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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 2018: World No 1 Dustin Johnson says National Course 'suits me pretty well and I like the set-up'

American hopes to go one better than his runner-up finish at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2017

Dustin Johnson of the United States plays a shot on the eighth hole during practice rounds for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Matthew Lewis / Getty Images
Dustin Johnson of the United States plays a shot on the eighth hole during practice rounds for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Matthew Lewis / Getty Images

Dustin Johnson reaffirmed his position at golf’s summit with a comprehensive eight-shot victory on his first start in 2018.

The world No 1 cruised around the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month in Hawaii, bursting out of the blocks in a year he hopes will be even more impressive than the last.

Twelve months ago, Johnson began in Abu Dhabi and finished runner-up, on his tournament debut no less. Less than a month later, he had ascended the rankings, reeling off three consecutive, high-profile victories.

Yet an injury sustained falling down stairs on the eve of the Masters derailed his dominance. Understandably, it took him a while to get back in the groove. He won again, in the first FedEx Cup play-off in August, before Hawaii reinforced a game had returned to rude health.

So, rivals at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA: be warned.

“I finally felt from the play-offs through now, the golf game is starting to get back into the form it was, to this time last year where I had a really good run leading into Augusta,” Johnson said on Wednesday. “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.

“But that was two weeks ago. It really doesn't matter what I did there. This is a completely new week. Everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.”

He begins on slightly sounder footing than last year. Despite having not set foot on the National Course beforehand, Johnson ended the week one shot off winner Tommy Fleetwood. But for an opening round of level-par 72, he most probably would have snaffled the title.

No longer an Abu Dhabi rookie, the 2016 US Open champion is aiming to take that final step this time around.

“I felt like this golf course suits me pretty well and I like the set-up,” Johnson said.

“Last year was the first time being here; obviously playing four rounds in the tournament definitely helps. This year, I know the course a little bit better, so we'll see. Hopefully I can play as well as I did in Hawaii.

“If I do all the right things for the next few days, then I will definitely have a chance when it comes Sunday. It's hard to say I'm going to go out and win. That's really tough. It's a very good field - there's a lot of great players - so I could have a really good week and still lose. That's just how golf is.

“Obviously I would love to win. But still, it's four rounds. So for me, when it comes Sunday, I just want to be in a position where I have a chance to win.”

A second win in two weeks would position Johnson well for his April's Masters, the motivation accentuated by last year’s withdrawal and top-six finishes there the previous two seasons. There is the Ryder Cup to come, too, in France in September, when an incredibly well-stacked United States will seek to retain the trophy won at Hazeltine last time out. Do that, and they become the first American side to triumph in Europe in 25 years.

The National Course - hole by hole

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Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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“It's going to be a good one,” Johnson said, referring to the potential strength of the US team. “It's hard to say which one's the best. I know the one last time was pretty good. We won.”

Maybe Tiger Woods will be there as well. The 14-time major champion is on the comeback trail from yet another injury, and plays next week at Torrey Pines. Apparently he is in great nick. Still, Johnson urged a little caution.

"Obviously it's hard to say what he's going to do until he actually does it," he said. "I don't like to speculate on what someone's going to do. But I've played with him a couple times and he seems to be swinging it very well and he seems to be healthy. We'll see.”

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