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Amazing Grace, but Garcia & co set for Abu Dhabi do

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Iain Carter | 19:27 UK time, Sunday, 22 January 2012

With all due respect to South Africa and its latest golfing sensation Branden Grace there is an overwhelming feeling that the 2012 golf season starts in earnest this week.

Grace deserves plenty of respect after he secured a brilliant double when he won the Champions tournament on the Links at Fancourt on Sunday. The recent Qualifying School graduate beat big-name compatriots Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a play-off to claim his second title in seven days.

There was a time when those two South African giants were - with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh - members of the game's "big five". But this is no longer the case and the waning Els and Goosen have shifted to the periphery of the big-time stage.

Branden Grace

Branden Grace was 258th in the world rankings last week but now moves into the top 100. Photo: Getty

It takes an awful lot more than mere results to remove Woods from the centre of the golfing spotlight and the 14-time major winner is threatening a resurgent year after winning his own limited-field event at the end of 2011.

But to maintain the momentum he now needs to fend off a different generation; the likes of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer.

And this is why this week's opening event on the European Tour's "Desert Swing" in Abu Dhabi is such an eagerly anticipated tournament. Not only is Woods launching his season in the Emirate, he does so against the top four players in the world.

From a parochial point of view it is all the more interesting because the top three places in the world rankings are occupied by UK golfers in Donald, Westwood and McIlroy.

It is a mouth-watering prospect to be played out over a fine course at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, probably for the last time before the event moves to a new venue at the stunning Yas Links course.

The current venue creates quality victors like defending champion Kaymer, who is a three-time winner of the tournament, and this suggests a star-studded leaderboard will be challenging for the title come Sunday afternoon.

Let's hope so, because a tussle between Woods and players who head the world rankings would offer the perfect start to what promises to be a vintage golfing year.

One player who will surely been keen to join the mix, and might just succeed this week, is Sergio Garcia. Still only 32, he is embarking on the 13th full season of a lucrative yet still unfulfilled career.

The Spaniard has finished tied eighth and in a share of 13th place in his two previous visits to Abu Dhabi and, like Woods, appears firmly on the comeback trail after his golf had appeared to be in a dangerous downward spiral.

Sergio Garcia

With a revamped putting style Sergio Garcia appears firmly on the comeback trail. Photo: Reuters

Garcia is currently 17th in the world rankings, eight places higher than Woods, having won twice in his last four tournaments. Those victories came back to back in Spain in the latter part of the 2011 season.

He won the Castello Masters on his home course by an astonishing 11 strokes in October, finishing at 27 under par, and the following week triumphed in the Andalucia Masters at a far more exacting Valderrama.

Both wins showed a revamped putting style could withstand the pressure of the sharp end of a tournament which should imbue the Spaniard with confidence as he embarks on arguably the most important year of his career to date.

Since finishing second to Padraig Harrington in the 2008 US PGA, a season in which he won more money than any other player by pocketing nearly $7m, there has been little to cheer Garcia.

Unsettled in his personal life and increasingly petulant on the course he tumbled out of the world's top 50 and failed to make the last Ryder Cup team for the first time.

The first signs that his exceptional talent was being re-harnessed came around seven months ago when he made a play-off at the International Open in Germany and finished seventh at the US Open.

Then, in July, he was ninth at the Open at Sandwich where he cut a composed and contented figure on the course. No longer were we watching him walk onto greens and wondering how badly his putter would behave.

His new "saw-grip" has grown ever more dependable; he ranked 13th in the European Tour putting charts for greens hit in regulation, and his long game remains as strong as any in the upper echelons of the game.

Still the temper can boil over, as was seen in his last outing in Thailand where a five iron was sent whirling into the water after an ugly pushed tee shot, but as Garcia says himself, overall his mental attitude is much improved.

"Compared with a year ago it has changed a lot," he told reporters while finishing 11th at the season-ending Dubai World Championship.

Garcia says he is less likely to let a poor shot affect him negatively. "You learn as you go and hopefully you keep on going like that," he said.

Naturally he is determined to regain his place in the European Ryder Cup team, especially with his compatriot, and a partner in 2006, Jose Maria Olazabal captaining the side.

An encouraging start has been made to Garcia's qualifying campaign for Medinah - he currently lies fifth in the table and would make significant strides with a high finish this week in a tournament rich in world ranking points.

If he can kick off his 2012 season in the resurgent manner of the second half of his last campaign there is no reason why he can't re-establish himself at the very top of the game.

