‘Very rare’: Spieth, McIlroy and Fowler lend a special air to Abu Dhabi start

Paul Radley reports from Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where on Thursday the gilded threesome of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler began the tournament with a buzz.
Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth walk to the green during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Thursday. Karim Sahib / AFP / January 21, 2016
Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth walk to the green during the first round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Thursday. Karim Sahib / AFP / January 21, 2016

ABU DHABI // Can we play you every week? It is a refrain more suited to the stands at football than golf’s fairways.

But it was a sentiment shared at the National Course on Thursday when the 7.40am three ball shook hands on a decent morning’s work. That was a giggle. Same time next week?

No supporter would complain. Even if it means setting the alarm for 5.30am again. Or getting dew on your shoes. Or experiencing that rarest of things in the UAE – actually seeing your breath, such is the crispness of the early morning.

Seldom has such a compelling group gone out together on any course, let alone this one.

Read more: Rory McIlroy gave John McAuley a far-ranging interview in the lead-up to the Abu Dhabi

Two players shooting for greatness of the all-time variety. And a third not far back, by his own reckoning, in their slipstream.

Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. Can you play here every week? Please.

“Instead of a quiet first nine holes, trying to play your way into it, you’re concentrating from the get go,” McIlroy, the world No 3, said of the experience of starting out the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship against his young rivals.

“It is a nice way to focus the mind and get down to it.”

Spieth, the world No 1, agreed. “We were saying walking off the last green there, we wish that we could play this group all the time,” the Texan said.

“It’s very rare to get it, so we’re soaking it in. It’s fun feeding off each other.

“We obviously all watch each other, whether we’re playing in tournaments or not.”

Trying to keep up with those two, the otherworldly leaders of golf’s bright future, might have been a chore for Fowler, who presently occupies the mortal realm of No 6 in the world standings. Not a bit of it, according to the exuberant 27-year-old Californian.

Also see: Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Round 2 groups and tee times

“Why can’t we play this threesome all the time, all of us good friends who enjoy playing together?” Fowler said.

“The two of them are two of the best players in the world, and I’m not too far behind. It’s fun watching good golf.

“I feel like we can all kind of push each other, and motivate each other as well.”

Spieth might have been the player of the year in 2015, but both of the Americans are undeniably on McIlroy’s patch now.

In three tournaments in the UAE last year, the Northern Irishman’s worst finish was second in Abu Dhabi. Including the Race to Dubai, he won three trophies on these shores in that time.

He spent much of the past two weeks, in the six it has been since he won the DP World Tour Championship, honing his game at the Butch Harmon School of Golf in Dubai Sports City.

He is intent on claiming a first win in nine goes in the capital, and the start he made was just about perfect.

McIlroy signed for a 6 under-par 66, two behind the Round 1 leader Bryson DeChambeau. Spieth was two strokes further back, and Fowler another two still.

Rather than being cowed by the confrontation, Spieth said he was grateful for a front-row seat of a driving masterclass.

“That’s the Rory I have seen win majors,” Spieth said. “It was spectacular. He didn’t miss many shots. If he keeps striking like that, I’m going to have to make it up somewhere else.

“I’m not capable of hitting it as far as he does. I hit it short and crooked trying to figure something out.”

So McIlroy has fired the early shots, but the man himself is well aware there is some time yet before the prizes are handed out.

“I don’t know if it’s about making a statement, I just want to play well,” McIlroy said.

“I want to compete each and every week. There’s still a long way to go, but I want to win every tournament I play.

“It’s not about making statements or trying to lay down markers. It’s just about trying to play the best I can.”

pradley@thenational.ae

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Published: January 21, 2016 04:00 AM

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