Power Rankings: Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

By Will GrayJanuary 14, 2014, 9:26 pm

While the PGA Tour contests the Humana Challenge in California (our Power Rankings for that event can be viewed here), some of the top talent in Europe heads east to the U.A.E. for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Abu Dhabi Golf Club serves as the first venue of the three-week Desert Swing and will welcome a field that includes reigning Open champion Phil Mickelson.

Be sure to join the Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge to test yourself against our panel of experts, including defending champion Charlie Rymer. For more fantasy assistance, check out John Antonini's "Stat attack!" and our expert picks for Abu Dhabi and Humana.

Jamie Donaldson returns to defend the title he won last year in a playoff over Justin Rose and Thorbjorn Olesen. Here are 10 players to watch this week in the Middle East:

1. Rory McIlroy: The Ulsterman missed the cut last year amid much fanfare from his new equipment manufacturer, but his prior record here is stellar - four consecutive top-five finishes from 2009-2012, including back-to-back second-place showings. Having snapped his winless drought late last year in Australia, McIlroy appears poised for a return to form in 2014.

2. Martin Kaymer: While McIlroy's record in the Emirates is impressive, Kaymer's is better: a tie for second in 2009 sandwiched around wins in 2008, 2010 and 2011. The German tied for eighth here a year ago and began to find his stride during the latter half of 2013.

3. Sergio Garcia: Another player with an outstanding history in Abu Dhabi, Garcia has cracked the top 15 in each of five starts here since 2006. The Spaniard started strong out of the gates in 2013 and now enters off a pair of top-five showings in his two most recent worldwide starts.

4. Henrik Stenson: The Swede will have a tough time topping his 2013 performance that ended with a string of trophies, but he'll begin at a venue where he was runner-up in both 2006 and '08. Stenson was the hottest player on the planet during the second half of 2013 and will tee it up this week with an abundance of confidence.

5. Phil Mickelson: The southpaw didn't light it up in his lone prior appearance in Abu Dhabi, finishing T-37 in 2011, but he experienced a rejuvenation of sorts while claiming his fifth major title in 2013. As he eyes a reduced playing schedule that will focus on the majors, Mickelson is equipped with a new driver, but the same go-for-broke mentality that has netted him 45 career worldwide wins.

6. Luke Donald: The former world No. 1 struggled in 2013, but will look to bounce back in 2014. Donald will be making just his third start in Abu Dhabi, but he tied for 11th here in 2008 and finished T-5 the last time he was in the Middle East at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.

7. Jamie Donaldson: The defending champ is not lacking confidence or momentum, as he has notched five consecutive top-15 finishes dating back to last year. In addition to his win a year ago, Donaldson has three top-25 finishes in six career starts in Abu Dhabi and ended his year in 2013 with a pair of high-profile runner-up finishes in Turkey and South Africa.

8. Branden Grace: The South African finished fifth here a year ago, the start of a strong 2013 campaign that netted him a spot on the International Team at the Presidents Cup. Grace already has his new year off to a strong start, having finished runner-upto countryman Louis Oosthuizen at last week's Volvo Golf Champions.

9. Joost Luiten: Luiten nearly took home the title last week in South Africa behind an albatross during the second round, ultimately tying for third. The Dutchman won twice last year on the European Tour and has had some success in Abu Dhabi, where he finished T-6 just last year.

10. Thomas Bjorn: Nearly out of the top 100 in the world rankings last summer, Bjorn is now back inside the top 25 thanks in large part to his win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in his final start of 2013. The Dane sandwiched that win in South Africa with a pair of top-10 finishes, and now heads back to an event where he tied for third in 2012.

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Euro experience at Le Golf National 'a help to us'

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 8:55 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The European team has plenty of experience at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National, which has been the longtime host of the French Open.

The question this week is whether it’ll matter.

The only American player to compete in this year’s French Open was Justin Thomas. Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Bubba Watson all got a look at Le Golf National before The Open.

Not surprisingly, the European team has a proven track record here – all 12 players have seen the course at some point. Alex Noren won in July. Tommy Fleetwood is a past champion, too. So is European vice captain Graeme McDowell. Francesco Molinari and assistant Lee Westwood also have runners-up here.

