By Fatiha Betscher, Abu Dhabi.
It will be just a day short of two months since Collin Morikawa became the first American to be crowned European No. 1 when he tees up in this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Morikawa posted a final round 66 to win the season-ending DP World Tour Championship by three shots and in the process captured the Race to Dubai title.
It was the third victory in 2021 for the 24-year-old who arrived in Dubai having won the WGC – Workday Championship and also the 149th Open Championship.
Morikawa returned to the UAE to contest the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to be played for the first time in 17-years on the Kyle Phillips designed Yas Links course and the American could not be happier.
“It feels great,” he said when asked how he felt teeing-up this week as the European No. 1.
“You know, I’ve been announced for a handful of months now as the Champion Golfer of the Year, but this is the first time someone brought that up of being the reigning Race to Dubai Champion, and there’s a lot of weight that’s on your shoulders right now.
“It’s a great weight to have and I want to come back as strong as ever. I want to start these first two weeks off on a real high note and hopefully come out with a couple trophies.”
In the two months since winning ‘up the road’ in Dubai, Morikawa said he used the Christmas festive season break to allow soak-in what he’s achieved in the game, including winning golf’s oldest major at his first attempt and winning the Race to Dubai.
“Yeah, there’s a lot that’s been going on. I’d say even since I’ve turned pro, it’s a very unusual 2 1/2 years of turning pro for me in professional golf, obviously with Covid and a lot of other things in the world,” he said.
“It’s just embracing being in the present, I think that’s the biggest thing is how do I enjoy the time wherever I am in the world, be with family, friends, whoever it may be, and it’s just really fun. Just traveling to these places and meeting people.”
Morikawa got his first look at this week’s host Yas Links course on Monday playing a nine-hole practice round with Rory McIlroy, who is contesting the event for the 10th time in his career.
“I saw the front nine yesterday and I’ll see the back nine today,” said Morikawa.
“It’s a very good golf course. Coming from Kapalua where the fairways are about a hundred yards wide, this looks pretty narrow.
“I think the conditions are going to prove tough. We’re going to have a lot of wind this week, a lot of different winds from what we are seeing on Monday and Tuesday compared to what the tournament is going to be. A lot of slopes in these greens, a lot of undulations and a lot of run-offs.
“You’ve got to be sharp and you’ve got to know this course, and especially being the first tournament of the year for the DP World Tour, the new regulations and rules on the greens book. Normally for me, I’m not using it for putts. I’m using it for approach shots and I’ve already played a tournament with the new rules.
“But when you have greens like this and you have a lot of new slopes and you have to learn a golf course, I’m going to have to do my homework. Like I’m going to have to spend a little more time out there preparing and learning what to do because if I don’t know where a slope is and I somehow hit it there and I’m a little surprised, that’s going to be a problem for the entire week.”
Morikawa enters this week as World No. 2.