ABU DHABI // Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter were united yesterday in the view that the conditions at this year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will put a greater emphasis on finesse rather than brute force.
Neither McDowell, the US Open champion and Ryder Cup winner, nor Poulter, the Englishman who has gone desperately close to triumphing on UAE soil over the past 12 months, is regarded as one of the sport's big hitters. So both welcomed the tightening up of the National Course, the venue for the tournament this year.
Poulter noticed the pushing back of the tees on the par-five eighth and 10th holes and concluded that only the really long hitters would be able to get up in two strokes.
"That probably plays into my hands a lot more now than before," he said. "So I'm going to be laying it up to my good approach number. Against the field from 100 yards out I would say I have a good chance so the changes are good for me."
McDowell agreed. "They have made some pretty good changes here which calls for accuracy off the tee," he said. "I would be lying if I said that length was no longer a key here but you now have to be straight as well. I don't care how strong you are, if you go in the rough, you are going to find it thick and penal. The fairways are a lot narrower than before."
The two players differed considerably on how to begin the new season, though. McDowell, who ended the last campaign in globe-trotting fashion trying to catch Martin Kaymer in the Race to Dubai, has already been to Hawaii this month and shot a 62 with a new set of clubs.
Poulter has opted for a sun lounger to recharge his batteries and prepare for what he hopes will be the season which ends his wait for a first major championship. "Relaxing and doing a bit of fishing has been my policy," he said.
Poulter could be forgiven for thinking the UAE owes him a victory after his second-placed finishes in last year's event here and in the Dubai World Championship two months ago.
The Englishman does not bear a grudge, though, after being narrowly denied by Kaymer's last-hole birdie and again by Robert Karlsson in an Earth Course play-off.
That defeat by Karlsson came after a freakish penalty for dropping his marker on to his ball but still Poulter refuses to be bitter.
"It took me about two minutes to get over that disappointment," he said, taking the view that the penalty did not affect the outcome.
McDowell cannot complain if the golfing gods do not look as favourably on him as they did during what was a magnificent 2010 for the Irishman.
"I won awards that I didn't know existed," he said, proudly referring to his MBE in Queen Elizabeth II's New Year's honours list.
"If you ask me what I take from 2010, it would be confidence and belief, but I'm aware that I have to keep playing well. Just because of what I did, doesn't give me a divine right to shoot 66 every time."