Ryan Fox finds himself in a curious position heading into the Ras Al Khaimah Championship on Thursday. The New Zealander is the last player to win a DP World Tour event at Al Hamra Golf Club, yet he is not the defending champion this week.
That is because the Fox's victory came in the one-off Ras Al Khaimah Classic – created to replace the Qatar Masters, postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic – which took place the week after the RAK Championship, where Denmark's Nicolai Hojgaard won the inaugural event.
Still, Fox has plenty of "good memories" from his last visit to the course, hardly surprising considering he cruised to his second DP World Tour title by a five-shot margin over Ross Fisher, which has given him the mentality of "half defending". To add to the intrigue, Fox and Hojgaard have been grouped together for the first two rounds, along with Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship winner Victor Perez.
"It seems to be a recurring theme for me on Tour (not getting the chance to defend)," Fox, 36, said. "I won the last year of the World Super 6 in Perth, we had two events back-to-back here last year so Nicolai’s the defending champion this week.
"I still feel like I’m half defending, winning around the same course, I’m the last guy to win here. It certainly means something. Playing with the defending champion tomorrow as well, which will be good fun."
Fox, who has 14 global wins to his name, is among the leading contenders at the RAK Championship, although his preparation has been far from ideal having struggled with illness towards the end of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic. That contributed to a one-over final round at Emirates Golf Club but was still good enough for a tied-20th finish.
"I'm not feeling 100 per cent per cent but a lot better than I was on Monday, woke up with a stomach bug," Fox said. "To be honest, I was pretty happy just to finish, there were a couple of times I was close to calling it. Happy that I got it done. Had a rest day yesterday, still feeling a bit under the weather, just tired and lethargic more than anything.
"Hopefully should be good come tomorrow. I’ve got great memories around here. Obviously what happened last year, but after the finish last week just making sure I’m there or thereabouts on the weekend is the main goal this week."
Perez, meanwhile, is aiming to bounce back from a disappointing final round at the Dubai Desert Classic that halted his impressive momentum. The Frenchman claimed his third DP World Tour victory with a superb display in Abu Dhabi and contributed to Continental Europe's win in the Hero Cup. He was then well-placed heading into the final round in Dubai at 11-under, until a three-over round saw Perez slide down the leaderboard to settle for T28.
"It wasn’t the final round I was expecting last week, but it’s all part of the learning after the win (in Abu Dhabi)," Perez, 30, said. "I almost forgot that we played the Hero Cup as well, which was a lot of energy."
"From what I’ve heard the course is a little bit tougher than last year, there’s a bit more rough around some of the greens. It should keep the scoring down a bit relative to what Nicolai shot last year with a gazillion birdies and a few eagles for a 24 under par winning score."