Q: How do you make one of the best tournaments on the European Tour schedule even better? A: Lengthen the course, toughen up the bunkering and bring in one of most innovative sponsors in golf. Tim Maitland sat down with some of the world’s top players to work out how to plot your way to success at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
A great event is just about to get better. The Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and the Abu Dhabi Golf Club have produced some great championships and some great champions: Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey, who seem to have taken out a time-share on the trophy, would feature on anyone’s list of Europe’s elite golfers.
“I don't know if it can be better than the last few years, because it was always fantastic the way they did it. But I'm sure HSBC the way they are involved in [the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai] – the way they handle that event – I think that they can improve it still a little bit,” mused Kaymer, the defending champion, who returns to Abu Dhabi with his first Major under his belt.
“I think HSBC since many years is a huge sponsor of golf, a huge supporter of golf, and for us players, it's always nice to go back to Abu Dhabi, especially for me, the last three times I've played there, I won twice. But HSBC together with IMG, I am pretty sure they are going to put a fantastic event together,” added the 26-year-old German.
The course has had an overhaul; greenside bunkers are deeper and more punishing, the sand traps around the fairways have been added to or strategically altered to further complicate the options off the tee. And then, joining up with the tournament’s driving force – the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority – you have the new sponsor, whose main target in year one of their involvement is to help enhance the experience for the golf fan and to make the event more accessible and enjoyable for the golf-curious.
“You wouldn’t, as a sponsor, want to make broad, sweeping claims about improving an event as good as this,” said Giles Morgan, HSBC Group Head of Sponsorship. But we do have a track record in golf and a reputation for state-of-the-art spectator villages, so it’s a good starting point. We’ll reach out to people and see what we can bring to the golf community and see whether we can bring new people out to enjoy the event.”
While the world’s local bank may sound modest about its potential impact, the players seem to have fewer doubts that a strong tournament is about to get better.
“It’s happy news!” said Peter Hanson, part of the wining European Ryder Cup team.
“It’s been a strong tournament for a number of years, but hopefully it will be even stronger with HSBC coming in. They definitely make a difference. They’ve proven that in [Shanghai]. I played all of [the HSBC Champions] since the first year in 2005 and that tournament just gets bigger year by year. The Abu Dhabi golf course is good and we’ve been spoiled staying in one of the best hotels in the world. It’s a favourite week of the year!”
Hole 1 Par 4 405 yards
David Horsey (England)
Winner of the 2010 BMW International Open in Munich Germany, numberone ranked player on the 2008 European Challenge Tour.
This is a great chance of birdie really. If you hit driver between the traps and down the right side, you’ve got only a wedge into the hole. As you stand on the tee the ideal line is between the right-hand and left-hand traps; it’s about 280 yards to run out into the left-hand trap, which is about my distance, so I just need to keep it in front of that bunker. Some of the flags are quite difficult to get to because they’re cut quite close to the edge of the green, but generally it’s a great birdie chance. The green is quite slopey and you can spin it back to a right-hand flag because there’s a bit of a backstop there. On the left there’s a little hump in the green so, depending on where the flag is, you need to control where the ball bounces and spins. It’s a great chance to ease yourself into the round.
The mistake you don’t want to make: It’s a nice gentle start, compared to the rest of the course. You can get a bit cute around the greens sometimes: short is dead. You can spin it off the front of the green and end up with a 40-yard pitch shot, but probably the worst you can do on this hole is bogey.
Hole 2 Par 5 600 yards
Colin Byrne (Republic of Ireland)
Caddie for Eduoardo Molinari for his 2010 Barclays Scottish Open win and 2010 Ryder Cup
I’d have to say this is a chance. The hole plays shorter than the yardage: the wind is normally helping and the fairway has got a bit of run to it, so if you can get your drive away you can really get it down there. I know 600 yards looks a lot to amateurs, but these guys have got the name on their bag. They don’t usually struggle for distance. Off the tee the line is the right column of the temporary arch that is usually there in the distance and there are no real tricks to the hole, although there is a new bunker to the left of the landing area this year that might complicate things. Even if you get in the rough, there’s a chance of getting a flyer which can actually help you get there in two.
