Superstar American golfer Dustin Johnson will be on a mission when he competes in his third Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship this week.
The former world No.1 finished ninth and second on his two previous visits to the capital and he is determined to walk off with the famous Falcon Trophy this time.
However, he will be up against a star-studded field, with triple Major winner Brooks Koepka and two-time defending champion Tommy Fleetwood among the myriad world-class golfers set to compete at Abu Dhabi Golf Club from January 16 to 19.
Ryder Cup-star Johnson told us what he needs to do to win, why the course suits his swashbuckling game and why he just loves being in Abu Dhabi...
What makes Abu Dhabi such a good destination to help start the new year?
The perfect weather, the facilities, the excellent hotels and restaurants and the strength of the field make it the perfect place to play. I really enjoy it there, as the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and HSBC think of everything to ensure the players have a great week on and off the course.
You play the majority of your golf in the US, so how much of a pleasure is it to travel out here and discover a different country and culture?
I love it, which is why I am returning for my third visit to Abu Dhabi! I feel really comfortable there and have been looking forward to being back in January for some time. I think it’s really cool to play around the world and experience the different cultures and meet new people. It really is one of the best jobs in the world to be able to play on the world’s best courses against the world’s best players and visit amazing destinations like Abu Dhabi. I am very fortunate to do what I do for a living.
How highly do you rate Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s Masters course in terms of those you play on tour?
It’s one of the best courses we play all year. It is always in immaculate condition and among the best we see on either [the European or PGA] tour. It’s challenging, but very fair with some great risk and reward holes. I think the 18th is my favourite. I love the way it looks as you come down the fairway against the backdrop of the water and falcon-shaped clubhouse. It’s an exciting hole that offers the potential for lots of drama.
There are some hard holes but also some holes you can attack – does that suit your game?
Yes, I really like the risk and reward aspect of the course, which I typically play pretty aggressively. It’s all about knowing when to be aggressive and when to be more conservative. I’ve shot a round of 64 there both years I’ve played, so I know I can score well there. I’m learning a little more about the course each time I play it.
Because there is always such a strong field in Abu Dhabi, is it a good early indication of where your game is at?
Yes for sure, it has that ‘big event’ feeling, which you feel as soon as you arrive. I think everyone arrives there fresh and hungry to compete again after the Christmas break. I played in Hawaii to begin my year, so I will be warmed up and ready to roll in Abu Dhabi.
You’ve gone close here both times you’ve played – what do you think you have to do to get the victory?
No question I can win in Abu Dhabi! I just need to get off to a better start and make a few more putts. Hopefully, this is my year!
The HSBC carries a lot of world ranking points, how much does getting back to world No.1 mean to you?
I would love to get it back for sure, but it isn’t something I stress about day to day. I just try to concentrate on winning tournaments and the ranking will take care of itself.
Is the course here good preparation for the Masters at Augusta?
I always try to not get ahead of myself. I will definitely get excited as the Masters draws closer, but in Abu Dhabi, I will be focusing only trying to win the Falcon Trophy.
Prices vary. Jan 16-19. Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Khalifa City, www.abudhabichampionship.com (02 885 3555).