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European Tour

McIlroy aiming to get the job done in Abu Dhabi

Four-time Major Champion Rory McIlroy hopes to continue his strong run of form at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship as he starts his 2021 season at the first Rolex Series event of the year.

In ten appearances  the Northern Irishman has finished runner-up three times and third on three further occasions, admitting that he has done “everything but win” around Abu Dhabi Golf Club. The 31-year-old is no stranger to success in the Middle East, claiming four of his 14 European Tour titles in the United Arab Emirates as well as winning the Race to Dubai three times.

McIlroy will begin his campaign in the company of defending champion and reigning European Number One Lee Westwood, and  World Number Three Justin Thomas. The 2017 US PGA Championship winner admits he has been an avid viewer of the tournament in the past as he prepares to make his first appearance in the Middle East.

Former champion Tommy Fleetwood will go in search of a third win in the space of five years at this event. After a near three and a half year wait for his second European Tour title, Fleetwood won the 2017 edition which he then successfully defended the following year. In 2020, he finished runner-up to Westwood.

Rory McIlroy: “It’s good to be back. I started my season in Abu Dhabi from 2008 to 2018 and it’s worked well for me. It’s a golf course I’ve done well at and played well on. I’ve done everything but win here and yeah, I’ll try again and see if I can get the job done.

“I enjoy playing in the desert, this style of golf. Obviously last year was a different year and I really didn’t travel back over this part of the world and play at all. But now with things, it’s still obviously not where we want it to be, but I think we know a little bit more about what’s going on in terms of how the virus is and how it affects you or how it doesn’t affect you in many cases and feel a little more comfortable traveling.

“It’s great to be out here and playing. It’s a great way to start the year. It’s a big event. Got some great players here. Obviously J.T. has made the trip over, as well. The start of our Ryder Cup points starting again, so a lot of guys will want to start well and get themselves off to a fast start in regards to that, too.”

Justin Thomas: “I’m very excited. This is a tournament and a place that I’ve watched on TV many times back home and it’s an unbelievable place. You know, it’s even nicer being on a Troon property for me, a partner that I have and I’m very close with, and it’s an unbelievable course. It’s in immaculate shape.

“It definitely is going to help driving it well. It seems like a course that if you’re driving the ball well, you have the opportunity to make a lot of birdies. The greens are pretty soft and they are in very good shape to where if you put the ball in the right place on the greens, you can make a lot of putts and really go low. That’s kind of been our priority here this week is just figuring out lines, figuring out shots and what I want to hit off the tees.”

Tommy Fleetwood: “I think it’s a great way to start the year. Everybody seems to like coming out to the Middle East just after Christmas and New Year, do some practise, and you come out here and you have some great tournaments to start the year.

“It was never really a course that gave me much pleasure, really. I missed a lot of cuts to start off with and all of the sudden in 2017, things kind of turned around and I started hitting good golf shots around the golf course. I’ve been on a lovely run in this event.”

Text: European Tour Press Release

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Top Tours

European Tour: Major surge in viewing figures for Rolex Series events

The European Tour’s consecutive autumn Rolex Series events recorded a significant increase in viewing figures and engagement, continuing the recent surge in consumption of live golf in 2020.  

Sky Sports, the European Tour’s UK broadcast partner, reported the highest recorded viewing figures for European Tour events since data collection began, with the tournament average figures for the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and last week’s BMW PGA Championship up 81 per cent compared to 2019.   

Englishman Aaron Rai defeated Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood in a play-off at The Renaissance Club to win his first Rolex Series title at the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and a week later Tyrrell Hatton claimed his third Rolex Series victory, finishing four shots clear of Frenchman Victor Perez at Wentworth Club.  

Both tournaments were played without spectators as the European Tour continues to operate a tournament bubble as part of the Tour’s health strategy based on UK government guidelines.

Instead, fans have been turning to their TVs and digital devices to stay in touch with the European Tour’s events, with the back-to-back Rolex Series events providing a premium viewer experience through enhanced broadcast and digital coverage.

Innovations included the introduction of TopTracer4K, an overall increase in the use of TopTracer to a total of nine tees, alongside the popular TopTracer fairway, enhanced augmented graphics, integrated aerial coverage from drones and the plane cam, shot by shot live statistics and enhanced audio from players and caddies. Viewers also continued to be brought closer to the action through the Sky Cart, in-round interviews and tournament winners celebrating their victories with their family via greenside video calls.

Live Golf is booming

Furthermore, highlights of the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open and BMW PGA Championship also proved popular on terrestrial television in the UK, with peak figures of more than 750,000 on the BBC.

In addition to bumper viewing figures, the fortnight of Rolex Series events also recorded the 2020 season’s highest social media impressions, collectively exceeding the totals from their respective 2019 editions by five per cent. 

The success of the two Rolex Series events further demonstrated the sustained boom in demand for live golf since the resumption of the 2020 European Tour season, with viewing figures for the six-tournament UK Swing in July and August 64 per cent higher than the Sky Sports 2019 average for European Tour events. 

Rufus Hack, the European Tour’s Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director of European Tour Productions, said: “It has undoubtedly been a significant operational accomplishment to stage these events in the current circumstances and we have made a substantial investment in our health strategy to create the safest possible environment to continue providing live golf. We are therefore delighted with the response from fans on our broadcast and digital platforms, both across the two Rolex Series events which have created a real festival fortnight of golf, but also since our resumption in July. 

“We all badly missed live golf when it was suspended in April and May and these figures certainly underline the demand that exists to watch and enjoy live coverage of our sport.  Although we dearly miss fans being able to attend our events in person, through the latest innovations and with the support of our key broadcasters and partners, we are able to offer the most insightful viewer experience possible.”

Jason Wessely, Sky Sports Director of Golf said: “We’re delighted to see the continued interest in Sky Sports Golf coverage and it’s fantastic to see how many people enjoyed the two recent Rolex Series events. 

“Our team continues to work hard in testing times to bring the best golf coverage to Sky Sports subscribers and we look forward to bringing our customers plenty more world class golf in the coming weeks.”

Following the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA won by Lee Westwood in January, the Rolex Series concludes with the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai at Jumeirah Golf Estates from December 10-13. 

Alongside broadcast and digital innovations, the European Tour’s 2020 season will also continue to be underpinned by its #GolfforGood initiative, which has been raising money for charities and rewarding the true heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, David Howell’s hole-in-one at the BMW PGA Championship secured a donation of £71,675 for the tournament’s official charity, the Alzheimer’s Society, from tournament title sponsor BMW. That took the overall amount raised by #GolfforGood so far to £902,091. 

(Text: European Tour)