There’s water to the right of the green, but if you can reach it in two you have to go for it even if the green is quite small. Even playing it as a three-shotter, these guys are absolutely deadly with a wedge in their hands. The mistake you don’t want to make: I don’t care what anyone else says, you have to think this is a birdie chance.
Hole 3 Par 4 439 yards
Simon Khan (England)
Winner of the 2010 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth
It’s a deceptive hole. This tee moved back two or three years ago. You never used to hit driver. It used to be a three wood over the corner off the forward tee. They moved it back a good 60 yards and you had to hit driver and the bunkers are definitely in play down the left. So you would hit driver at the right-hand trap over 300 yards. Even though it’s downhill you shouldn’t reach that; I don’t reach that. I haven’t seen how the bunker on the right has been reconfigured, but I’m told it’s more in play, so the game-plan might change this year.
It’s a slightly uphill second shot to a really sloping green from back to front and a bit left to right. On a calm day you’re going to have 130 yards to the front, so an eight iron to the back and a nine iron to the middle. When the pin’s back it’s a hard pin to get to. You’ve got to be quite aggressive to get back there.
The front right pin everyone hits it to the left of the pin [to avoid the bunker on the right side of the green] but then you’ve got a tricky downhill left to right putt, so it’s not one of the toughest holes but it grab you as well. If you hit your tee shot left and because it’s not easy to hole putts.
The mistake you don’t want to make: The bunkers on the left tempt you a little bit. It dog-legs left and you think you can just hit it over those bunkers, but it’s a big hit to carry over there. Into the green it’s easy to spin the ball back to the front and you’ve got a tough two putt from down there. It’s not the longest hole, but it’s full of danger.
Hole 4 Par 3 174 yards
Peter Hanson (Sweden)
Winner of the 2010 Czech Open and 2010 Iberdroia Open Cala Millor Mallorca. Member of Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup-winning team.
It’s a great hole; a fantastic hole. If the pin is on the front of the green it’s playing a lot easier than if the pin is at the back. All the pins on the back of the green are a lot more difficult. Normally the prevailing wind is off the right, when we play this hole and it can be pretty strong. You need to hit a seven iron or six iron into the wind. A great hole! It can play so differently difficulty-wise when you move the pin around. The green is covered by bunkers on all sides and they’re even deeper and more difficult this year.
The ridge across the green is big enough that you have to get it up there if the pin is up the back. If you’re playing a little too conservatively and don’t get onto the back level the chance of a birdie putting from front to back is very, very small and you might be looking at a three-putt.
I like the shorter par 3s rather than these 240-yard or 250-yard holes where you’re hitting three woods or three irons. This is about accuracy and about controlling the ball and controlling the flight.
The mistake you don’t want to make: The one place you don’t want to hit it is long. If you hit it into the back bunker you have a very difficult up and down. That’s the big mistake. You’re pitching onto a down slope and that’s why the back pins are so difficult. You’re on a little bit of a top tier and from the back bunker you’re in big trouble.
Hole 5 Par 4 469 yards
Fredrik Andersson Hed (Sweden)
Winner of the 2010 BMW Italian Open in Turin
The fifth hole is a really tough one. It’s normally played into the wind (if I remember it correctly) and it’s a long hole with a green that’s quite undulated and tough when you get there. It’s 430 metres long and the wind makes it play more like 460 or so; so it’s a tough par four. I remember it as a driver-three-iron/driver -four-iron hole. We don’t get tested that often for length – there are a few holes in the world that are really long – but it seems the courses, the new courses, get longer and longer.
You definitely have to be on the right level of the green to make putts, but the middle level is quite big so you can still have a chance to hole a decent putt from a decent distance.
The mistake you don’t want to make: If it’s into the wind you can’t fly the bunker on the left and they’ve added a new bunker in the landing area on the right this year. You have to play down the right, but the closer you get to the left side the shorter your second shot.
