Play is under way at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship (quite the mouthful, that) and who should sit atop the leaderboard but OCD-sufferer and fan of CSI Padraig Harrington! A round of seven-under (65) sees the three-time major winner one shot clear of promising Swede Alex Noren and two of playing partner Martin Kaymer. World Number One Lee Westwood carded a relatively modest 69.
Obviously, Harrington’s decision to spend December locked in a room with a gloomy Scot and a biomechanics expert has paid dividends and contrary to (my) expectations, he’s succeeded (at least temporarily) in minimising his lateral movement through the ball, reducing his hip-turn, tucking his chin into a more efficient position, weakening his grip, changing his putting routine, lowering his hands, flattening his swing-plane and, of course, squatting into impact. Either way, it’s great to see him on top of a leaderboard that matters again.
And why does Abu Dhabi matter, you ask?
Simply because it’s drawn one of the strongest European Tour fields of the year. Even Phil has made the lengthy trek to the desert to duke it out with the cream of the non-American game (and a random local amateur, Khalid Yousuf, who just shot 85) in a bid to pocket a shedload of petro-dollars (aside from the shedload he’s already pocketed in appearance fees). So strong is the field, in fact, that a high finish for either Mickelson or Martin Kaymer could see Tiger Woods bumped down to third spot in the world rankings.
Phil’s among the afternoon starters– so too are G-Mac, Rory, Retief, Jimenez and Casey– and is only a few holes into his round. They have been a promising few holes, however: he’s one-under par and has yet to make a bogey. Surprisingly, Todd Hamilton is currently the highest-placed American. His round of three-under (69) has seen him ghost into the lower reaches of the top ten.