(Please enjoy the first item from our new contributor from England, Paul Stewart)
WEEK COMMENCING 31st JANUARY
The European Tour is currently on its Middle East swing with three events played in the oil-rich surroundings of Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai. The organisers of these events are often keen to pay appearance fees to PGA tour members to bolster their field with US Open champion Dustin Johnson playing in Abu Dhabi and Tiger Woods returning to the European Tour in Dubai.
Wang Jeunghun of South Korea won the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in a playoff for his third European Tour title at the age of just 21. His birdie on the first extra hole was enough to defeat Sweden’s Joakim Lagergren and South Africa’s Jaco van Zyl, the three of them having tied at -16.
England’s Jordan Smith shot a final-day six under to finish sixth, two strokes behind the leading trio in Doha.
Wang, who won back-to-back events in Morocco and Mauritius last May, almost clinched it on the 72nd hole, but left a birdie putt inches short to force the play-off. But he held his nerve after that, after Van Zyl three-putted for par and Lagergren was unable to get up and down from a greenside bunker.
He becomes the third youngest player to win three European tour titles after Italy’s Matteo Manassero (19) and Spain’s Seve Ballesteros (20).
“I’m so happy. I’m so excited. This is the biggest tournament I’ve won,” said a beaming Wang, who enjoyed strong support including from a group of flag-waving Koreans. “I got a lot of power from my fans. They really gave me a lot of power to win.
“Actually I really didn’t expect that I would win this week. I learned from the other players about the course. I just kept trying to make birdies, trying to save par and finally won.”
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic. It was first played in 1989 when the European Tour visited the Middle East for the first time. The roll of honour includes seven different Major Champions. Danny Willett won the 2016 event on the way to winning the Masters, his first Major title. Tiger Woods will return to the tournament that he won in 2006 and 2008.
Last week’s winner, Wang Jeunghun is now to hoping to meet his idol Woods at this event. “Oh, yes, I really want to play with Tiger,” Wang said. “He was my idol when I was young. I’m going to be so happy if I see him next week.”
Tommy Fleetwood won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship by a shot from Dustin Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal. This was Fleetwood’s second European Tour victory in his 161st official European Tour event following the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. He placed inside the top ten in three straight European Tour events.
England’s Chris Paisley won $150,000 for recording the first hole-in-one at the Qatar Masters when his 9-iron found the bottom of the cup at the 135-yard 17th hole. But he will not be spending the money, well not yet at least. “I don’t think it’s going to be me that’s spending it. My wife’s here this week, so I think she’ll probably take care of that,” joked Paisley, whose best finishes on the European Tour are a tie for third at last year’s Italian Open and third at the 2015 BMW International in Germany.
Rory McIlroy will miss next month’s Genesis Open and Honda Classic and hopes to make his comeback from injury at the WGC event in Mexico in March. Northern Ireland’s world number two is recovering from a stress fracture of his rib and had already withdrawn from next week’s Dubai Desert Classic.
Four-time major winner McIlroy, 27, is in the early stages of rehabilitation and has been able to start putting. His planned return comes just a month before the Masters. He will aim to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta, the one major he has yet to win.
McIlroy complained about back pain during this month’s South Africa Open, at which he lost in a play-off to England’s Graeme Storm. He played in Johannesburg with his back taped up and having taken anti-inflammatory tablets.