Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship: Which of the leading contenders will the new venue suit?

The DP World Tour kicks off 2022 with a return to Abu Dhabi, but the test the field faces will be a different one.

This week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship breaks new ground for the DP World Tour because, after 16 years at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the tournament has moved to Yas Links.

A 7,642 yard layout that sits alongside the coastline, it has been expertly crafted by the well-respected Kyle Phillips.

It's reputation is strong and recent concerns with the conditioning have been addressed ahead of the hosting of this event.

Gifted an enormous budget, Phillips has created what the course website insists is "the first true links in the Middle East".

Of course, we need to take that with a pinch of salt. Golf course owners, like property experts, are known for having something of an idiosyncratic relationship with reality - how many "genuine links" courses have we experienced that lack the fundamentals of links golf?

Imagine viewing a new-build mock-Tudor three-bedroomed house and being told by the estate agent, with an entirely straight-face and as you quite literally tap the plasterboard, that Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII plotted the dissolution of the monasteries in the utility room. It sometimes feels a bit like that.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty when attempting to recreate links golf is the grass and the contouring. Linksland has fine grass that permits chip-and-runs around the green; Yas Links has grainy Paspalum grass which grips the ball when it lands.

But Phillips is very good at what he does. In fact, he is something of an expert in creating both links-like tracks and also modern linksland.

In the former category he has produced Verdura in Italy, a resort course by the sea in Sicily that was inspired by links golf but shares similar grass to Yas Links, and Bernardus, home of last year's Dutch Open, which is a fast-running modern heathland design.

Of the latter, his Kingsbarns is well-loved from the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, while Dundonald Links has hosted the Scottish Open

Around 10 years ago Yas Links regularly hosted a pro-am during the Desert Swing and it proved popular. The fun nature and playability of Kingsbarns was referenced.

If you add in that Bernardus was well received last year, that Verdura provided exciting golf, and that the field is strong, we have all the ingredients for a great week to kick off 2022.

Let's take a look at the leading contenders, with specific focus on their Middle East, links and Kyle Phillips form.

Collin Morikawa

His first experience of links golf was thorny, but he proved just what a fast learner he is by applying the lessons of his T71st at the Scottish Open when lifting the Claret Jug seven days later.

He's fresh to Phillips designs, but he chased, caught and passed Rory McIlroy on his way to winning the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai two months ago.

Rory McIlroy

"Over the years my best performances in the Majors have been at the Open," he said last year at Royal St George's. "I've just become more and more comfortable with this style of golf."

He's a past winner of the Open, has another four top five finishes, and he loves the Old Course. He's also been tripped up by links golf more than a few times, most famously when carding an 80 in the 2010 Open and a 79 nine years later.

He loves the Middle East, with a pair of wins in both the Dubai Desert Classic and DP World Tour Championship, and has played plenty of good golf at Kingsbarns.

Viktor Hovland

Incredibly the Norwegian has only played one tournament on linksland - when T12th at last year's Open - but there is plenty of evidence to suggest he'll enjoy this week.

He'll be new to Phillips tests, but the concept of playing seaside golf, with breezes and Paspalum grass, will not faze him in the least. He's won the Puerto Rico Open and successfully defended the Mayakoba Classic in such circumstances. He was also third at last year's Saudi International.

Shane Lowry

The Irishman has impeccable links pedigree with victory in his home Open at Baltray and in the Open at Royal Portrush. Perhaps it should be noted, however, that both came amid filthy conditions that won't be replicated in the desert this week.

Just a few months ago he thrashed a 5-under-par 67 at Kingsbarns during a top five finish at the Dunhill Links and he's a past winner of this event (in 2019). Consistent in the UAE, with 10 top 30 finishes from his last 13 starts.

Tommy Fleetwood

The Englishman is probably gutted that he can't start his year at the old venue because he played it in superb fashion, winning back-to-back in 2017-18, then landing second and seventh in the last two years.

He's no mug playing links golf, though. He's finished top seven at the Dunhill Links no less than six times, he's been runner-up at the Open (behind Lowry), and he grew up in Southport.

That Dunhill Links experience means he understands a Phillips test and he thrashed a 63 there in 2011 (he also finished fourth in the British Masters at The Grove, another Phillips course).

Tyrrell Hatton

A second Englishman who adores the Dunhill Links. He's got two wins and two runner-up finishes there. Moreover, when he successfully defended his trophy in 2017 he hit the top of the leaderboard with a 65 at Kingsbarns.

He's also the defending champion this week and has an impressive tournament CV with five top 15 finishes from seven starts (he also has 17 top 25 finishes from 23 starts in the UAE).

2021 was not a great year for him but his best four finishes? The win in this event, runner-up in the Dunhill Links, runner-up on the "links-like" Congaree, and sixth in the desert by the sea in Saudi Arabia.

Adam Scott

The Aussie is planning to play more golf in Europe this year (he has a growing family based in Switzerland). It means he kicks off in the Middle East rather than the more common (in recent times) starting point of Hawaii or California.

His Open record is odd. He had his struggles, peaked (with a rash of top 10s including his infamous near-miss in 2012), and has since gone off the boil again. Wind won't trouble him - he grew up playing in it and loves encountering it in Texas.

He's a two-time winner in Qatar, but hasn't had a great time in the UAE (but he is improving: MC-T46-T23-T7).

READ MORE: Ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship: Six DP World Tour golfers and their aims for 2022

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