Witnessing how Garcia fares against Woods and Europe's current "big four" will be one of the most fascinating aspects for what promises to be an enthralling tournament in Abu Dhabi this week.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Good shout on Garcia. Hopefully he comes good this year as the European ryder cup team - as strong as it will be - Will be enhanced with him in it.

    I agree with you on grace - fair play to him in winning but the fields (this week and last) he beat were both pretty non-descript. On a separate, but related, point - very disappointing to hear a spectator shout out during Colsaerts shot in one of the final holes when he stil had a chance of winning. What goes through the mind of these idiots, I know not.

  • Comment number 2.

    oooh wee just can't wait for the start of the season and the desert tournies. wouldn't it b great to see sergio have a season like no other? he's so well liked in this country and i believe the british public rather like charismatic spanish golfers! i'd also like to see martin laird continue to do well in the states and maybe lead a major going into a weekend. on a personal level i'm kicking off with a pre season appetiser round machrihanish in feb. i confess to a little apprehension.... in the meantime though, best wishes to all you kindred spirits out there and happy handicap cutting during 2012!

  • Comment number 3.

    'It takes an awful lot more than mere results to remove Woods from the centre of the golfing spotlight and the 14-time major winner is threatening a resurgent year after winning his own limited field event at the end of 2010.' Have to point out you mean 2011 there Iain :)

    Can't wait for Sergio to get back to it. Hope he can win a major, though really only see it happening if he develops a commanding lead after 3 days.

    We love you Sergio!

  • Comment number 4.

    Hats off to Sergio, looking forward to him mixing it up in 2012. I think it's likely he'll win a major this year, he's been on a hot streak for the last few months. I'm glad Tiger is back to a regular schedule as well, maybe we'll see him and Sergio go head to head this year.

    One thing I don't agree with is that Tiger or any other professional golfer is past it at age 36. Lee Westwood is age 38, Luke Donald is 34, Sergio is 32. I think 2012 will be the year guys in their 30s walk away with the 'W's.

  • Comment number 5.

    You should give Brendan Grace more respect for what he has achieved in the last 2 weeks. To say that both fields were 'non descript' suggests that you have little insight as to what it takes to win a professional golf tournament these days, particularly when you consider the quality & difficulty of the Fancourt Links.

  • Comment number 6.

    Interesting article, it would be great to see both Garcia and Woods win Major's this year!! Wonder what the odds on that would be??

    Grace has done superbly to win first 2 events of the year, regardless of the field to come straight out of Q school and do that is brilliant.

    I hope Westwood finds a putting stroke this year because there is arguably not a better ball stiker tee to green than him! Another good year for Rory and Donald and if Luke or Lee could win a major would be great also!

  • Comment number 7.

    I think Garcia is a shoe in for the Ryder Cup. Even if he just misses out - I would imagine Olazabel to pick him assuming he is still competitive on the tour.

    In fact, it seems inevitable there will be some major names missing out on the European team. The likes of Graham McDowall, Rory McIllroy, Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Justin Rose etc. all play a lot of golf in the States making it difficult for them to qualify on the European list (certainly without a couple of European wins).

    It is likely that the European list will contain consistent European pros who play almost all of their tournaments this side of the pond and gather points week in / week out even if they don't have any big wins to their name.

    Guys like Thomas Bjorn, Paul Lawrie, Peter Hansen, Robert Rock, Simon Dyson etc etc. Even young Tom Lewis. Not to mention stalwarts like Lee Westwood & Miguel-Angel Jiminez.

    With the European points system favouring guys who are full time on the European tour, it is inevitable that some of the big hitters on the World list will miss out.

    Could you really imagine Rory McIlroy or Luke Donald possible not qualifying? It's entirely possible.

  • Comment number 8.

    #5: "Jenks" is correct.
    Iain, Your comment about Els and Goosen being on the "periphery of the big-time stage" is pretty disrespectful to Schwartzel, Oosthuizen, Karlsson etc etc who were also in that field and were well beaten by Grace.
    And it is less than two years ago when Els was right in the thick of Major contention and it was Sergio who was on the "periphery".
    Having said all of which, let's hope your optimism for Sergio is well placed. Would love to see him win multiple Majors and contribute mightily to several more Ryder Cup wins.

  • Comment number 9.

    Its a nonsense to say that Iains comments were disrespectful.

    The fields for the South African events were amongst the weakest that will be seen on the European Tour all season, so why shouldn't Iain say so. It would be incorrect to pretend otherwise.