Hole 6 Par 4 469 yards
Billy Foster (England)
2009 HSBC Caddie of the Year. The other half of Lee Westwood’s rise to world number one; caddied for Lee at the 2010 Ryder Cup.
I seem to remember there is water that comes into play down the left and the tee shot sort of snakes to the right. A lot of guys were hitting a three wood off the tee in the region of 270 yards, which would leave probably an eight-iron into the green. Some guys were trying to take it on; being more aggressive, cutting a driver and feeding it down into the neck of the fairway to leave a wedge in. There’s a new tee and they’ve added a fairway bunker in front of the water on the left so until we see it, it’s hard to know exactly how it’ll play.
Looking at the yardage book, there’s a longer carry to the right side of the green and it breaks from right to left in the middle of the green. It doesn’t look too funky a green. The mistake you don’t want to make: Driver certainly brings the water into play on both sides off the tee.
Hole 7 Par 3 200 yards
Graeme McDowell (Northern Ireland)
Winner of 2010 US Open Championship at Pebble Beach, California; 2010 Celtic Manor Wales Open and 2010 Andalucia Masters at Valderrama, Spain. Claimed the decisive point to seal Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup win.
This is an intimidating-looking par three. It’s a 200-yard slightly-downhill shot and you’ve got some rocks at the front of the green sitting up and looking at you. It’s an interesting green because the front of it is elevated and the rear of the green is elevated as well. So, it requires a very accurate three to a six iron depending on the wind direction – generally a four or five iron in the prevailing wind – into a bowl shaped green. You’ve really got to just try and beat the front edge. It’s really the hump at the front that you’ve got to be aware of.
It’s a good hole: a bowl-shaped green and you’ve got to be on the correct side of the pin: you want to be beyond the front pins and short of the back pins. The mistake you don’t want to make: It’s a difficult green and you don’t want to go missing this one. You certainly don’t want to short-side yourself. To back flags, over the back is not good and to front flags, short’s not good.
Hole 8 Par 5 597 yards
Alvaro Quiros (Spain)
Winner of the 2010 Open de Espana in Seville, Spain and the 2009 Commercialbank Qatar Masters. One of the longest hitters in the game, in 2008 Alvaro eagled the eighth hole when it was playing into the wind, hitting driver and two iron to 10 feet.
This is a very tight fairway at the end. It’s wide, but it turns left. Most of the time you are hitting it to a very small area. They’ve made it 23 metres longer this year, but before I could hit it straight – I didn’t need to hit it with draw. I just focused on two palm trees on my line, so I would finish just to the left of the bunkers that are at the end of the fairway on the right hand side where it turns.
It depends how the wind is and the conditions, but if I catch the fairway normally I can hit it in two. If I have a little bit of wind helping I could use a five, four or three iron. Without wind I would say three wood or five wood.
For normal human beings? It’s not that bad a situation for the rest of them, because if you can’t reach the green in two the lay-up is not that tight. They have a simple, comfortable third shot with a 58 degree wedge. These guys are really good with a 58 degree wedge. Obviously if I can reach the fairway I have an advantage. I definitely have an advantage.
The green receives the ball on an upslope – this is the good thing – this is why I can hit a long club and stop it easily. It’s not one of those typical holes where you really have to stop the ball quickly. The great thing about the golf course is that normally it is in a perfect condition. Everything on the green can finish in the hole if you hit a good putt. It makes a difference! The mistake you don’t want to make: No, the eighth is a good hole for me, but the 10th I have no advantage over there because the fairway becomes very tight at my distance and not for the others.
Hole 9 Par 4 456 yards
Rhys Davies (Wales)
Winner of the 2010 Hassan II Golf Trophy Royal Golf Dar Es Salam in Morocco.
