x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Turnberry challengers prepared in Emirates

A quartet of Tiger Woods' rivals for the 138th British Open Championship regained their form in the UAE.

Paul Casey, who has won twice in Abu Dhabi, reckons he has a chance to get his first major title on his favourite Ailsa links course.
Paul Casey, who has won twice in Abu Dhabi, reckons he has a chance to get his first major title on his favourite Ailsa links course.

TURNBERRY // Searching through the form book for an alternative selection to Tiger Woods as winner of the 138th British Open Championship, the UAE kept providing pointers to the destiny of the coveted Claret Jug. Rory McIlroy, a rapidly-developing threat to the prolonged dominance of Woods, is the holder of the Dubai Desert Classic.

The world No 3 Paul Casey, the nearest challenger to Woods in the rankings on view this week at Turnberry, won the Abu Dhabi Championship for a second time in January, while Martin Kaymer, the hottest player on Tour at the moment, triumphed in the Emirates capital last year. On top of that, Sweden's Henrik Stenson, considered to be overdue for a first major success, is an Emirati resident and was the nearest thing to a home winner of the Classic when he overcame a powerful field at the Majlis two years ago.

There is no sensible reason for opposing Tiger who has built up hopes for a 15th major victory by winning three events on his home PGA Tour since returning to action after knee surgery. But if the Europeans are to keep the world No 1 waiting in his mission to match Jack Nicklaus's total of 18 majors, then that quartet with UAE links present stronger cases than the usual suspects Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia.

It is dangerous to write off the defending champion Harrington but the Irishman has struggled to assert himself since adding last year's US PGA title to his back-to-back Opens. Similarly Garcia has not exactly been blazing a trail on the way to Turnberry. Kaymer merits consideration as a potential champion after winning his last two events but maintaining that peak through four of the most demanding days on the calendar maybe asking too much of the young German.

"I'm trying to sleep a lot at the moment to get back some of the energy I've used up over the past two weeks," he said. "You have to be 100 per cent mentally throughout tournaments if you are going to win them and that takes a lot out of you." McIlroy, only just out of his teens, is due another step forward in his burgeoning career which peaked with his Dubai win, and for such a young man he talks a tremendous game.

"I've been very pleased with my progress in the majors this year, finishing 20th at the Masters, and then finishing 10th at US Open," said the Irishman. "So I've proved to myself that I do have the game to get around major championships." Casey, who has won two more tournaments since January, gives the impression that it is about time he added the tag of major winner to his record. He reckons a planned week off while Kaymer was lording it over Loch Lomond will improve his chances. "I'm excited," he said. "This is maybe my favourite links course."

Stenson, who won the next best thing to a major by capturing the prestigious Players Championship at Sawgrass in the spring, looked another determined man. He arrived at Turnberry a week ago and has played four practice rounds - more than he has ever played before a tournament. "It's my first time here so I think it required a little more preparation than usual," he said. Stenson thinks winning Sawgrass and finishing in the top 10 of last month's US Open when he suffered the worst of the conditions, will stand him in good stead to end his frustrating wait for his big breakthrough. "I feel I am moving in the right direction," he said.

wjohnson@thenational.ae