Rickie Fowler out to impress in exalted company at HSBC Championship

It does not require Hercule Poirot to determine where the focus will be during the opening two days of the HSBC Championship. The grouping of Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy should at least ensure peace and quiet for the other 123 members of the field.

The draw and billboards in the Middle East place Fowler alongside Spieth and McIlroy but a lack of major success for the 27-year-old Californian leaves him on the outside looking in. While Spieth and McIlroy will be aiming to put down a marker for the year ahead, Fowler wants to assert his intentions.

“I may not be ranked as high as the other two but I am close,” Fowler said on Tuesday. “A major would help me to become a solid part of the talk but I look forward to going up against these boys and having a good time. We are all good buddies so it is going to be a fun walk over these first two days. It would be fun to get the three of us going, to see if we can push each other on. I know I want to see those guys play well because I feel like it brings out the best in me. I feel like I can push and motivate them, as well. It would be fun to feed off each other and bring the best out in all of us.”

Fowler has the admirable sense of “have clubs, will travel”. Unlike other players of days gone by he is willing to embrace the global status of his sport. He embraces fresh territory.

“I enjoy travelling,” he said. “I feel like this is a fun part of my job. Sometimes travel itself can be tough but I enjoy seeing different parts of the world, different cultures and what else is out there. I don’t so much see it as an obligation. I feel like it is an honour to go and do it. Having support and a fan base wherever you go is pretty special to see.”

When Henrik Stenson is added in, four of the world’s top six will feature in Abu Dhabi. Stenson, who had knee surgery in early December (he has now had one such operation on each leg), denied the emergence of Spieth and co makes a 39-year-old feel like a veteran or in any way unable to compete.

“What is the saying? You never grow up, you just learn how to act in public,” he said with a smile. “But no, this is normal. Every sport develops and the young players in golf now, they are better at an earlier age. You have the technology and all the help that you can get to become better, quicker than what we had. And also, competition is tougher.

“I don’t think I have forever to accomplish what I want to. It has to happen in the next three or four years, I’m pretty certain of that. But I don’t feel old, no.”

Martin Kaymer, who will have Stenson and the defending champion Gary Stal for early company, knows better than most about the challenges facing Spieth after an epic 2015. Kaymer has spoken in the past about the problems he encountered when becoming a major champion and reaching the top of the world rankings before he was able to cope with what it demanded.

“I think it depends a lot on the character,” he said. “I think Rory could handle it very well. Jordan obviously does. Tiger did it very well. And then you have other guys who didn’t stay up there for a long time and it’s not that much to do with golf because there’s a reason why they got there.

“What Jordan did, not only last year but in 2014, is very difficult when you’re that young. I was two or three years older than him and having that much expectation for someone who is that young, especially living in America where sport is a lot bigger than where I’m from, you need to have a lot of respect for it.

“It really depends on you, how much attention you like. Do you like to go to restaurants where three quarters of the restaurant know you, where the chef is happy to reserve you first than the guy next to you, even though he ordered half an hour earlier? For me, it’s uncomfortable.”

Another interesting aspect of the draw will see two European Ryder Cup hopefuls, Russell Knox and Andy Sullivan, play alongside the captain, Darren Clarke.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ewan Murray in Abu Dhabi, for The Guardian on Tuesday 19th January 2016 14.32 Europe/London

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