You know exactly where you are in the world standing on the tee. I think that clubhouse is fantastic! The falcon is a great starting point for this hole: depending a little bit on the wind you’re looking at picking out a point of the wing as an aiming point. The bend in the wing is a good point if you want to take an aggressive line down the right-hand side; otherwise you might favour somewhere slightly further left. You try to get a good solid tee shot away, preferably a strong fade, but it’s a hole you could do with a good drive on.
It’s a long par four that often plays into the wind, so you’ve often got a long second shot. It can be a five, four or even a three iron and you’re looking at a slightly angled green. The bunker comes into play on the right hand side of it, particularly when the pin is tucked away in the back, right corner, which it often is on a Sunday of the tournament. You might look to hit a gentle fade and try and run the ball up the length of the green.
The mistake you don’t want to make: Mistake? If you can put the ball into the middle of the green and pin high you’re always going to be happy on this hole. It is a demanding hole; I think it’s one of the tougher ones on the golf course and if you could find the middle of the green four days out of four you’d be very pleased.
Hole 10 Par 5 582 yards
Martin Kaymer (Germany)
Defending champions and two-time winner of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. Winner of the 2010 Race to Dubai and the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Added two more wins in consecutive tournaments at the 2010 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, Scotland and the 2010 KLM Open in the Netherlands. Also claimed the 2010 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Member of Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup-winning team.
I usually hit driver over the left side of the bunkers at the front of the fairway. They’ve added length to the hole with the new tee, but before if I was on the fairway I would have a chance to go for the green in two, probably with a five wood or three wood. If it’s in the rough, I lay it up, but I’m still going for birdie with the wedge approach.
If I go for the green I find it’s always better to be left of the flag. The bunker to the left of the green is never bad, although they’ve made all the greenside bunkers deeper this year, so we’ll have to see. From there you always used to have a realistic birdie chance.
The pin positions are normally two in the back and one on the right, so three times it was a realistic birdie chance out of that bunker. If the pin is short left it’s a tough one, so then you’re miss should be the bunker on the right in front of the green. The priority is to hit the fairway in order to get home in two. Otherwise you lay it up to a comfortable number – for me it would be 95 metres or 100 yards.
The second year I played here, this was my first hole and I started off with an eagle, so obviously it is possible to make putts here. The mistake you don’t want to make: On the right side of the green there are some trees and that is obviously the worst place you can be.
Hole 11 Par 4 417 yards
Ross Fisher (England)
Winner of the 2010 3 Irish Open at Killarney, Republic of Ireland. Member of Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup-winning team.
Eleven is quite a tough par four. It’s not a long hole and you can either hit driver and take on the traps, or you hit something down towards the left-hand trap, probably with a three wood. If you lay-back you’re going at it with anything from a nine iron to a wedge. If you’re a bit more aggressive off the tee, you’re going in with a sand wedge or a lob wedge.
I can’t really remember the green that well. From memory there’s a little bit of a tier to the green, but it’s pretty simple, although it’s not the biggest green. The mistake you don’t want to make: Off the tee you’ve got to put it on the fairway.
Hole 12 Par 3 186 yards
Henrik Stenson (Sweden)
Winner of the 2009 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Florida, the 2007 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, the 2007 Dubai Desert Classic and the 2006 Commercialbank Qatar Masters. Member of European Ryder Cup teams in 2006 and 2008.
It’s a cute little par three. I like the shorter par threes and I think most of the really good par threes around the world are a seven-to-nine iron. I’m not too keen on these three iron par threes. This is one of them. The tough thing is to get close to the back pins. There’s always a pin placed back-right. Other than that you’ve just got your wind direction right and hit a good shot. There’s nothing more to it really.
It would take quite a big miss for any of us to hit it in the water; obviously the bunkers are in play, especially for the back pins. Just as they always put some pins at the back, for sure they will put some pins close to the hump at the front of the green. Especially if it’s playing downhill, that makes it a bit harder to stop the ball. You’ve got to land it just precisely at the front and that little hump can make it tricky as well.
The mistake you don’t want to make: You would leave yourself a tricky up and down if you go over the back. So get your yardage control, hit a good shot and you should be fine. The worst mistake would be the chunk in the water though. I’ll leave that one for you to make (laughs).
