Abu Dhabi - World No 1 Dustin Johnson spearheads a stellar
cast when the $3 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship tees off in the UAE on
Thursday - but his mind is firmly on the US Masters.
Johnson will battle returning former world No 1 Rory
McIlroy, current No 6 Justin Rose, and Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Matt
Kuchar who are all within the top 15.
The reigning Europe No 1 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending
Johnson, 33, is returning to Abu Dhabi Golf Club's National
course having finished second to Fleetwood last year and just like in 2017, is
in blistering form at the start of the year.
In the PGA Tour's year-opening Tournament of Champions in
Hawaii, the American nearly aced a 433-yard par-4 hole en route to winning the
champions-only event by a whopping eight shots over Jon Rahm.
Last year, after his runner-up finish in Abu Dhabi, he had
won three tournaments in February and March before a freak accident on the eve
of the Masters ruled him out of the first major of the season.
Doing well in the Masters is certainly a goal this year for
Johnson, but before that he wants to go one better than his 2017 result in Abu
"I felt like this golf course suits me pretty well and
I like the setup of it. Last year was the first time being here, obviously
playing four rounds in the tournament definitely helps," said Johnson.
"I kind of struggled for a little while last year after
Augusta, but I finally felt from the FedEx Cup Playoffs through now, the game
is starting to get back into the form it was this time last year where I had a
really good run leading into Augusta.
"So it's definitely good. I've been working hard on the
game, but the golf swing feels like it's finally getting back to where it was.
"I played well in Hawaii, but that was two weeks ago.
This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par, so I've got to
start over again."
Johnson said he was eager to get back to Augusta National
and compete in the Masters after missing the event last year when he reportedly
slipped on a wet staircase and hurt himself on the eve of the tournament.
"I was very disappointed I didn't get to play last
year, but things happen," he said.
"So you've just got to roll with it. But it's a place
where I always love going to play. I feel like I really like the golf course.
The last two Masters I played in, I did very well, and so I'm definitely
excited to go back."
England's Rose, who finished 2017 in superb fashion by
winning the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai and then the Turkish Airlines Open,
was hoping to continue with that form early in 2018.
"I think I finished the season with ten straight
top-10s, and that's not been done by me and probably not been done by
many," said the reigning Olympic champion.
"So that was a really solid, consistent run of golf.
And then to throw three wins in there and have a couple of other chances...
that was a really, really strong run of golf, and I am looking forward to just
keeping that momentum going as soon as possible."
Johnson is paired with McIlroy and Fleetwood for the opening
two rounds, while Rose goes out with Olympic silver medalist Stenson and bronze