Some of golf’s brightest rising stars will battle it out with legends of the European game, Major champions and Rolex Series winners when the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Championship presented by Phoenix Capital tees off the first of back-to-back weeks in the northernmost United Arab Emirates.
The DP World Tour continues its run of four successive tournaments in the UAE, following Rolex Series events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively, as Al Hamra Golf Club welcomes the Tour for the first time, having previously hosted the Challenge Tour on three occasions.
Three-time Major champion Pádraig Harrington – whose tied ninth place finish at last week’s Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic was the most recent of four consecutive top 20s on the Tour – has joined in the field by 2016 Masters winner Danny Willett.
Willett’s fellow Rolex Series champion Bernd Wiesberger will also tee it up, while rising stars Rasmus and Nicolai Højgaard are joined by young Scot Robert MacIntyre.
Thomas Bjørn, Miguel Ángel Jiménez and Colin Montgomerie are among the European legends teeing it up at Al Hamra Golf Club, while in-form Richard Bland will be targeting a second victory on Tour after coming agonisingly close last week in neighboring Dubai – losing out in a play-off to Viktor Hovland.
Richard Bland: “In terms of learnings from last week, in one of the biggest tournaments we play in, I held my own down the stretch. I felt comfortable as well. It was very satisfying that, when some of the best players in the world making mistakes, I stayed with them and to finish birdie-birdie to get into the play-off was very satisfying. OK it did not go my way but it went my way nine months ago, a play-off is a roll of the dice and it did not go my way this time. But I have no regrets.
Of course the goal now is to reach the top 50. You want to get as high as you can. Who knows where this can go? If I keep playing well, things will take care of themselves.
“I think it’s going to be a low scoring week, you need to get your foot down pretty quick around here. Anywhere here at this time of year, we’ve got great hotels that we’m staying in, the weather’s great. It’s great that we can be out here. The tour have done an unbelievable job getting the tournament on here next week too, with the obstacles we’ve got with the pandemic.
“Keith (Pelley) and his team have done a fantastic job, grateful that we have another chance to play next week. We’ll see where the lie of the land is from there, and what I might play in America. But it’s exciting. ”
Padraig Harrington: “It’s obviously the start of the year so you’re looking to show some form that you can build on and I’ve certainly done that in the last two weeks. I’m certainly not there, but it shows a lot of promise, the game has been strong, I was second in strokes gained tee-to-green last week, I changed putters and did not have as many three-putts as the last week – I went from eight to one.
“So even though it was not great putting stats, it was a big improvement for me. It’s going in the right direction and I’m looking for another step up this week.
“This is a very pleasant golf course, you can see it’s set up really nicely for the tourists down here and we’re going to have a pleasant week on it. You’ve got to shoot some low scores for sure and make some birdies out there, so it’s definitely a different test to last week but in its own right you’ve got to play really well and put some numbers on the board this week. ”
Danny Willett: “It’s nice here. First look yesterday, scoring’s going to be low. It’s generous in places, tightens up a little bit around the greens on a few holes. A lot of it will depend on the weather, if we get weather like this for the four days I think you’re going to see some pretty low scores out there.
“But it’s a new addition, an hour down the road from Dubai which makes for easy travel for the lads and it should be a good week.
“I’d like to try and channel some of the consistency I had back in 2015/2016 but as seen through the career especially in the last three years, when people think the game’s not there, it is there but it just does not always come out at the right times.
“But those wins prove that when I have got that game and feeling good, it does not matter who I’m up against, I’m going to have a good chance come Sunday. And historically when I am, I’m pretty good at going and finishing it off. ”
Bernd Wiesberger: “For the most part I’ve been happy with the first two weeks. I put myself into good positions going into Sunday. I did not quite play good enough on Sunday in Dubai last week, just nothing wanted to click unfortunately and not the best finish in Abu Dhabi either.
“So a lot of positives, but also the fact that I could have seen myself higher up the leaderboard at the end of the week. But trying to assess where I am early in the season it was good, a lot of good stuff happening and I just need to build on that and get myself into that position on a Sunday afternoon more often.
“I enjoy coming to new courses I have not seen before. Some of the guys who were on the Challenge Tour were here before but I enjoy seeing new places and this is definitely one where I can see a low scoring week out there. ”