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Rose, Koepka rekindle battle for world No. 1

Brooks Koepka and Justin Rose at the 2017 WGC-HSBC Champions
Getty Images

The top two golfers in the world are back in action this week, although their locations represent somewhat of a role reversal.

World No. 1 Justin Rose is making his 2019 debut in the desert, just not the one where the European Tour is setting up shop. Rose is making his return to the Desert Classic for the first time since 2010, opting to make the PGA Tour's stop in La Quinta, Calif., his first official tournament since switching to Honma equipment in the offseason.

And while the European is playing in the U.S., the American will tee it up abroad. Koepka is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he headlines a field that will also include the likes of Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Throw in appearances by Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey in Singapore, and this constitutes golf's first global week of the new year. But the focus at the top will be between Koepka and Rose, as the Englishman returned to No. 1 following the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Now it's a chance for Koepka to unseat Rose - depending, of course, on the outcome of two events half a world apart.

"I'm thinking about it. It's always nice to be the best in the world at something," Koepka told reporters in Abu Dhabi. "You know, you try to play your best and be on top, but there's no extra added pressure or anything like that. If I do what I'm supposed to do, I'll be just fine and get back up on the top."

Koepka ended the year ranked No. 1 by a thin margin, but a return to the top spot this week will come only as the byproduct of a strong finish. With a slightly stronger field in Abu Dhabi than in Palm Springs, where defending champ Jon Rahm will join Rose, Koepka will need at least a three-way tie for third to have a mathematical chance at reaching No. 1. Should Rose start his year with a win in California, Koepka would not be able to unseat him even with a matching victory in Abu Dhabi.