    Even so its not as though this blog is totally writing off what is still a very impressive couple of weeks for Grace. The blog says

    "Grace deserves plenty of respect after he secured a brilliant double"

  • Comment number 10.

    7 piehutt

    McIlroy or Donald could miss out on the Ryder Cup? They're numbers 1 and 3 in the world! Remember that the top 5 Europeans from the world rankings are selected automatically. It's pretty inconceivable that either would suffer the kind of loss of form that would see them both not make the team automatically and not be selected as a wildcard.

    Like everyone else I'd love to see Sergio continue his good form and be competitive in majors again. While his putting looked OK at the end of last year, I'm not totally convinced it would hold up under that kind of pressure.

  • Comment number 11.

    These Blogs have got boring!!! need the characters back on to brighten it up!!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    to say the volvo golf champions is an event with a poor field is just plain ridiculous. It is a field made up of 2011 European Tour Champions, or players that have 10 or more European Tour wins, hardly players of low quality. And when you include 3 players that have won majors in the past 2 years as well. What Branden Grace has done this past fortnight is a massive achievment and I only hope he goes on to further success this year and in the future. On the subject of Sergio, I am fully expecting (and really hoping for) either a major or WGC win from him this year.

  • Comment number 13.

    jimmy...totally agree, apart from maybe 8/10 players, they were very weak fields!! this week is the start of both tours in effect.....cmon fella's lets have your thoughts on potential winners for dubai and torry pines???

  • Comment number 14.

    Lets be honest here guys, they weren't world class fields, though hats off to BGrace!

    Els and Goosen are 'dying stars' in my opinion, yes they may be big names however see below...

    Bo Van Pelt
    Bae Sang-moon
    John Senden
    Jason Dufner

    These 4 players are about 10 places better than Goosen and around 25 better than Els. This for me would suggest that they are on the slide. Obviously just my opinion on the matter as these 4 are undoubtedly decent golfers, but hardly up to the 'calibre' of Els & Goosen.

  • Comment number 15.

    Time is running out for Westwood and Garcia, not to mention Adam Scott. They need to win a major soon as it becomes more difficult each passing year. There are only four majors in a year, hopefully Woods will win one for the sake of golf, McIlroy perhaps another which will only leave two for the rest to fight over. Can't wait.

  • Comment number 16.

    beamishxa.....quite right dude about them 3, i got very good odds on woods for augusta, i think he will be very close to winning there. rory will, if he does'nt blow up, win another major this year, but in all honesty i think this will be one of the best seasons for a while......a resurgent TW will make sure of that....class is permanent!!!!

  • Comment number 17.

    I agree with BeamishXA, Sergio needs to seize his opportunity or he will be deemed as an underachiever. Westwood has become a "consistent" top five finisher but he may have lost the knack of winning. Adam Scott probably has the best swing in golf but at major level he has yet to show his best.

    This year will be all about Tiger and the rest. Time is no longer on his side and the wonderkids do not fear him believing that he's not what he once was. Should be a great year for golf.

  • Comment number 18.

    Sportmadgav. Time is not such a problem for Tiger because he has won majors before. Time becomes an issue for the others like Westwood, Garcia etc because pressure just builds more and more each time. Just ask Monty who like many others are extremely good capable golfers but just could not go the extra yard to win a major.

  • Comment number 19.

    hhhmmmm....new posters............sportmadgav..sergio is a never achiever who has done worse things on the course than TW would!!! beamish..monty cmon, possibly the most arrogant self centered pile of.......might join the growing exodus me!!!!!

  • Comment number 20.

    I hate this notion of Adam Scott having one of the best swings in golf. Sure it looks good, but he is shut at the top.

    Try Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy or Louis Oosthuizen..

  • Comment number 21.

    What a popular Major winner Garcia would be. Since his 2nd place to Woods back in 99 he hasnt yet captured that major but like Donald and Westwood he was in position on a few occasions and he bottled it. I can see him running a major close this year but like Westwood and Donald I can see him splashing it into water on the 16th hole and ruining any chance of winning.

    Major winners in 2012:
    Donald - NO
    Westwood - NO
    Garcia - NO
    McIlroy - YES
    Woods - YES
    Harrington - YES
    Clarke - YES

  • Comment number 22.

    james mathew, you've lost your marbles. Again.

    Darren Clarke for a major this year? I don't think he's had a good round since winning the Open last July! Even Harrington is a shadow of the player he was a few years ago.

    #17 sportmadgav - I don't agree about these 'wonderkids'. None of the new generation have shown the kind of bottle, grit and determination that Woods had to win many of his tournaments.