“I definitely think it’s a help to us, for sure,” Ian Poulter said. “It’s probably the most-played venue as a Ryder Cup venue for all of the European players that have played. So we definitely have a feel of how this golf course has played in very different weather conditions. I definitely think we have an understanding of how this golf course can play.”

Of course, this setup is no different than what players typically experience as they prepare for a major championship. They’ll play 18 holes each of the next two days, then maybe nine holes on Thursday, as they get a feel for the layout.  

“When it’s the best players in the world, and we play on golf courses week-in and week-out where we have to learn a new golf course, it’s difficult to say how much of an advantage it will be,” Fleetwood said. “It can only be a good thing, or it can’t do any harm that we know the course better or that we’ve played it more times.

“Knowledge can only be a good thing. Maybe it’s a little advantage, but it’s the best players in the world that are out here, so it’s not something to look at too much.”

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First-tee grandstand 'biggest you'll ever see'

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 8:27 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The first-tee nerves could be even more intense this week at the Ryder Cup.

If only because of the atmosphere.

The grandstand surrounding the first hole at Le Golf National is unlike anything that’s ever been seen at this event – a 6,500-seat behemoth that dwarfs the previous arenas.

“It’s the biggest grandstand you’ll ever see at a golf tournament,” Tommy Fleetwood said.

“It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had to hit that tee shot before,” Ian Poulter said. “When I think back (to my first Ryder Cup) in 2004, the stand is nothing like what we have today. So it really is going to be quite a special moment Friday, and it’s going to be very interesting to see.”

Poulter said it’ll be his job to prepare, as best he can, the team’s rookies for what they’ll experience when the first ball goes in the air Friday morning.

“The No. 1 thing I’ve pictured since the Ryder Cup became a goal is that first tee shot,” Fleetwood said. “But nothing prepares you for the real thing. The grandstand is pretty big – there’s no denying that.

“It’s something that everybody wants in their career, so as nerve-wracking as it is, and whatever those feelings are, everybody wants that in their life. So you just have to take it on and let it all happen.”  

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Impressionist Moore creates 'hilarious' video for Euros

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 7:54 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The European Ryder Cup team began its week by laughing at itself.

Noted impressionist Conor Moore made a 10-minute clip in which he took turns poking fun at the 12 team members in a press-conference setting.

The video has not, and probably will not, be made public.

“It was extremely funny, I have to say,” Ian Poulter said. “Clips like that, they can help the team get together. Although we’re taking the mickey out of one another, it’s quite a good way to start the week off.”

The best impression, apparently, was of reigning Open champion Francesco Molinari.

“I think Fran’s has made me giggle for about 10 hours now," Tommy Fleetwood said. 

"Just how deadpan he was – just trying to make how excited he was with his deadpan tone. It was perfect, really. It was absolutely spot-on."

Even the typically stoic Molinari found the video hilarious.

“I’m actually thinking of it all the time now answering questions, trying to smile a bit more,” he said, laughing.

So is this the new, more lively version of Molinari?

“Can’t you tell the difference?” he said dryly.

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Woods' final round is highest-rated FEC telecast ever

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 24, 2018, 9:05 pm

We've heard it a million times: Tiger Woods doesn't just move the needle, he IS the needle.

Here's more proof.

NBC Sports Group's final-round coverage of Woods claiming his 80th career victory in the Tour Championship earned a 5.21 overnight rating, making it the highest-rated telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs and the highest-rated PGA Tour telecast in 2018 (excluding majors).

The rating was up 206 percent over 2017's Tour Championship.

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Coverage peaked from 5:30-6PM ET (7.19) as Woods finished his round and as Justin Rose was being crowned the FedExCup champion. That number trailed only the 2018 peaks for the Masters (11.03) and PGA Championship (8.28). The extended coverage window (1:30-6:15 PM ET) posted a 4.35 overnight rating, which is the highest-rated Tour Championship telecast on record.

Sunday’s final round also saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (up 561 percent year-over-year), and becomes the most-streamed NBC Sports Sunday round (excluding majors) on record.