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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Dustin Johnson hoping to go 'one better' at 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as star-studded line-up announced

Four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar and Paul Casey all confirmed for January 18-21 event

Dustin Johnson finished runner-up on his Abu Dhabi debut earlier this year. Tannen Maury / EPA
Dustin Johnson finished runner-up on his Abu Dhabi debut earlier this year. Tannen Maury / EPA

World No 1 Dustin Johnson will return to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA in January as he headlines another star-studded field in the capital.

The American, who finished runner-up on debut earlier this year, has been confirmed for the January 18-21 event, with four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, newly crowned Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar also committing. Second at the British Open in July, Kuchar will be making his first appearance in Abu Dhabi. Other players announced on Wednesday include two-time champion Paul Casey and 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson.

Johnson will be one of the favourites for the tournament, in its 13th year, especially following his performance in the emirate in January. The 2016 US Open champion, then the world No 3, missed out on victory by one shot to Fleetwood. Having never before competed in the Middle East, Johnson finished in a tie for second alongside Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal. Before departing Abu Dhabi, he said he planned to come back for the 2018 event.

“Abu Dhabi is great, it’s a fun course to play and I felt I played really well during my first appearance there, aside from my first day troubles with the putter of course," Johnson said. "I am sure this year I’ll put myself in a good position to compete and hopefully I can go one better than 2017.

"Aside from the majors, 2017 has been a really good year for me winning a multitude of titles and hopefully Abu Dhabi can act as the perfect springboard for me in 2018.”

Johnson looks likely to tee it up at the National Course as officially the world’s best golfer. Three weeks after his runner-up finish in the emirate, he won the Genesis Open to ascend to the top of the rankings for the first time. Johnson then won on his next two starts, both of which were World Golf Championship events.

An injury sustained on the eve of the Masters ruled the 33-year-old American out of the year’s first major in April, with Johnson struggling for form upon his return. However, he secured his fourth victory of the year at the Northern Trust Open in August, the opening tournament in the FedEx Cup play-offs. On his most recent start, Johnson finished tied-second at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He has 17 professional wins to date.

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Much like Johnson earlier this year, Kuchar will make his Middle East debut in Abu Dhabi. The veteran American, 39, comes into the tournament off the back of a characteristically consistent season, particularly in the majors, in which he finished tied-fourth at the Masters, second at the British Open and tied-9th at the US PGA Championship. He is ranked 15th in the world.

McIlroy, meanwhile, will contest the Falcon trophy after missing this year’s tournament through injury. The Northern Irishman, 28, has finished second in Abu Dhabi four times: 2011, 2012, 1014 and 2015. Last year, he was third.

Another regular to the UAE, Stenson will continue his streak of participating in every Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship since the tournament’s inception in 2006. The Swede, a former Dubai resident, is seeking to capture the one trophy that he is yet to win on the European Tour’s Middle East swing.

Tommy Fleetwood has had a memorable year on the UAE's golf courses. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images
Tommy Fleetwood has had a memorable year on the UAE's golf courses. Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

Stenson, 41, has previously prevailed at the Dubai Desert Classic, the Qatar Masters and twice at the DP World Tour Championship – the circuit’s season finale. The world No 9 has not triumphed since last year’s British Open. His best finish in Abu Dhabi was runner-up in 2006 and 2008.

“I am hoping 2018 will finally be my year," Stenson said. "I know the UAE well having lived there for almost 10 years and think the course is magnificent, particularly the 18th hole, Par 5, whose green is surrounded by the grandstand. Having played every year, the inaugural Championship will always live long in the memory having come so close to winning the title.”

Rose will be another player with victory on his mind come the opening tee shot on January 18. On Sunday, the Englishman fell short in his late bid to win the Race to Dubai, finishing tied-fourth at the DP World Tour Championship. Thus, he missed out on a second Order of Merit, to Fleetwood by €58,821 (Dh255,000). Rose has competed in Abu Dhabi twice before, finishing runner-up in 2013 and then 12th two years ago.

Compatriot Casey won the Falcon trophy twice in three years from 2007. However, now based primarily in the United States, he has not played the event since 2014.

Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “Today’s announcement continues our tradition for attracting the best names in world golf.”