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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 2018: Player profiles of Johnson, McIlroy and the other 'Magnificent Seven'

All you need to know about the leading players competing at the January 18-21 tournament.

Dustin Johnson finished second on his debut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last year. Tannen Maury / EPA
Dustin Johnson finished second on his debut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last year. Tannen Maury / EPA

Billed as the “Magnificent Seven” when announced in November, we take a look at those lead names seeking to start their 2018 well at this month’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA. *Current world ranking in brackets

Dustin Johnson (1)

At present perched at the rankings’ summit, the American leads the field hoping to improve on last year’s near miss. Johnson was making his Abu Dhabi bow, but did not take long to get used to the National Course and eventually finished runner-up by one stroke to Tommy Fleetwood. Three weeks later, Johnson won the Genesis Open to move to world No 1, then triumphed at his next two events. He secured a fourth victory of 2017 at the Northern Trust in August. A US Ryder Cup team regular, he broke his major duck in 2016 by winning the US Open.

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Justin Rose (6)

Justin Rose won the Indonesian Masters last month to continue his fine run of form. Goh Chai Hin / AFP
Justin Rose won the Indonesian Masters last month to continue his fine run of form. Goh Chai Hin / AFP

Arguably the game’s hottest golfer at the moment, the Englishman enjoyed an incredible finish to 2017. In his past 10 events, Rose has three wins, a tied second and six other top 10s. His tied-fourth at November’s DP World Tour Championship meant he fell just short in his late bid to win the Race to Dubai, with Rose coming home second to Fleetwood by €58,821 (Dh255,000). He has competed in Abu Dhabi only twice before, finishing runner-up in 2013 and then 12th two years later. Rose is the 2013 US Open champion, and gold medallist at the 2016 Olympics.

Henrik Stenson (9)

Henrik Stenson is a serial winner in the UAE but is yet to get his hands on the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship trophy. Nezar Balout / AFP
Henrik Stenson is a serial winner in the UAE but is yet to get his hands on the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship trophy. Nezar Balout / AFP

A desert specialist, that the Swede is searching still for a first Abu Dhabi crown comes as something of a shock. Stenson has contested every event since its inception in 2006, finishing runner-up in the inaugural tournament and then again two years later. The 2016 British Open champion arrives this month with sights set again on completing the Middle East set: he has won the Dubai Desert Classic, the Qatar Masters and twice at the DP World Tour Championship. Stenson concluded 2017 in fine fettle too, building on a win at the Wyndham Championship in August with two runner-up finishes late on.

Rory McIlroy (11)

After a season beset by injury, Rory McIlroy is back for 2018. Erik S Lesser / EPA
After a season beset by injury, Rory McIlroy is back for 2018. Erik S Lesser / EPA

A four-time major winner and UAE regular, much will be expected of the Northern Irishman on his return to competitive golf. McIlroy called time early on his 2017 season in a bid to recover fully from injury. The former world No 1 was forced to withdraw from last year’s event because of a rib problem, but will hope to rekindle a hitherto positive relationship with the National Course. McIlroy has finished second four times in Abu Dhabi - 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 - while he was third in 2016. Finished 2017 without a victory – the first time in his career he has not won in a calendar year.

Paul Casey (14)

Paul Casey is a two-time winner in Abu Dhabi but has not played the tournament the past three years. Kevin C Cox / Getty Images
Paul Casey is a two-time winner in Abu Dhabi but has not played the tournament the past three years. Kevin C Cox / Getty Images

Having won the Falcon Trophy twice in three years from 2007, the Englishman has not enjoyed the best of runs in the capital since. Primarily based in the United States now, Casey has not played in Abu Dhabi the past three years. His 2017 was another steady one, highlighted by sixth at the Masters in April and a couple of high finishes at the British Open and US PGA Championship. Casey has already laid out his ambitions for 2018, with a return to the European Ryder Cup team featuring highly. He has not been part of the event since 2008. A first victory since September 2014 would help.

Matt Kuchar (15)

Matt Kuchar spoke to The National about making his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship debut and the "heartbreak" at the 2017 British Open. Charlie Riedel / AP Photo
Matt Kuchar spoke to The National about making his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship debut and the "heartbreak" at the 2017 British Open. Charlie Riedel / AP Photo

One of the most consistent players in golf, the American is making his Middle East debut this month. A veteran on his home tour, Kuchar comes into the tournament off the back of a characteristically consistent year, particularly in the majors: he finished tied-fourth at the Masters, second at the British Open and tied-9th at the US PGA Championship. At Royal Birkdale in July, Kuchar seemed poised to win his first major title before playing partner Jordan Spieth stormed the final five holes. Beware Kuchar in Abu Dhabi, though: he has been getting tips from close friend and 2016 champion Rickie Fowler.

Tommy Fleetwood (17)

Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood returns to defend his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood returns to defend his Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

What a year for the Englishman in 2017. Coming into the season with a solitary win on the European Tour, back in 2013, Fleetwood prevailed in Abu Dhabi with a superb 67 on Sunday clinching the trophy by a single shot from Johnson and Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal. It sparked a breakout year in which Fleetwood won in France, finished second at the WGC event in Mexico and then again in China, and fourth at the US Open. He was crowned Europe’s No 1 at the DP World Tour Championship in November, before finishing sixth in Hong Kong on his most recent start.

The National Course - hole by hole