x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Defending champion Donaldson delights in returning to UAE

Defending champion back at the scene of his greatest triumph, which led to a standout 2013

Jamie Donaldson is excited to be back in the UAE and on the course where he won last year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. David Cannon / Getty Images
Jamie Donaldson is excited to be back in the UAE and on the course where he won last year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. David Cannon / Getty Images

ABU DHABI // Jamie Donaldson bounded onto the National Course on Wednesday morning for the pre-tournament pro-am and the memories instantly came flooding back.

That much is to be expected, as last time he was at the capital track he left with the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title, the most significant achievement of his career to date. Not only in cash and kudos, but in the currency all golfers crave most: confidence.

“It was massive,” said Donaldson, 38. “Afterward I’m in the clubhouse with my caddie and absolutely tripping over the fact I’ve won on this golf course. I said to him, ‘If I can win here, I can win anywhere’. That’s what it felt like.”

While Donaldson did not quite deliver on that post-tournament euphoria, he still enjoyed a season that was comfortably his best as a professional.

For the first time, the Welshman contested all four major championships – tying for 32nd at both the US Open and British Open the standouts. He registered five more top-10 finishes and concluded the campaign by finishing fifth in the Race to Dubai.

Without doubt, the Abu Dhabi victory provided the launch pad.

Donaldson had his first success six months previously in his 255th European Tour start, but that his second triumph was secured in a field that included Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy convinced him he could mix it with the big boys.

“I always knew I was capable,” he said. “I just had four or five years in the middle of my career that set things back, but everything has been getting better each year. I just need to progress in the same way as I have done.”

Sustained progress is a legitimate goal this year, and last month’s second place in South Africa - his last competitive outing - suggests he is on the right path.

However, for a moment, allow the reigning champion to indulge in a little regress.

“I remember all the great memories from last year,” he said of the one-stroke win over Justin Rose and Thorbjorn Olesen. “It was great that it happened and I was ecstatic; I couldn’t believe it until it started to sink in the next day.

“It’s on the CV, part of the learning curve. But you’ve got to be so careful. Great that I won, but you’ve got to bring yourself back down to earth because I won here, thought I could win anywhere, and then played crap for two months.”

Form clearly retrieved, Donaldson will receive an early indication this week if he can repeat last year’s feat. The drawsheet for the first two rounds sees him go off alongside marquee men Phil Mickelson and McIlroy.

“Thoroughly looking forward to it,” Donaldson said. “I enjoy playing with the top guys because you learn from them, see how they do things.

“To win it again is a possibility. Obviously I’m here and playing well. Play as well as last year and anything’s possible.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae