The Biggest Lessons Learned from the 2014 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fred Altvater@@tolohgolfrContributor IIJanuary 20, 2014

The Biggest Lessons Learned from the 2014 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

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    Ever thought the HSBC Abu Dhabi is the seventh event on the schedule, it is the first tournament on the desert swing and signals the start of the European Tour season.

    The HSBC Abu Dhabi, Commercialbank Qatar Masters and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic pay large appearance fees to bring golf's biggest names to the Middle East. 

    Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy earned more money this week than the eventual winner, but a relative unknown from Spain upset the big boys and won the fancy trophy.

    What are some of the other lessons we learned this week in Abu Dhabi? 

10. Sergio Garcia Continues to Play Well

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    We learned that Sergio Garcia is still a very good golfer.

    Sergio Garcia didn't let a poor first-round score at the HSBC Abu Dhabi affect his play for the balance of the week.

    He did not miss a cut in 17 starts on the PGA Tour in 2013 and finished the year with a T-4 in the Deutsche Bank and T-9 in the Tour Championship. He earned over $2.2 million in America last season and has continued his good play this year.

    In two events on the 2013-14 PGA Tour schedule, he has one top-10 finish, earned $526,000 and has quietly moved to No. 10 in the world rankings.

    Garcia posted a poor four-over par 76 on Thursday but came back with 68-70-68 to finish T-19 in Abu Dhabi.

    We have known for a long time that Garcia is one of the best ball-strikers on the planet.

    Is his desire to win a major driving him to concentrate more on the course and not let outside influences bother him?

9. Thomas Bjorn on Track to Make Ryder Cup

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    We learned that Thomas Bjorn is serious about making the European Ryder Cup team.

    Although nearing his 43rd birthday, Bjorn continued to impress with his consistent play on the European Tour.

    He won the Omega European Masters to finish inside the Top 10 in the 2013 Race to Dubai.

    He is perfect this season with top-10 finishes in each of his three starts. He won the Nedbank Golf Challenge in December and finished T-10 at the Volvo Champions and again this week in Abu Dhabi.

    2014 is a Ryder Cup year, and Bjorn leads both the Race to Dubai and the European team Ryder Cup standings.

    The desire to make Paul McGinley's Ryder Cup team is driving this veteran to a renaissance of massive proportions. 


8. There Is Life After 50 for Miguel Angel Jimenez

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    We learned that there is life after 50 for professional golfers.

    Miguel Angel Jimenez turned 50 years old earlier in January but is not heading for the rocking chair just yet.

    Jimenez joined the European Tour in 1988, has 20 wins and earned over €21 million.

    His most recent win came in a successful defense of his title at the Hong Kong Open in December. 

    He is ranked No. 39 in the Official World Golf Rankings and No. 11 in the Race to Dubai.

    Jimenez has been there and done that but still has the game and fire to compete with the young guys.

7. Abu Dhabi Golf Club Is a True Test for the Best Golfers

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    We learned that the Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a tough track.

    Golf architect Peter Harradine designed the Abu Dhabi Golf Club to test the best golfers in the game. It opened in 1998 and has met expectations.

    Even with perfect conditions this week, Pablo Larrazabal won with a score of 14-under par. It is going to take nearly 30-under par to win in Palm Springs on the PGA Tour this week.

    The Abu Dhabi Golf Club normally requires desert winds to challenge the players and keep scoring higher. Thickish rough this year made hitting the fairway a necessity and kept players from blitzing the course.

    Mickelson and McIlroy played well over the four days but still finished runner-up to Larrazabal.

    The Abu Dhabi Golf Club is a true desert oasis.  

6. Huge Appearance Fees Draw the Best Golfers

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    We learned that big appearance fees can work.

    The sponsors of the HSBC Abu Dhabi pay huge appearance fees every year to draw talent such as McIlroy and Mickelson.

    Last year McIlroy missed the cut after his big Nike announcement, but he has finished runner-up in this event three of the last four years.

    Tiger Woods opened his season in Abu Dhabi in 2012 and 2013 but chose to start at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines this year.

    Mickelson filled the void this year and collected a seven-figure appearance fee. 

    Over the past three years, the HSBC Abu Dhabi has been won by Robert Rock, Jamie Donaldson and now Pablo Larrazabal, none of which were household names prior to their wins here.

    The sponsors got their money's worth this year, but maybe huge appearance fees to some inspire lesser known players to play harder. 

5. Henrik Stenson Is Still Vacationing

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    We learned that Henrik Stenson is not quite ready to win a major in 2014.

    Stenson shot 74-72 over the first two rounds in the HSBC Abu Dhabi and missed the cut.

    He did not miss a cut all of last season on the European Tour and had not missed a cut since the Wells Fargo in May 2013 on the PGA Tour.

    After winning the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai last season, Stenson took some deserved time off.

    He did venture to South Africa to finish T-4 in the Nedbank Challenge in early December.

    The HSBC Abu Dhabi was his first start of 2014, and it appears there is some rust on his golf clubs.

    We will learn more about the state of Stenson's game over the next two weeks in the Qatar Masters and the Dubai Desert Classic. 


4. Rules Violations Are Again an Issue in Golf

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    We learned once again that professional golfers are rules-challenged but are quick to accept the responsibility for their mistake.

    Last year Tiger Woods was affected on four different occasions by rules violations that drastically changed the outcome of the tournament.

    It has happened already this year to McIlroy. He was assessed a two-shot penalty for not taking total relief after a drop from a spectator walk area on Saturday. 

    McIlroy was alerted of the possible infraction by one of the caddies in his group and discussed it with rules officials at the end of his third round. 

    Mickelson incurred a one-shot penalty in the final round on Sunday, when he double-hit his ball while trying to chip out of a bush.

    Mickelson and McIlroy finished tied for runner-up, losing to Larrazabal by one shot.


3. Phil Mickelson Appears Ready for the PGA Tour

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    We learned that Mickelson's driving issues are not solved just yet and that a scrawny bush can beat him.

    After driving his ball into a bush on No. 13 in the final round on Sunday, Mickelson made a triple-bogey seven on the par four and shot himself out of the tournament lead.

    Mickelson began the week touting the fantastic results he was seeing from his new driver. In the end it was his wayward drives that cost him a win in Abu Dhabi.

    Trying to chip out of a bush right-handed, he double hit the ball and incurred a one-stroke penalty that led to the seven.

    He made six birdies in his round, four on the back nine alone, but his three-under par 69 left him one shot shy of the winner, Larrazabal.

2. Rory McIlroy Is Regaining World-Class Form

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    We learned that being engaged evidently agrees with McIlroy.

    McIlroy began 2013 with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi after his big Nike announcement. He struggled for most of the year with swing issues and legal problems.

    He began playing better at the end of the year with a runner-up finish in Korea, a win over Tiger Woods in China and a win at the Australian Open over Adam Scott.

    McIlroy topped off his year by becoming engaged to tennis star Caroline Wozniacki.

    A happy home life off the golf course results in better scoring on the course.

1. David Beats Goliath Once Again

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    We learned that David really can beat Goliath.

    Pablo Larrazabal, ranked No. 103 in the world, knocked off two of the biggest names in golf, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, by sinking a five-foot putt at the last hole on Sunday.

    It was Larrazabal's third win on the European Tour. He is just 30 years old and follows in the footsteps of other famous Spaniards, Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Sergio Garcia and Alvaro Quiros.

    He had eight top-10 finishes on the European Tour in 31 events last year and ended the year at No. 34 in the Race to Dubai.

    It appears that he will improve on those numbers this year.