Five talking points ahead of a huge week in the golfing world
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 18/01/16 3:28pm
Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler do battle in Abu Dhabi, while Phil Mickelson returns to action in California. Here are the five big talking points ahead of a fascinating week for golf.
Stars align in Abu Dhabi
Golf fans lucky enough to be in Abu Dhabi this week are in for a real treat as Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcilroy and Rickie Fowler headline a glittering field for the first event of the Desert Swing.
McIlroy is a regular visitor to The National and persuaded his good friend Fowler to make the trip last year, and the tournament organisers have pulled off a major coup by attracting Spieth this season.
This will be McIlroy's first competitive appearance since he was crowned European No 1 for the third time in four years following his impressive victory at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai last November.
But Spieth has already hit the ground running in 2016 with a dominant eight-shot win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, proving that McIlroy faces the toughest of tasks to regain the world No 1 ranking anytime soon.
And with Fowler coming off the best season of his career, the stage is set for what many believe to be the real launch of the golfing year in 2016.
The elite trio will spearhead Sky's live coverage of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which begins on Thursday at 5.30am on Sky Sports 4 - your home of golf.
Kaymer seeks atonement
Martin Kaymer is another major champion in action in Abu Dhabi, where he has won three times and appeared to be cruising to a fourth title last year when he birdied three of the first four holes on the final day to open up a 10-shot lead.
But the German's expected victory procession was put on hold when he double-bogeyed the ninth, and it was cancelled altogether when a poor drive at 13 led to a devastating triple-bogey seven.
Kaymer's meltdown opened the door for unheralded Frenchman Gary Stal to clinch the unlikeliest of maiden victories as he fired a flawless 65 to finish one stroke ahead of McIlroy, with Kaymer limping in two strokes adrift.
Losing his PGA Tour card was the final blow of a bitterly disappointing year for Kaymer, but he has bounced back from adversity before and few would bet against him kick-starting his Ryder Cup qualifying campaign with a strong week at one of his favourite venues.
Strength in depth
While the big three of Spieth, McIlroy and Fowler will undoubtedly attract the lion's share of the attention in Abu Dhabi, the sheer quality of the field on show does not end there.
Desert specialist Henrik Stenson returns to action refreshed and fully fit after undergoing minor knee surgery in December, while the European Tour's star rookies of 2015 - Byeong-Hun An and Matt Fitzpatrick - are also teeing up.
Ryder Cup stars Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Victor Dubuisson are in attendance and full of confidence following Europe's crushing 13-point victory in the EurAsia Cup at the weekend.
Danny Willett and Andy Sullivan also played starring roles under Darren Clarke in Malaysia and both enjoyed career-best campaigns on the European Tour in 2015.
It might only be January, but this promises to be one of the most prominent weeks of the year and a huge boost for the European Tour and its chief executive Keith Pelley.
The growing list of young, first-time winners around the globe added another name on Sunday when Haydn Porteous clinched the Joburg Open title in just his 22nd start on the European Tour.
The win for Porteous came just a week after his fellow South African Brandon Stone celebrated his second start on Tour with victory at the BMW SA Open.
Stone is 22, Porteous is a year younger, and with Branden Grace flying high in the world rankings and contending for majors, the golfing future looks very encouraging for the Rainbow Nation.
Has Mickelson still got the magic?
Over on the PGA Tour, the headline act at this week's CareerBuilder Challenge in California is the seasonal-reappearance of fan-favourite Phil Mickelson.
This is regarded by many as a make-or-break year for the veteran left-hander, who has slipped to 36th in the world rankings and is without a victory anywhere in the world since his memorable Open triumph in 2013.
Once again, the US Open will be priority No 1 on his list of targets for 2016, but he will also be determined to feature in his 11th Ryder Cup as a player rather than feature in a supporting role as assistant to Davis Love III at Hazeltine.
Mickelson has enjoyed an extended break since his last outing at the Presidents Cup in October, although he would have been working hard on his game with new coach Andrew Getson having parted company with Butch Harmon.
The 45-year-old still has the belief and desire to compete with the elite, and it will be interesting to see if his new partnership with Getson has produced any significant changes over the winter.