The 2021 European Tour season began in January with the ‘Desert Swing’, three events being played in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
The Desert Swing Recap
Englishman Tyrrell Hatton claimed the first win of the ‘Swing’ in Abu Dhabi, Paul Casey won the Dubai Desert Classic and World Number One Dustin Johnson picked up his second Saudi International title.
So what did we learn from the opening three tournaments of the season and is there anything that we should be looking out for in 2021?
Hatton started 2021 where he left off last year; competing for the biggest titles on the biggest stages.
The 29-year-old had a phenomenal season in 2020, winning the European Tour flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, as well as his first PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Hatton dominated the competition, shooting rounds of 65, 68, 71 & 66 for an 18-under-par total and a four shot win.
What made this victory even more impressive is that Hatton was paired with Rory McIlroy on the final day and beat him by six shots.
The Englishman produced a blemish-free round and, in the process, overtook McIlroy in the World Rankings.
The victory showed what Hatton has in store for 2021, a year that sees four Major Championships and a certain Ryder Cup.
The Dubai Desert Classic was the second stop in the ‘Swing’ and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Englishman Paul Casey hadn’t won on the European Tour since the Porsche European Open in 2019.
But the drought would end when the 43-year-old posted rounds of 67, 70, 64 & 70 for a 17-under-par total and a four shot margin of victory.
The win was Casey’s 15th on the European Tour, making him the 18th player to achieve this feat. Victory also put him level on wins with both the former and current Ryder Cup Captains, Thomas Bjørn and Padraig Harrington.
Harrington, the current Ryder Cup Captain, would have left Dubai feeling very happy as he finished in a tie for sixth, his best finish on the European Tour in over two and a half years.
The three-time Major champion would also have been happy about the European presence at the top of the leaderboard.
Casey, Robert MacIntyre, Laurie Canter, Bernd Wiesberger, Sergio Garcia, Rasmus Højgaard and Matthias Schwab all finished in the Top 10 in Dubai, with all seven players vying for a Ryder Cup place this year.
The Desert Classic showed just how much depth the European team has in experience and youth. It’s set to be an exciting run-in for the available Ryder Cup places.
The Saudi International provided the finale of the ‘Desert Swing’ and also the strongest field we’ve seen so far in 2021.
Players like Dustin Johnson, Tony Finau, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau made the trip over the pond to appear at the Royal Greens G&CC.
The Saudi International certainly delivered on drama, with the first two days of the competition providing an almost Open Championship feel as the morning starters on the first round received the best of the weather for the first two days. At one point there was even rain in the desert!
It would be World Number One Dustin Johnson who would claim the title, his second in three years in Saudi Arabia.
Four rounds in the 60’s gave the American a two-shot victory over Justin Rose and fellow countryman, Tony Finau.
What was incredibly frightening, was that Johnson didn’t even play his best golf in Saudi Arabia. On the Sunday he holed only two putts outside of five-feet in a two-under-par round.
With Johnson only displaying his B-game, it was the perfect opportunity for others to capitalise, but none of them could.
Finau came closest to challenging the World Number One but, yet again, he fell short; his ninth runner-up finish since his last victory in 2016.
A number of players would be happy with their weeks in Saudi Arabia though. Englishman Justin Rose returned to form with a T2 finish after a final round 65.
Victor Perez, Tyrrell Hatton and Viktor Hovland are all near certainties for the Ryder Cup this year after another strong showing in the desert put them all in the Top 10.
The ‘Desert Swing’ treated us to some fantastic golf over the three-week period.
Going into the future, it is set up to be one of the most exciting seasons on the European Tour, with a number of players vying for debut Major wins and Ryder Cup appearances.
With a range of experience and youth competing for the accolades, one thing is for certain, we have a lot of great golf to look forward to over 2021.