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Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship 2018 - Preview

This week sees the 2017/18 European Tour season cranked up a notch as the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship takes place in the United Arab Emirates' second most populous city.

With the tournament prize pool sitting at $3M - the highest of the campaign so far - the field boasts some of the world's very best golfers, including a certain Rory McIlroy who we haven't seen swing a competitive golf club in anger since the Alfred Dunhill Links back in early October.

This week's European Tour offering is the proverbial 'talk of the town'; here's our preview to help whet the appetite.

The Course - Abu Dhabi Golf Club (National course)

Located just a short drive away from the hustle and bustle of the world’s largest hand-crafted city, the host venue of 2017’s biggest tournament so far will be sure to provide its usual fair, yet challenging golfing test.

At 7,583 yards, the Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National course provides a solid par-72 examination and, arguably, is as aesthetically pleasing as you are likely to find anywhere in desert golf. For good reason, Peter Harradine’s masterpiece has been dubbed “an oasis of tranquillity carved out of the desert”.

The course is definitely scoreable and players like Dustin Johnson will be looking to go low. The final hole is a 562-yard par-5 and seems set up perfectly for tournament-defining drama on Sunday - all with the iconic Falcon Clubhouse as its backdrop.

The world's best love coming to Abu Dhabi, and here's why:

2017 Champion

Last year Tommy Fleetwood was in the form of his life when teeing it up at Abu Dhabi Golf Club for his start of 2017.

In a year where he would ultimately be crowned Race to Dubai champion, the Englishman managed to summon all of his mercurial play to see off the then world number three Dustin Johnson by one stroke.

Few would rule out the possibility of back-to-back wins at the tournament for Fleetwood. You can count us among them!

Catch the best shots from his impressive win below:

Rory's Return

One of the many interesting subplots at this week's tournament is the return to competitive golf of four-time major winner, and former world number one, Rory McIlroy.

With a heavy playing schedule locked in to see him up to the season's first major championship at Augusta National, the Northern Irishman will be hoping that his 104 days away from the game to help heal a persistent rib injury will yield positive results.

If he's primed and ready to go for 'Masters time' in early April, he could be in the mix to capture the Green Jacket and become the first golfer since Tiger Woods to complete the career grand slam.

You can see Rory talking about his return below:

Who wins it?

There are quite a few possible contenders for the title this week in Abu Dhabi.

As we've already mentioned, few would argue against a back-to-back win for Fleetwood and Justin Rose is unlikely to be far away. Rafa Cabrera Bello has previous form in UAE and is never a man to be written off.

We're taking the easy route here, though, and choosing world number one Dustin Johnson as our man. He was only a shot back last year, won last time out and has been praising the new 'Twist Face' technology on his driver.

He nearly holed his tee-shot on a par-4 with it in the bag at the Sentry Tournament of Champions:

If it's as good as he suggests, the added confidence of knowing that off-centred strikes won't be putting him in too much bother will let DJ really go after every drive. That's quite worrying for the rest of the field.

Who do you fancy for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship? What do you expect from Rory's first tournament back? Let us know below.