Abu Dhabi (AFP) - Tommy Fleetwood will be using a brand new set of clubs as he aims to win the $7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the third time in three years.
A victory on Saturday (the tournament starts Wednesday) would make the Englishman the first player to win a fully-sanctioned European Tour event three times in a row after Ernie Els at the Heineken Classic in 2004. But the 27-year-old from Southport will be without his trusted irons that he used for over six years.
The Nike VR irons that helped Fleetwood win three tournaments and climb from 188th position in the world rankings in August 2016 to his current No.14 are no longer available after the company stopped manufacturing equipment.
Fleetwood is obviously hoping to reproduce the kind of form that saw him win in 2017 with a score of 17-under par and then last year on 22-under. That came after missing four cuts in his previous five starts at the National course of Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
"I’ve said it before, the course kind of battered me for a few years. Then had two years where I’ve won," said Fleetwood.
"This is a course where if you play well, you can do well and if you don’t, you kind of struggle. Just so happens the last two years, I played really well, kind of like tee-to-greened it to death. I made very little bogeys over two years, and ultimately that’s ended up in me winning a couple times.
"But again, it's not really to say that this year will be the same. The rough is a little bit thicker this year. It’s a slightly different test. It’s a fresh start for everybody. People don't play for a while and whether they had a bad 2018 or an amazing one, they start 2019 all the same."
On his change of club, Fleetwood said he had been testing various products for some time and felt he just needed to make the decision.
- 'Full confidence' -
"I’ve been trying things for a long time now, trying all different manufacturers. You don’t really get the chance throughout the year. I had a week of practice last week and tried everything we could," said Fleetwood.
"I’ve got a new driver and I’ve got new irons this week. Eventually, you have to try them in a tournament, otherwise it means nothing. Going on the course is the next step. At some point, I need a more long-term solution. If you think about it, throughout my career I've had the same set of clubs for six, seven years.
"So I need to get it fixed. You just have to try them and we’ll see how it goes, really. I like the ones that I have now. If it doesn’t go well, it won't be because of the irons... it will be because of me.
"I know I have full confidence in them. But there might be some tweaks or there might be something else I prefer. But these ones are the answer this week."
Also in the field is world No.3 Dustin Johnson. The American has already started his year, coming off a tied fourth place finish at the Tournament of Champions on the PGA Tour in Hawaii.
Johnson, who finished inside the top 10 in his two previous starts in Abu Dhabi, including a second place in 2016, said: "I feel like the game’s in good form. I’ve been working on it since Hawaii, so I feel like it’s definitely gotten a little bit better, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it holds up this week on the golf course."
The tournament is part of the Rolex Series events on the European Tour. For the first time, it would be a Wednesday start, with the final round on Saturday. Apart from Fleetwood and Johnson, it also features world No.2 Brooks Koepka of the USA.