By Kent Gray
Ryder Cup legend and two-time Masters champion José María Olazábal and eccentric American Bryson DeChambeau will join the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship’s “Magnificent Seven” in the chase for the famed Falcon trophy.
Rising South Korean star Seung-Su Han and 2015 Champion Gary Stal (France) have also accepted special invites to the $3 million European Tour event starting Thursday while Li Haotong and Branden Grace will also tee it up.
The 11th hour drawcard announcements add further spice to the opening leg of the now four-event Desert Swing which has attracted the PR-themed “Magnificent Seven” of world No.1 Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Matt Kuchar and Tommy Fleetwood, the defending champion.
DeChambeau, 24, created global headlines when he became the fifth golfer in history to win both the NCAA Division I championship and the U.S. Amateur in the same year.
The world No. 94, who made his PGA Tour breakthrough at last year’s John Deere Classic, is no stranger to Abu Dhabi having thrilled the galleries with an opening, eight-under 64 to take the lead in on The National in 2016.
The American went into the weekend tied-second with Rory McIlroy before Rickie Fowler’s impressive final round performance saw him lift the famous Falcon trophy.
“2018 is going to be a massive year for me and playing in Abu Dhabi is a great place to start,” said DeChambeau.
“The field is looking really strong so I’m looking forward to testing myself against some of the best players in the world right now.”
Rising star Seung-Su Han, who is currently ranked 78th in the world, has had a stellar 2017. After winning the Casio Open and finishing runner up at the Fujisankei Classic and JGT Championship Mori Building Cup Shishido Hills, all in Japan, Han is looking to climb further up the world rankings with a strong performance in Abu Dhabi:
“It’s going to be a fantastic experience playing for the first time here in Abu Dhabi, especially with such a strong field this year. I’m just going to focus on my game and give the best account of myself that I can; I can’t wait to get out on the course,” said Han.
Han and DeChambeau will hope to draw inspiration from newly announced players Li Haotong and Branden Grace.
China’s Haotong has had a standout couple of years, winning the Volvo China Open in 2016 before almost achieving the unthinkable and winning the Open in 2017, where he finished in a commendable third position alone, all before his 22nd birthday.
South African Branden Grace is sitting pretty in the world rankings in 30th place. In 2017, Grace won the Nedbank Golf Challenge and has shown serious form in Abu Dhabi, finishing in T-13 last year’s Championship.