Why Westwood And Poulter Deserve Credit For Abu Dhabi Appearance

The English pair made what could be their penultimate starts on the DP World Tour at Yas Links

Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood talking during Day 1 of the 2020 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
(Image credit: Getty Images)

"People might claim that as LIV players we aren't welcome here, but probably because of this field, I've had loads coming up to me and thanking me for playing."

Those were the words of Lee Westwood on the eve of his 588th and possibly penultimate start on what was formerly the European Tour. The Englishman penned a deal to join LIV Golf last year, the breakaway circuit bankrolled by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), and for that he faces the prospect of banishment.

But whatever you think of his decision to accept Greg Norman's offer - reported to be worth a shade under $30 million before prize money - or the source of the funding, Westwood and fellow big-name LIV players, including Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson, deserve credit for teeing it up at Yas Links for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the first DP World Tour stop of 2023.

"It is my 588th event and I love the European Tour and like to think I’ve supported it better than anyone who has been in my position," Westwood told reporters in Abu Dhabi. "Yet I look at the Tour now and wonder what it is."

In response to the LIV threat, golf's two traditional powerhouses strengthened their "strategic alliance". It was heralded as a move that would be mutually beneficial and that the fruits of this labour wouldn't blossom until 2024, but the initial signs are worrying. Yas Links was the venue for the first of five Rolex Series events this year, and as such, a hefty bounty was up for grabs, yet it wasn't enough to attract more than a handful of the game's household names.

"It’s a $9 million tournament and there is only one member of the world’s top 20 [Shane Lowry]," Westwood continued. "I’m not being disrespectful to 15th place on the Challenge Tour but they have got in this week and this is a short field because of the daylight with only 120-odd players. I’ve never known it go so far down the list. And we all know why."

Indeed, the coinciding American Express Championship featured five of the world's top 10 and was won, ironically, by Jon Rahm. At such an important time for the DP World Tour, with the Saudi International and second instalment of LIV Golf just round the corner, where was Rory McIlroy, the de facto voice of golf? Where was the PGA Tour support? Where was the home-grown support? Nowhere to be seen.

McIlroy will appear this week at the Dubai Desert Classic, but the wider point remains. A new series of 13 "designated events" - 12 of which have to be entered if you want to be eligible for the $100m Player Impact Program (PIP) - across the pond looks set to make it even harder for players to split their time. And with the vast majority of the world's best based in America, it doesn't take a genius to work out where sacrifices might be made...

In contrast, despite the animosity and attempts to rewrite the history books, there can be no doubt the names of Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter elevated the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, even if it was for the wrong reasons.

Andrew Wright
Freelance News Writer

A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he decided to go freelance and now covers a variety of topics for Golf Monthly. 

Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.

As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.

What's in Andy's bag?

Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)

Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)

Irons: Mizuno mp32 (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)

Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2.5

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x