Brooks Koepka’s status might have changed beyond all recognition since the last time he played in Abu Dhabi, but the world No 2 says the course is still just as he remembers it.
The general consensus ahead of the 2019 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA was that the National Course would be more testing than in recent times, with tighter fairways and punishing rough.
The fact Shane Lowry recorded the equal lowest total out of over 5,000 rounds that have been played in the capital, as his 10-under-par 62 led after Round 1, suggested good scoring is still possible.
Koepka signed for an opening round 67 on his first appearance back in the capital since he missed the cut in 2014.
“I remember it being a tight, tough course, and it reminds me of a major championship,” said Koepka, who has won three major titles and been to world No 1 in the time since he was last here.
“It’s very demanding. You need to be able to put the ball in the right positions if you want to score.”
Koepka, who will start Thursday’s Round 2 five shots behind the leader Lowry, deems the course “intimidating”.
“I’m a little different player that I was five years ago, but I like this golf course,” he said. “I like the way it sets up. I feel like it’s very visually intimidating.
"You’ve got to strike the ball well. These greens are so good that anything from inside 10 feet, you put it on line and it’s going to go in.”
Koepka’s compatriot and United States Ryder Cup teammate, Dustin Johnson, shot a 3-under-par 69 on the opening day.
While it meant he is some way shy of the leaders, it was at least the best opening round the former world No 1 has managed on his three visits to Abu Dhabi to date.
He made matching, mediocre 72s in the past two seasons, and still finished those tournaments among the contenders.
“It was a struggle early but I definitely hit is a lot better in the last nine holes,” Johnson said.