Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship: Six DP World Tour golfers and their aims for 2022

Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton are among those kicking off the year in the Middle East and hoping to bounce back from a downbeat 2021.

After something of a muddled start in South Africa late last year, the DP World Tour's 2022 season begins in earnest this week in the Middle East.

The Desert Swing has been the yearly curtain-raiser for some time now and is popular with the players: the courses are good, the weather predictable, the hotels excellent and the prize fund significant.

We start with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship (at new venue Yas Links) before taking in the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, the new Ras al Khamah Championship and finally the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.

This week, and next, the fields are of the highest quality and among the names are plenty of players which much to prove over the coming 12 months.

Let's take a closer look at six of them.

Tommy Fleetwood

In one sense the fact that Tommy Fleetwood's 2021 rated something a let down is proof of just what a fine performer he has become because 15th in the end-of-year rankings really isn't that bad.

But contrast it with what went before because it was the first time in five years that he didn't end the year ranked in the top four. There's also his leaderboard count: 14 top three finishes (four of them wins) from 2017-2020, then just one last year (and it wasn't a win).

To top it all, he lost his PGA Tour card and his efforts in the Major Championships have not been all he will have wished in recent times. He landed one top four Major finish in each of 2017, 2018 and 2019, but hasn't finished inside the top 15 since.

He'll be ruing the change of venue for this week's event (he had two wins, a second and a seventh at Abu Dhabi GC) but the fact the course has links allusions might make up for it because he plays such layouts well.

His aim for the year? To rediscover his mojo, especially when in world class company.

Rory McIlroy

Let's keep this one short and sweet because everyone knows the dilemma: Rory McIlroy hasn't won a Major in yonks. Not since August 2014 to be precise, since when he's started another 26 without landing a fifth triumph.

Let's also add a note of positivity, however, because when he started the final round of last year's US Open only two shots behind the pace-setter it was the nearest he had been to the 54 hole lead in a Major since that glorious summer of 2014.

Aim for the year? To win a fifth Major.

Matthew Fitzpatrick

There's not much doubt that the Yorkshireman is at home on the DP World Tour.

He's finished top 12 in the rankings in six of the last seven seasons (top five in each of the last three), he's a seven-time winner (two of them in the end-of-year DP World Tour Championship), and has nine top two finishes in his last 28 regular European Tour starts (i.e. outside the WGC and Majors).

He's kind of transferred that quality to the next level up, landing five top 10s in 22 starts in World Golf Championship events.

But at the very highest level it has been a very different, and not especially flattering, story. He's now teed it up in 26 Major Championship and has only once registered a top 10 (in his professional debut at Augusta National in 2016). Moreover, in two Ryder Cup appearances he's played five matches and lost them all.

His aim for the year? He doesn't start this week, but no matter. He needs to record another top 10 at a Major and kick on from there.

Tyrrell Hatton

Victory in this event 12 months ago made it a neat six wins in as many years for the fiery Tyrrell Hatton and he'd have had every right to be excited about the season ahead at that point.

Alas, despite the odd highlight, the year was characterised by peculiarities rather than more trophies. He had a brush with Covid, another time he had to isolate, there were further examples of his trademark on-course self-admonishments, and he also had his wedding photos taken in a lay-by.

It has to be remembered that he has two wins and another three top three finishes in the last 15 months so it's far from a bad position. But over half his starts in 2020 were top 10s, a rate that fell to one in five last year. In the Majors, he finished top 10 five times in the period 2016-2019, but in 2020 and 2021 he missed the cut in five of seven starts.

His aim for the year? Regain his consistency (and hope his two Dunhill Links triumphs revive his Major form if it doesn't happen before then).

Bernd Wiesberger

Bernd Wiesberger's quandary is rather Fitzpatrick-like.

Like the Englishman, the Austrian is a proven performer on his home circuit. In his case he's landed eight career wins (two of them Rolex Series events) and has finished the Race to Dubai in the top 15 in five of his last six completed seasons (he was injured back in 2018).

But he just can't translate that success into quality golf at a higher level. The World Golf Championship? One top 10 in 21 starts. The Majors? Not one top 10 (and only two top 20s) in 28 starts. The poor fellow even had a Fitzpatrick-like Ryder Cup debut: played three, lost three.

His aim for the year? Finish top 10 in a classy field and build on it.

Garrick Higgo

A blistering run of form in late spring/early summer transformed the young South African Garrick Higgo from a fringe European Tour player into a fully fledged PGA Tour winner.

It started with four top 10s in April and May, a run that included a pair of wins in Spain. That earned him a start in the PGA Championship, followed by an invitation to play the Palmetto Championship, which he won with the bravado of a fellow high in confidence.

Thereafter, it all went a little bit pear-shaped: in his next 12 starts he didn't make even one top 40, and has hasn't finished top 20 anywhere since that third triumph.

His best result in that downbeat run was T21st at the DP World Tour Championship and a return to that circuit, and the Middle East, ought to offer him the chance to recalibrate.

His aim for the year? Press control, alt and delete in the desert before returning to the States.

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