Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 June 2020

Brooks Koepka aims to put his best foot forward at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

American world No1 returns after painful knee injury and is glad to be back on the course

Brooks Koepka injured his right knee in October and is still not at his absolute best. 
Brooks Koepka injured his right knee in October and is still not at his absolute best. 

After almost three months away, Brooks Koepka has arrived in Abu Dhabi with an additional pep in his step. Or as much as his troublesome knee will allow.

The world No 1 has not competed since the CJ Cup in South Korea way back in October, when an injury that first flared in March suffered enough damage that Friday – “I re-tore it... excruciating” – to force him to withdraw. Eventually, it ruled him out for the remainder of the season.

Rehab began the Monday Koepka returned from Korea and actually continues until now. The American has got some stability back, at least, but conceded on Tuesday that it doesn't still “feel like my right knee”.

The time away, though, has been good for the mind, too, offering the four-time major champion the opportunity to reflect and refocus.

So, the rest of the field at this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, presented by EGA, take notice. The rest of golf, to be fair.

“When you have something you love and it's taken away from you, it makes you appreciate it more and really enjoy being out here,” Koepka said. “I miss competition. I've missed showing up to an event preparing for something, because I haven't had anything to prepare for. When you have three months off, it's not fun, I know that.

“I'm just excited to hit balls. It's enthusiasm to get out there and go play.”

Simple practice has brought plentiful pleasure, because for the majority of last year Koepka couldn’t spend sufficient time on the range. He was far from full health, in fact, but such is his undoubted talent – four majors in less than two years – that he still managed to win three times, including a successful defence of the PGA Championship.

All in all, it doesn’t bode particularly well for his rivals. You know, once he’s back up to speed.

“I don't think anybody's ever operating at 100 per cent,” Koepka said. “That's a rarity in sports. Everybody's dinged up a little bit. Nobody wants to hear an excuse, so I'm not going to come out and tell you I've got the sniffles or tell you my knee hurts.

"Just get on with it and go play. I mean, I won with it, so I don't see any issue with it.”

As has become Koepka’s calling card, he riffed on a few of his favourites issues. He reinforced that his year centres around the four majors. He supported the European Tour’s new slow-play rule, which doles out an immediate one-shot penalty for two bad times in a tournament. It comes into effect this week.

And he didn’t seem particularly fussed by Rory McIlroy’s recent assertion that, when his game’s on song, it’s indeed the Northern Irishman who’s golf’s real No 1. Currently, McIlroy sits second in the world rankings.

“He should believe that,” Koepka shrugged. “Everybody playing should think that. If you don't think you're the best player, what's the point?

“Everybody comes here trying to win. That's the goal. If you don't believe you're the best deep down, then there's something wrong with you. You might as well quit.”

While Koepka wasn’t going to quit on his comeback this week, he admitted his appearance in Abu Dhabi was until recently enough, like his knee, not 100 per cent.

Pain-threshold passed, he makes his third run at the Falcon Trophy having missed the cut on debut in 2014 and finished tied-9th last year.

“I wasn't too worried it wasn't going to happen,” Koepka said. “I just didn't know when it was or, even if I got the green light, whether it was going to feel right, whether you're going to be the same.

“Just before Christmas was about the first time I hit balls. Everything felt good. Then from that moment on, after a couple days of not feeling pain, it was OK. I could get back here and do this and finally play.

“I love this place. It’s always fun to get back.”

Updated: January 14, 2020 03:07 PM

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