European Tour

Stenson eyes 'Desert Slam' feat

2015-01-14 13:51
Henrik Stenson (AFP)

Abu Dhabi - World number two Henrik Stenson feels upbeat about his chances of winning the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship this week, and thus become the first player to complete the Desert Slam on the European Tour.

The 38-year-old Swede has won the Dubai Desert Classic (2007), Qatar Masters (2006) and the DP World Tour Championship twice (2013 and 2014), but despite holding the course record at the National course of Abu Dhabi Golf Club (a 10-under-par 62 in 2006), the best he has been able to finish in the UAE capital is runner-up twice (2006 and 2008).

Stenson missed the cut last year in what has traditionally been his season-opening tournament (he has featured in all editions of the tournament since its inception in 2006), but said he is much better prepared for the task this year.

Speaking on the eve of the tournament, Stenson said: "It is the one missing, and I would like to have it, and I probably fancy my chances a little bit more this time around.

"The game feels in pretty good shape at this time. In the previous years, I feel like I've been trying to get going and trying to find my game a little bit. If the way I've been hitting the ball in practise the last couple of days is any sign, I've got the chance to have a good week."

But Stenson will not have it easy as a strong field has assembled in the UAE capital for what is the 10th anniversary celebration of the tournament.

World number one Rory McIlroy leads the star parade, which also includes number six Justin Rose of England, number 10 Rickie Fowler of the United States and number 12 and three-time Abu Dhabi champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.

There are a lot of expectations from Fowler, especially after his stunning 2014 season, in which he finished inside the top-five in all four majors, and his battles with McIlroy.

The 26-year-old Fowler, who has been paired with McIlroy and 22-year-old Matteo Manassero, is making his debut in the Middle East and said: "Playing worldwide is something I want to do, and I want to play different parts of the world and become a bit more of a global player.

"I will be the old guy in that group. Doesn't happen very often but we'll have a good time. I've gotten to play with both of them quite a bit before. Obviously, Rory and I got to play a bit last year, a couple of final groups, and we'll see if we can make it a little bit more fun this week."

Rose starts his season for the second time in the Middle East, having finished second in his first attempt in 2013.

"I am very excited to be back here in Abu Dhabi. I was meant to be here last year, was looking forward to starting here last year, but my shoulder didn't really allow that. It was on my schedule to be back," said the 34-year-old Englishman, who admitted to still having a niggle in his shoulder, but nothing that impedes his golf swing in any way.

"I thought it's a really good place to start the season. Good golf course and in good condition... You sort of get reliable conditions out here, which I think is very important when you're trying to get a read on your game early in the season."

Spain's Pablo Larrazabal is the defending champion of the tournament.


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