Hole 13 Par 4 414 yards
Roger Morgan (New Zealand)
Caddied for Sandy Lyle MBE in the 1990s, including the last big win of a great career at the Volvo Masters in 1992. More recently worked for Pelle Edberg and several other Swedes. Last season was spent with Fredrik Andersson Hed.
It is a short par four. If you hit driver you have got to hit it over the right edge of the bunkers on the left, but they’ve added another bunker in the landing area this year to make that shot more complicated. You have to make sure you don’t pull it because the rough on this course can be quite severe. If you happen to push it you’re bringing the trees and more rough into play on the right-hand side.
If you hit a good drive you can go in there with a nine iron or eight iron, even a wedge sometimes, depending on the wind. It’s a difficult green. You have to be on the right level if you’re going to make birdies.
When the pin is on the right, it’s a very difficult green to hold – especially coming out of the rough – so you have to make sure you get on the fairway. You have to be quite specific with your judgement there. If you spin the ball too much you can leave yourself with a very difficult putt. It looks very large, the right portion of the putting surface, but your judgement has to be spot on because if you go long you leave yourself a downhill chip and short of it, you’re going to be in the trap. It’s quite an innocuous looking hole, but it can bite you.
The mistake you don’t want to make: Going right off the tee. There’s a footpath on the right side and if you get there, if you’re not in the thick grass, you can be in the sand and you’ve got trees to negotiate.
Hole 14 Par 4 490 yards
Mark Mazo (USA)
Caddied for Rhys Davies’ 2010 win in Morocco. Formerly with Garrett Willis on the PGA Tour.
It’s a pretty big hole and they’ve made it even bigger this year. When we had it, it was playing straight down wind. Even first out on a Friday morning we were still hitting a three wood. Later in the day, we were hitting soft three woods. You play the three wood, despite the holes length, simply because the tee shot plays short and the bunker (at the corner of the dogleg) comes up pretty quickly. Ideally you get it down to the right half of the fairway, just short of the right fairway bunker, and that’ll leave a mid-iron in; a five or six iron. The fairway bunker on the left extends further into the fairway now, which is interesting.
It’s a pretty accommodating green. You do have to be a bit careful to some of the pin placements – especially the one short left, because it’s very, very easy to miss the green short-left chasing that particular pin. It’s not the easiest up and down. There’s enough severity on the slopes where, if you are short-sided, it’s very difficult to get up and down.
Although the green is seemingly quite big, it’s actually quite shallow, it’s just broad. If you can get the ball to pitch in the middle of the green you’re never going to be too far away. The pins on the right side are bad to chase. The one straight at the back is probably the easiest one to get to; where you can play to the middle and it releases, great, and if it doesn’t you’ll always have 25 feet.
The mistake you don’t want to make: Getting too aggressive on the tee when it’s playing down wind. The fairway on the right comes up pretty quick because it plays down wind and the whole fairway runs away from left to right. You don’t need too be aggressive, because it’s just a high-draw seven iron, which at that point becomes a scoring club.
Hole 15 Par 3 177 yards
Pablo Martin (Spain)
Winner of the 2009 Alfred Dunhill Championship at Leopard Creek in South Africa. Became the first amateur to win a European Tour event when he captured the 2007 Estoril Open de Portugal.
Hola! Fifteen is a great little par three and it’s a great birdie chance. You’ll be really disappointed if you don’t get a birdie on this hole. Together with 18, out of the last four holes these are the clear birdie opportunities if the wind is not blowing. You can go right at every flag, because you’ve got some tough holes coming up; 16 and 17 are really tough and 18 is a great risk-reward hole.
You’re probably hitting between a nine iron and a six iron, depending on the wind and how the flag is positioned. It’s a calculated risk, but it’s a clear option for a birdie. It’s a par three and every par three you’re happy with par, but this one you’re looking more for a birdie than a bogey.
