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Stephen Gallacher: No easing into the new year on a new tour

Rory McIlroy's history in Abu Dhabi is frightening
Rory McIlroy's history in Abu Dhabi is frightening

It really does feel as if it is the dawn of a new era as I play my first DP World Tour event here in Abu Dhabi.

We’re back with a bang too. I knew that when I arrived at the course and saw all the billboards around the place highlighting the leading players in the field.

You have Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry for starters.

Given we are starting 2022 with two Rolex Series events as well only adds to the task as it guarantees there is no time for feeling your way back in after the winter break.

A good week here or in the Dubai Desert Classic next week can really set the tone for the year ahead and that’s why we’ve got such a strong entry list.

Everyone is here looking for a quick start and the chance to build some early momentum.

McIlroy the man to beat

I could sit and give you a list of reasons why every one of the players I’ve mentioned above is a threat this week but the man I think we’ll all be watching is Rory and for one simple reason.

His record in the first event of the year is astonishing.

With the exception of one missed cut in the Abu Dhabi Championship in 2013 he has finished no lower than fifth here since 2009. He has been third in his last three visits to the event and has been runner-up four times.

Put it this way, as far as I’m concerned finishing ahead of Rory on the leaderboard is going to give you a pretty good chance of winning the tournament.

It’s not hard to see why Rory enjoys playing in this event too as the course is in unbelievable condition.

The highest compliment I can give is to say this may be the first event of the year but the other venues hosting events this year will have to go some to better this.

A good start to the season has taken on great significance following an early tweak of the schedule with the Qatar Masters being postponed due to Covid.

The Ras Al Khaimah Classic will take its place, ensuring we have a four-event Middle East swing to start the year so this remains an opportunity to race out the blocks.

Have we witnessed the shot of 2022 already?

We’re only in the third week of January but we’re going to be hard pressed to beat Hideki Matsuyama for shot of the year in 2022.

His three wood in his Sony Open play-off win against Russell Henley was simply astonishing.

Hitting the ball 277 yards and leaving it three feet from the home for an eagle was impressive enough but it is his 177 miles an hour ball speed which really amazed me.

To put that in context it’s about seven miles per hour quicker than most people hit with a driver.

It was a fitting way to win the title in Hawaii and Matsuyama was certainly a fitting champion after recording back-to-back rounds of 63 over the weekend.

He’s a fabulous player and so respectful too. It’s hard not to like the guy.

A new rivalry in golf no-one saw coming?

Step aside Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka, there’s a new rivalry in town.

I had a wee chuckle to myself, but I’m sure I was not alone, after seeing Kevin Na and Grayson Murray’s Twitter spat on Friday.

It had all started innocently enough with Chantel McCabe, a reporter for the Golf Channel in the United States, tweeting “Kevin Na walking in putts does not get old.”

Murray replied: “Kevin Na taking three minutes to putt them. Does get old.”

Na, unsurprisingly, responded to Grayson with a cutting remark of his own: “You missing the cut is getting old.”

Murray, stung, hit back: “If they penalized you like they should for slow play you’d never make another cut either.”

It’s locker room banter but the sort which cuts to the bone.

The devilish part of me, however, hopes to see the two players paired together in a tournament sometime soon.

I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only tuning in to see what happens should they play a round together in an upcoming event.

It would be a tasty one for sure.

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