x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Luke Donald aims to join the winners' club

Golf's world No 1 has changed his equipment as he targets big prizes.

Luke Donald plays a shot among the sand dunes in Abu Dhabi's Liwa Desert.
Luke Donald plays a shot among the sand dunes in Abu Dhabi's Liwa Desert.

ABU DHABI // Luke Donald, the world's No 1 golfer, will revive his pursuit of perfection, as well as a first Falcon Trophy, when he tees off at The National Course this morning with a new set of clubs.

Despite making history by becoming the first player to top the money lists in both the United States and Europe in 2011, the Englishman clearly feels improvements can still be made.

This year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has 12 major champions in the field. Donald is not one of them, though, and his quest for one of those elusive titles led him to change 12 of the 14 clubs in his bag ahead of the new campaign, including a new driver.

"The key for me to try and contend and to win majors is to continually improve my driving," said Donald, who has not played in Abu Dhabi since 2008.

"It is something Jack Nicklaus told me last year, that he thinks he was successful because he drove it very well."

Even though he is the game's top-ranked player, Donald starts today - probably not for the first time - as the least recognisable player in a luminous three-ball.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, his playing partners, begin the season knowing it is the understated Englishman who they have to topple if they are to be officially termed the world's best.

Donald insists he feels no extra burden in trying to repeat his record-breaking feats for last season, saying pressure is a good sign you are being successful.

"I'm really trying to feed off all the good stuff more than think about going backwards," he said.

"I think my job is to keep trying to do similar things to what I did last year in terms of just trying to improve at the margin of everything I do.

"Obviously, there's always expectation, but I think I said last year was great for me in terms of confidence and knowing when I needed to play well, I did."

Donald may be the best player on the planet at present, but the UAE's capital unquestionably remains Martin Kaymer's turf.

Few players have owned a tournament to the extent that the German player has this one, as he pursues a fourth Abu Dhabi crown, and third in succession, here this week.

"They make me feel very comfortable here," said Kaymer, who believes he will be able to "fly under the radar" in his stellar match with Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, because of the Donald three-ball.

"It's the whole organisation, the hotel where we are staying, when I come to the clubhouse the people welcome me saying, 'Welcome home'."

If local knowledge is going to be decisive this weekend, then McIlroy, too, should be in contention for the Falcon Trophy come Sunday evening.

Last year's runner-up has been a regular visitor to the UAE since before his professional career even started anyway, and ill health meant he was afforded an extended stay here at the end of last year.

After he was nursed through the season-ending Dubai World Championship last month, he was advised to rest as he battled the effects of Dengue fever.

He stayed in the city for an extra 10 days, then returned there after spending the festive period in Northern Ireland and Thailand.

"You'd like to go out, not so much to make a statement, but to know that what you have been working on in the off-season is coming together nicely," McIlroy said.

"They have probably turned [this tournament] into the premiere event in the [Desert Swing] with the field and everything that comes along with that."

Ahmed Al Musharrekh, the UAE national team player, hopes to pave the way for increased Emirati participation in the championship in future by producing a performance of substance this weekend.

The business management student goes out in the last match with the goal of making the halfway cut.

“It is not just about myself, it is about representing the nationals,” Al Musharrekh, 21, said.

“If I can make the cut it would be great because maybe we would get more invites for the nationals next year. There is pressure there because of that, but I am going to try to handle it and have fun.”