    McIlroy at times looks a different class, but seems to lose too many tournaments from a winning position. He'll have the odd week like the US Open where he blows away the field, but I'm not yet convinced he's got the nerve to win a close one. Of all the other 'youngsters', there's plenty of good golfers but I don't see anyone who would stick it to a resurgant Woods.

  • Comment number 23.

    #22

    I agree with you on the McIlory and youngsters not having proved themselves fully yet. Rory as you said will murder a field...but Id like to see what he would do with 4 holes left and he is tied for the lead or 1 back in a major...I dont know if he has that killer instinct.

    I think Harrington will win a major...and I know its a wild prediction so I understand the sceptisim but he is slowly coming back into form and I could see him winning a low scoring British Open or US Open where -2 kind of score wins it. Anyways its just a prediction with not a lot of substance to warrent it but there ya go.

    Cant wait for this weekend....has anyone done a predictions league for it?

  • Comment number 24.

    Powerhitter - He hasnt lost his marbles, he's just an Irishman trying to wind people up.

    Its true that time is running out for the players without a major, though clearly some have more time than others. However it is seriously running out for Tiger. The reason is that his ambitions are far more lofty than Lee, Luke, Sergio, etc...

    Whilst they are just looking to break their personal major duck, Tiger wants another 5 majors to beat Jacks record. To win 5 majors from the age of 36 is a tough ask. Especially as we simply dont know how whether he will come back to the level he used to be at.

  • Comment number 25.

    @21
    James, are you Irish perchance?

    My Major Predications for 2012
    Masters - Darren Clarke, Missed Cut
    US Open - Darren Clarke, Missed Cut
    The Open - Darren Clarke, Missed Cut
    USPGA - Darren Clarke, Missed Cut

    Sorry, thats not trying to be mean - but probably true.

  • Comment number 26.

    I've a feeling it will be just like 94,the yanks win diddly***.All major winners from europe or africa, with 2 first time winners and dont forget to include Poulter in your calculations,hits it long and straight and one of the best putters about .

  • Comment number 27.

    Poulter is made of the same stuff as Donald and Westwood and Monty....soft bending material!

    He will never win a major! no chance!

  • Comment number 28.

    #25, sween: If you single out one player and say he is going to miss the cut at every major this season, your cried of "not trying to be mean" are about as effective as me calling you an idiot and then adding... no offence.

    Great season coming up - nobody is mentioning Jason Day, I predict he will be in a battle with Woods and McIlroy at Augusta.

    Great stuff!

  • Comment number 29.

    some really good pairings for abu dhabi, but i think most eyes will be on tiger, rory and luke!!! glad to see one of my fav newcomers tommy fleetwood get an invite as well. catch a bit of coverage b4 work. on another note there is no prediction league going on but lets have peoples thoughts on their top 3 for the week????

  • Comment number 30.

    powerhitter...i dont think darren clarke will have a good round again!! comes across as a decent bloke though.

  • Comment number 31.

    Harrington is a decent enough shout for another British Open before he retires, great links player if he is in any form at all that week he should be in contention.

    Garcia is also a fine player on the links.

    If the past number of years have proved at least half of the majors will be relative shocks.

  • Comment number 32.

    i can see this blog redundant very soon...someone tell me which blog where don, mickeysaus etc are frequenting now!!!

  • Comment number 33.

    Matt. Quick question, If you dont like Monty because you think he's arrogant and self centered then why the devil are you a Woods fan?

    As for this weeks event, in all truth we don't know the form of a single man in the field and i personally don't know the course to judge what kind of player it suits, if i was forced to pick i'd go with logic and go for Donald on the basis that he is currently the best player in the world. Really looking forward to it either way though. The season starts here

  • Comment number 34.

    jimmy..............do you really want to compare an overweight has been to a an absolute genius....i like you jimmy, u make a lot of good points, but stay way clear of the english speaking scotsman, tiger is probably(in your opinion) self centered because he is to engrossed in trying harder an harder, he may come across in that way too a lot of people but i put his closure attitude down to one thing, to be the best!!! also he is probably the biggest sportsman on the planet!!!! poor colin shouldnt be mentioned in he same sentence as TW......jimmy spk soon , btw i think kaymer will do well this week ! he likes the desert....in essence this is like trying too compare rusedski an sampras

  • Comment number 35.

    my point is jimmy, that the best will always have a cocky attitude cos they no there good...your not going to tell me monty has that. TW attitude was instilled by his late father, some people would say it was draconian, but these 2 players are on ydifferent planets....take it easy jimmy

 

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