Defending champion Graeme McDowell is aiming to recapture the momentum he built up last season when he tees it up once again at the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers.
“First time here last year. Nice, windy track. Good golf course. Great facilities here. It fit my eye pretty well and it was really important to me at the time. Got me back in the top-50 in the world and got me into Augusta and opened a lot of doors for me.
The Major winner got his 2020 season off to the perfect start with victory at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club, but admits he struggled to recapture that form when he returned to action after the enforced break due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I felt like I was starting to get a little bit of a head of steam up and starting to create some nice momentum and move into the right direction and obviously that momentum didn’t get a chance to last very long unfortunately. I didn’t respond well when we came back in the summer.
“But always nice to come back to a golf course where you have great memories. And like I say, I would love to get some of that momentum back again this week. That would be really, really awesome.”
The Northern Irishman will face a stern challenge in his bid to hold on to his title, with a field including World Number One, 2019 winner and reigning Masters Tournament champion Dustin Johnson as well as fellow Major winners Bryson DeChambeau, Shane Lowry, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.
Also challenging McDowell for further desert success are the last two winners on the ‘Middle East Swing’ – his fellow Ryder Cup stars Tyrrell Hatton and Paul Casey, who both make their debut in King Abdullah Economic City.
World Number Seven Hatton became the joint most successful Rolex Series player when he sealed his fourth victory and his sixth overall on the European Tour at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to continue his impressive advance up the Official World Golf Ranking.
“It’s obviously good to be here for the first time,” said Hatton. “I went and played nine holes today and that was the first time seeing the golf course. Pretty impressed with what I saw. It’s in fantastic shape. Speaking to a few guys before coming here, they said it does kind of get quite windy, so I was expecting the greens to be a little slower than what we are used to.
“I’ve been fortunate to win four times in the last 14 months. And all four of them were big events, and they carry big World Ranking points. Outside of those wins, I’ve still had a few top fives, top tens, and just going about my business, just trying to play good golf every single week.
“Obviously this week, we’ve got huge World Ranking points on offer. It’s an added incentive, I guess. A little bit more motivation. But also we’ve got Ryder Cup points to play for. So, there’s plenty of things this week that you’re motivated for, and it will certainly be a great event to have a really good week. Obviously I’ll be trying my best to do that, and looking forward to getting started on Thursday.”
Meanwhile Paul Casey is seeking to continue his own upward trajectory after sealing his 15th European Tour title at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.
“Cracking-looking golf course,” said Casey. “So here to try and play and beat an unbelievable field. Even today, learning about some of the guys who were here this week. I’m not one necessarily to look at entry lists to see who is playing week-in, week-out, but it’s stacked. We’re going to have huge World Ranking points.
“From what I’ve seen so far, I really like it. So, I if anything, I feel good, and what I’ve seen so far, there’s a lot of touch putting required around this golf course, and I’m a great touch putter. It’s probably the key to the victory last week on those difficult greens.
“There’s no reason why I can’t have a really good week and put myself in a position to challenge. It’s not like there’s a massive time difference from last week, either. So there’s a lot of things in my favour to try and back up last week’s performance.”