Rickie Fowler has his eyes firmy set on defending his title at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championshi as he returns for the first leg of the European tour desert swing.
Lst year’s victory over a strong field at the Abu Dhabi HsBC Championship propelled him to a carrer-high world ranking of 4 and led to a spike in his self-belief that a major success was around the corner. Two weeks later, he narrowly missed out on winning th Waste Management Phoenix Open after he narrowly lost to Hideki matsuyama in a closely contested playoff.
However, that was as bright as his year looked and he has now slipped outside the top-10 to 14th in the world. His best finish at a major was T-33rd at the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup triumph over Team Europe was his only other highlight of the year.
"It's definitely nice to be back," Fowler said. "I had a few good tournaments after this last year but individually I didn't play as well as I would have liked to. It's definitely nice to be back," he said. "I had a few good tournaments after this last year but individually I didn't play as well as I would have liked to.”
US Open champ Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas who most recently swept away the PGA Tour Hawaii swing, are amongst the players who have accelerated past him, who said his dip in form in 2016 is pushing him to play better in 2017.
"Golf's so deep right now," Fowler said, "and it will be nice if we can get Tiger back for a full season."
Fowler’s chances of successfully defending his title took a huge lift on Monday when present World number 2, Rory McIlroy, the highest ranked player in te field withdrew from the tournament due to a rib injury.
The event will still see a stellar field as always is the case at this event. Third ranker American, Dustin Johnson will be there while two other major champions- Danny Willet and Henrik Stenson will also be a part of the tournament.
"He's obviously one of the best players in the world," Fowler said about McIlroy. "It was fun to have him in contention with me last year here.
"Does that make me look at the tournament any differently? No. You know, it's one less top player in the world I'm going to have to beat, but the field here is one of the best fields on the European Tour."
On the back of his off-season where he spent time with family and friends over Christmas and the new year, Fowler is refreshed and raring to go come Thursday. Watching his close friend – Justin Thomas win back – to – back events in Hawaii has given him an added dose of inspiration to start his own season on a good note.
"It's inspiring and motivating," said Fowler, currently the world No. 14. Fowler will aim to get off the mark with regards to major wins in 2017 and according to him, playing events in the weeks leading up to the majors, rather than using that time to rest or work on the range will give him his best chance to do that.
The Masters is already playing on his mind and Rickie will be looking to continue his 2016 trend of starting his season with a bang in 2017 after being renowned as a slow starter to seasons previously.
His loss at the Phoenix Open that reduced him to tears had a big bearing on him for the rest of the season and translated to a bad performance during the Masters week in April, 2016, where he opened with an 80 in the first round and failed to make it to the weekend.gety
"Obviously looking to peak," Fowler said, "getting the first few months going, heading the right direction and peak that first week of April."Published 18 Jan 2017, 16:21 IST