Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas to star at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Major winners announced for first European Tour event of 2021

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland wears a Toronto Raptors jersey after winning the 2019 Canadian Open golf championship in Ancaster, Ontario, on Sunday, June 9, 2019. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Major champions Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have been confirmed for next month’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Both players were confirmed on Wednesday for the January 21-24 tournament, which on Tuesday was announced as one of four Rolex Series events on the European Tour next year. It kicks off the circuit's 2021 season.

McIlroy, the current world No 4 and a four-time major winner, has not featured in Abu Dhabi since 2018, while it will mark his first appearance on Europe’s lead circuit in more than a year, outside of the majors and World Golf Championships events.

The Northern Irishman, no stranger to the UAE having enjoyed multiple successes in Dubai, has finished runner-up around the National Course four times - most recently in 2015.

“I’m looking forward to coming back to Abu Dhabi,” the former world No 1 said in a statement. “It’s always a great event for the players and it’s the perfect place for me to start the 2021 season.

"Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a world-class golf course, one that I have come close to winning on several times over the years, so hopefully I can do well again and be right up there contending come Sunday.”

McIlroy went close also on his most recent appearance in Abu Dhabi, when he finished tied-third two years ago, four shots back from winner Tommy Fleetwood. The last of his 28 professional victories came in November last year, at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

This year, McIlroy finished tied-5th at the Masters, in November, and tied-8th at September’s US Open. He recorded four other top fives.

Meanwhile, world No 3 Thomas will be making his Middle East debut. The 2017 US PGA Championship winner, with 14 professional victories under his belt, recently registered his best finish at the Masters, when he came home fourth at Augusta National.

Another former world No 1, Thomas won twice this year, including the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in August. He has contested only two Rolex Series events previously, in France and Scotland.

“I’m excited to play for the first time in Abu Dhabi,” Thomas said. “I’ve heard really great things about the course and, with it being the first Rolex Series tournament of the year, I’m sure it is going to deliver a strong field.

“I enjoy new challenges, I like playing different golf courses around the world, and competing against the best players in the game, so of course I have my eye on trying to take home the Falcon Trophy.”

To be staged for the 16th time, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship carries a purse of $8 million, an increase of $1m from this year. Lee Westwood is the reigning champion having in January sealed a 25th European Tour victory, helping the Englishman eventually seal the Race to Dubai on Sunday. It was his third Order of Merit title.

Speaking of the first major names confirmed for next month, Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “We are delighted to welcome back Rory McIlroy to Abu Dhabi for our award-winning championship and we are thrilled to host Justin Thomas for the first time as he makes his debut in the UAE at this prestigious tournament.

Westwood wins in Abu Dhabi

“Abu Dhabi is a global capital of world sport and the presence of players such as these only strengthens that position and reinforces our esteemed reputation.”

Abdulfattah Sharaf, CEO of HSBC UAE, added: “The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is one of golf’s premium tournaments with an unwavering ability to attract the world’s best players. Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are two of golf’s most exciting superstars, and will help the event continue to play its vital role in shaping the future of golf in the region by inspiring the next generation.”

A Rolex Series event, meaning it offers both enhanced prize money and increased Race to Dubai points, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship roll of honour includes three-time winner Martin Kaymer, two-time champions Paul Casey and Fleetwood, and American Rickie Fowler and Ireland’s Shane Lowry.

It opens the tour’s Desert Swing, with the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers following in the two weeks after.