahead of Rafa Cabrera Bello and Shubhankar Sharma. Pieters, who has been ranked in the top 50 in the world, has also endured his share of difficulties.After winning three tournaments in Europe in 2015 and 2016, he went three years before he collected his fourth victory and then another two years before he picked up his fifth, which came in the 2021 Portugal Masters.No wonder the triumph on Yas Links in 2022, his sixth, was so gratifying.“I disappeared for a couple of years, I guess,” Pieters said after winning the tournament. “I’m so happy to be back.”Seamus PowerIn October, thanks to three straight rounds of 65, Power captured the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. A week later, he tied for third in the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba in Mexico. Then came a tie for fifth at the RSM Classic in Georgia. Of the 12 rounds in those three events, he broke 70 on 11 occasions. The other round was a one-under 70.Power, 35, from Ireland, attended East Tennessee State University where he won five tournaments including the Atlanta Sun Conference Championship twice.The next step for him is to be a real factor in the major championships. Power tied for ninth in last year’s P.G.A. Championship and tied for 12th at the U.S. Open.

Source link