Collin Morikawa aiming to start defence of his Race to Dubai title with wins in Abu Dhabi and Dubai

The 24-year-old is excited to be back in the Middle East ahead of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Phil Mickelson once got a little tired of hearing Tiger Woods introduced on the tee box, comically crying "All right, all right" as his rival's many achievements were listed by the starter.

It's a problem Collin Morikawa's peers might find themselves having to deal with in the near future.

As he prepared to begin his defence of the DP World Tour's Race to Dubai title at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship the American reflected on the business of finding himself anointed with many titles.

"I've been announced for a handful of months now as the Champion Golfer of the Year," he said. "But this is the first time someone brought it up that I'm the reigning Race to Dubai Champion.

"There's a lot of weight that's on my shoulders right now. It's a great weight to have (but) I'm as strong as ever."

His aim in Abu Dhabi this week and next week in the Dubai Desert Classic? "I want to start off these first two weeks on a real high note and hopefully come out of them with a couple trophies."

A bold target, but one which his recent record on the European Tour suggests is well within his reach. In fact, he's won in both of his last two starts - at the Open in July and November's DP World Tour Championship.

His debut in Abu Dhabi will be aided by the championship's move from its old home to Yas Links, a venue new to the DP World Tour and one which claims to be the first genuine links layout in the Middle East.

"It's a very good course," Morikawa said Tuesday after a practice round. "Coming from the (PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions in) Kapalua, where the fairways are about a hundred yards wide, this looks pretty narrow.

"I think the conditions are going to prove tough. We're going to have a lot of wind this week, a lot of different winds from what we are seeing on Monday and Tuesday compared to what the tournament is going to be.

"And there's a lot of slopes on these greens, a lot of undulations and a lot of run-offs."

The players are of the opinion that the Kyle Phillips design is an impressive pastiche of the original form of the game and Graeme McDowell said a few years ago: "Kyle has created something special here. The way the greens roll, the way they're shaped, the turf, authentic is a great word to describe it. A genuine links course in the desert."

With that in mind, Morikawa's two wins on the circuit bode well.

In the first of them he overcame a difficult first encounter with linksland (T71st in the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club the week before) to lift the Claret Jug at Royal St George's.

"The Scottish was huge," he said after that triumph, before adding a note about the trickiness of the challenge which might prove equally valid this week.

"Learning a links-style golf course is tough because there's so many slopes and I like to know everything. I like to know every little detail possible and it's hard to do that out here.

"So you have to be precise about everything, and that's how I looked at it as a challenge."

In addition to his DP World Tour baubles, Morikawa has claimed two regular PGA Tour wins, a World Golf Championship title and the 2020 PGA Championship in less than three years as a professional.

Something else he said in the wake of his Open win might explain his prodigious appetite for winning.

"I remember I heard Brooks (Koepka) say at the Travelers Championship, which was my third PGA Tour event as a pro, that he was there to win," he said.

"He said when he first turned pro he was there to make cuts. Then he went to top 30s, and top 20s, and top 10s. From that day I just switched to, 'Let's go out and win.'"

He finished T36th that week at TPC River Highlands, but the fuse had been lit. In his next start he finished second, a week later he was fourth, by the end of that month he had claimed his first title and he's never stopped.

Morikawa opens his quest for victory number seven alongside Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood on Thursday.

Morikawa's numbers

Form

His last five starts have all witnessed blistering golf. A final round 62 earned him second in The CJ CUP, he was seventh at the ZOZO Championship, he won the DP World Tour Championship with a Sunday 66, he was fifth at the Hero World Challenge including a third round 64, and another final round 62 grabbed fifth at the Tournament of Champions.

In the Middle East

He was T68th at last year's Dubai Desert Classic and T10th in the 2020 DP World Tour Championship ahead of winning it two months ago.

Playing desert golf in the States

In Nevada, he claimed his first-ever win at Montreux, has finished T42nd and missed a cut at Summerlin, was T12th at Shadow Creek, and second at The Summit. He was also T25th at TPC Scottsdale in Arizona.

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

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