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Players to Watch at the HSBC Championship

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in the United Arab Emirates, which starts the 2022 European Tour schedule this week, typically attracts a strong field. This year’s tournament is no exception. Among the participants are the former winners Paul Casey (No. 27 in the world), Lee Westwood (39), Tommy Fleetwood (41) and Shane Lowry (48).

One thing, however, is different: the venue. For the first time, the event will be held at Yas Links. It had been staged at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club since 2006.

Here are four players to watch.

Rory McIlroy

Which McIlroy will we see in 2022: the inconsistent McIlroy of the last two years, with only two victories since November 2019, or the former No. 1 with four major titles through 2014 who seemed destined to win at least a few more?

Here is an encouraging sign for him: In October, he shot a six-under 66 in the final round to capture the CJ Cup in Las Vegas for his 20th PGA Tour triumph. A pivotal moment was the 35-foot eagle putt from off the green that he made on the 14th hole. He held on to win by one stroke.

Before the victory, he was ranked outside the top 10. He is now No. 8. McIlroy, 32, came in third last year in Abu Dhabi.

Credit…Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Tyrrell Hatton

He won this tournament in 2021, recording his sixth European Tour win.

Hatton, paired with McIlroy, birdied three holes on the front nine to seize a two-shot advantage. On the 10th hole, when it appeared that McIlroy might narrow the lead, Hatton converted a 35-foot birdie to maintain his margin. He won by four.

However, he clearly did not have the year he was hoping for. His best finish in the majors was a tie for 18th at the Masters; he missed the cut at the United States and British Opens. Still, he secured a spot on Team Europe in the 2021 Ryder Cup, his second appearance in that event.

Hatton, 30, is ranked No. 22 in the world.

Credit…Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Viktor Hovland

Only 24, Hovland recently reached a career-best No. 6 in the world rankings. He is currently No. 7.

His last several months have been very impressive. He tied for fourth at the Tour Championship in September, and he won the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba in November and the Hero World Challenge in December.

Hovland was a member of Team Europe in the 2021 Ryder Cup. He finished 0-3-2, which included the half point he earned in singles against Collin Morikawa.

In 2018, Hovland became the first Norwegian to win the U.S. Amateur Championship and in 2020 was the first from his country to be victorious on the PGA Tour, capturing the Puerto Rico Open.

He certainly makes his share of birdies, finishing sixth on the PGA Tour last year with an average of 4.4 per round.

Credit…Oliver Hardt/R&A, via Getty Images

Josh Hill

Josh who?

A fair question. Hill, who was born in Dubai but represents England, is only 17 and still an amateur. Yet he has already accomplished a lot.

In December, registering 12 birdies and an eagle over three rounds, he won the Abu Dhabi Amateur Championship, earning an invitation to this week’s tournament, which he also played in 2020. He missed the cut but the week was not a total loss. In an eight-hole practice round, he outdueled the world No. 1 Brooks Koepka.

In 2019, Hill captured the Al Ain Open in Dubai and became the youngest winner of an Official World Golf Ranking-recognized pro event.

No one is predicting that Hill will win in Abu Dhabi or even contend. Even so, it will be interesting to see if he can make it to the weekend.

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