It’s a tricky green. You definitely need to hit it close from the tee, because you can get some funny putts with a lot of break in them. The mistake you don’t want to make: Short-siding yourself. If the flag is long and you’re over, then you’ve got a really tough up and down. Anything long on that green is not good.
Hole 16 Par 4 475 yards
Gregory Bourdy (France)
Winner of the 2009 UBS Hong Kong Open, the 2008 Estoril Open de Portugal and the 2007 Mallorca Classic.
This one and the two holes after, they are very exciting! It’s a very good finish. 16 is a tough hole. We need to use driver or three wood; for me it’s a driver because it’s a long hole. We need to drive between the two bunkers, one on the right and one on the left. Then we still have a long shot to reach the green! Depends on the wind, but it something like a five iron.
You’ll see guys in among the trees. It’s not really tight – the fairway is quite large actually – but we like to cut the corner a little bit to get a shorter second shot. Sometimes we get too greedy and out the ball in the trees, the bunker or the rough.
It’s important not to be too far from the hole. It’s quite a huge green with some hills, not big, but you can still have a difficult putt, so it’s better to stay close to the pin. The mistake you don’t want to make: If you miss with your driver it’s a very tough hole. The mistake is to be in the trees, the bunker or the rough.
Hole 17 Par 4 483 yards
Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)
Won the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship three days short of his 21st birthday to become youngest PGA Tour winner since Tiger Woods in 1996. Winner of the 2009 Dubai Desert Classic. Member of Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup-winning team.
It’s a pretty long par four, over 480 yards, and it usually plays into the wind. You’re usually trying to hit it just to the right of the fairway bunkers, maybe hitting it 280 up there because it’s usually into the wind. You’re leaving yourself something like a mid- to long-iron into the green. Last year I was probably hitting six and seven irons in there and it’s a pretty flat green. The toughest pin position is the one on the front right, which is guarded by the front-right bunker.
When the wind drops you can get it up there and leave yourself with a short iron and then if the pin is anywhere on the left side of the green it is quite a good birdie chance. Otherwise it’s a tough hole: 16 and 17 are holes where you’re just trying to make par and hope to pick one up at the last.
The mistake you don’t want to make: I remember last year I birdied it on the last day to give myself a chance, so I have fond memories of this hole. Making birdie to be just one behind made a big difference. It was big for me, definitely! It’s definitely a deciding factor in who is going to win this tournament.
Hole 18 Par 5 557 yards
Matteo Manassero (Italy)
Won the 2010 Castello Masters near Valencia, Spain at 17 years and 188 days to become the youngest winner in the history of the European Tour. Also broke Seve Ballesteros' record as the youngest-ever full European Tour member.
This is a very good par five, because if you’re long you have to hit the first straight and well. If you’re not that long, the lay-up is not that easy and the second shot gets complicated. For the long hitters the eighteenth can be a reachable hole. The first shot can be very tricky because you’ve got water and wasteland on the right and usually you’ve got thick rough on the left and a bunker.
I’m not one of the big hitters so my line is always just to the right-hand side of the bunker; on that line I’m never going to run out into the bunker or rough. That gives me 230 or 240 metres to the green. That’s not reachable for me. So the lay-up, the big bunker on the right is the direction for the lay-up.
We’ll aim at the centre/right-side of that trap with either a rescue or a four iron to keep between 70 and 55 metres and leave that big right-hand bunker out of play. Then we’ve got a third shot which can change a lot because the green is 50 meters long. Usually there are two flags on the front and two flags on the back, which makes a lot of difference; it can be a wedge or a little 58 [degree wedge]. It’s difficult to get the distance right. It’s a very good hole, a very good hole.
The mistake you don’t want to make: Not so much mistake, but this hole is different for the long hitters. I remember Alvaro [Quiros], the superstar, last year being over 280 metres off the tee, finishing just before the water. The water and the bunker comes much more into play for the long hitters. It’s a more tricky first short, but then they have a second shot to quite a wide green. That makes the hole easy for them, but they have to be very precise with the first shot.