A new era for the newly christened DP World Tour gets under way this week with a cracking field assembled for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. There might be no Ryder or Solheim Cup this campaign but here are some highlights and likely flashpoints to anticipate during a year where we can expect plenty of excitement and controversy:
1. Middle East swing
Always an intriguing start to any year, the three pit stops this time will be a hive of speculation. In years past, Abu Dhabi has seen the unveiling of Europe’s Ryder Cup captain but I’m told there will be no puffs of white smoke until mid-February, so there will be plenty of 19th-hole chatter over the next three weeks as to who will succeed Padraig Harrington.
Rory McIlroy features in a stellar line-up at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week
And what about the Saudi Sportswashing Invitational — I might not have that title quite right — now part of the Asian Tour which will follow on from the beefed-up Dubai Desert Classic, complete with any number of high-profile renegades on board? Stand by for more on the Saudis and their mission to grow the game/kill it with greed, depending on your viewpoint.
2. 150th Open at St Andrews
Truly an occasion to savour in July, although it might not be without its own share of controversy if the weather is becalmed, meaning Bryson DeChambeau will take aim at driving about half of the 14-par fours.
Such is the scale of anticipation around the world that more than 1.3 million applications for tickets were received by the R&A. Let’s hope it’s dry and fast, leading to an Open filled with 400-yard drives but also one that calls for imagination and short-game wizardry.
Bryson DeChambeau should be among the big names at the 150th Open in July
The Masters will be quite an occasion too, with the likely return to a full turnout of patrons for the first time since 2019 — but there’s no doubt as to the pick of the four majors this year.
3. US Women’s Open
Amid everything else going on, it was easy to miss the extraordinary announcement last month regarding the biggest event in the women’s game, with an almost doubling of the prize money to $10 million, making this year’s edition one of the most lucrative tournaments in the history of women’s sport.
Quite right too.
World No 1 Nelly Korda can sample the high life at the US Women’s Open in North Carolina
It’s about time the top women, led by the majestic Nelly Korda, sampled the high life that has long been the sole preserve of the men.
4. Tiger Woods
That little cameo with his son Charlie before Christmas in Orlando certainly whetted the appetite, didn’t it?
The next date to watch out for is mid-February, the one-year anniversary of the horrific crash that almost cost him his life, when Tiger will be hosting the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles.
It’s surely too much to hope that he will be a competitor but we will get a firm idea as to when/if the comeback is on.
Tiger Woods and his son Charlie thrilled spectators at the PNC Championship in Orlando
5. What next for English golf?
There have been times over the past decade when there have been four Englishmen in the world’s top 10, with three making it all the way to No 1. Now there’s not a single Englishman in the top 20. Is the golden era at an end?
A big year, therefore, for Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick, who all struggled last year to keep pace with their American contemporaries.
At the other end of the scale, what next for the illustrious quartet in their forties — Justin Rose, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood — as they head towards the sunset of their magnificent careers?
It’s also a big year for Tommy Fleetwood (R), Tyrrell Hatton (L) and Matt Fitzpatrick
6. Netflix nirvana?
The producers of hit F1 series Drive to Survive are turning their attention to golf, with filming already under way. The organisers of the four majors are on board, as well as the PGA Tour, with the promise of unprecedented access to a cast list of players including Brooks Koepka and Poulter. It should be a good watch.
7. Scandinavian salvation?
If Europe are to make a contest of the Ryder Cup in Italy next year it’s crying out for a couple of young stars to join Norwegian Viktor Hovland in providing a transfusion of exciting new blood. In the vanguard are the identical twins from Denmark, Rasmus and Nicolai Hojgaard. They’ve already won four times between them on what we used to know as the European Tour, and they’re still not yet aged 21. If you end up reading a lot about them this year, Europe’s prospects in Rome will be transformed.