Thursday 29 June 2017

Fowler ready for another desert storm

Rickie Fowler. Photo: John Dickson / Sportsfile
Rickie Fowler. Photo: John Dickson / Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

"Get well soon" was the message from Rickie Fowler to Rory McIlroy as the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship title holder prepared to start his defence in the United Arab Emirates today.

Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson were asked about the absence of the world number two ahead of today's first round and while they wished him well in recovering from his rib injury, they appreciate these setbacks are an occupational hazard.

"It's a bummer that Rory is not going to be able to play this week," said Fowler. "It was fun to have him in contention with me last year here. But the biggest thing is for him to take care of himself and make sure he's healthy, so hopefully he's able to get back quickly.

"He's definitely a fan favourite, and I love playing against him."

Fowler appreciates that McIlroy's enforced absence means one less top player he has to beat but said: "The field here is one of the best fields on The European Tour, and we still have a lot of the top players in the world. Three of the Major champions from last year are here. It's not going to be any easier to win."

US Open winner Dustin Johnson agreed with Fowler.

"Obviously Rory is a great player and no one wanted to see him pull out, including myself. But things happen and you know, he had to pull out for this week just so he could get healthy. I still think it's going to be a great tournament," said Johnson.

Open champion Stenson knows all about the interruptions that injury can bring, and believes that the twenty-somethings need to take great care of their bodies. "It doesn't show up normally when you're 20, 25. It comes at a later stage. That's when you're paying for the wear and tear and a very one-sided motion that we do.

"But if you've got more injuries now, possibly a little bit more because of the way everyone tries to hit it and get it a far distance off the tee, of course that's going to give you the chances of being injured a little bit more," said Stenson.

Sympathy, however, is not much help to McIlroy who is laid up with a stress fracture in his ribs that could take a month to six weeks to heal.

Paul Dunne and Darren Clarke are in the star-studded field which gets the European Tour's Desert Swing under way.

Thomas Bjorn, the 2018 Ryder Cup captain, also plays in Abu Dhabi but first had to settle the terms of player qualification for Paris in two years' time at a meeting of the Tournament Committee.

Picks

The main points are: Bjorn will get four captain's picks, with four to qualify via the European Ryder Cup points list and four from the World points list.

Qualification starts at the D+D Czech Open in Prague (August 31-September 3); extra points will be available for tournaments in 2018, starting from the BMW PGA Championship; and no Ryder Cup points will be available for tournaments played anywhere in the world opposite Rolex Series events in 2017 and 2018.

Meanwhile, Seamus Power tees it up today in the PGA Tour's CareerBuilder Challenge at La Quinta, California. Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Live, Sky Sports 4, 3.30am

CareerBuilder Challenge

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.0pm

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