Golf lowdowns: Tom McKibbin looking to get into the swing of things in UAE, where there’s plenty to play for

Leona Maguire among a marquee group chasing victory in the Drive On LPGA Championship

Ras Al Khaimah Championship

Purse: €2.25 million (€450,000 to the winner)

Where: Ras Al Khaimah, UAE

The course: Al Hamra Golf Club – 7,410 yards, par 72 – lies on the shores of the Arabian Gulf in the emirate of Ras Al Kahaimah. The course, which incorporates open water lagoons along with desert landscapes, was designed by Peter Harradine and is hosting a tour event for a third straight year. The driving range, incidentally, is home to two full-sized GAA pitches used by the local RAK Ropairí club.

The field: Although many of the tour’s big guns have either returned to the PGA Tour or – like Rory McIlroy – taken time out after the past two weeks in the UAE in advance of a busy stretch stateside, there is still a decent field assembled (no doubt aided by its proximity to Dubai and also an enhanced prize fund) with Rasmus Hojgaard, Jordan Smith and Thorbjorn Olesen among those chasing the title won last year by Daniel Gavins.


Quote-Unquote: “I’m coming in not feeling overly happy with my game but I got back here, played a few holes and I started hitting it quite nicely, so it’s great to be back. It’s a little bit on and off the course, my dad got ill with prostate cancer and my game dropped off after that.” – defending champion Daniel Gavins explaining how outside (and more important) factors have affected his form.

Irish in the field: Pádraig Harrington is aiming to bounce back from a missed cut in the Dubai Desert Classic while Tom McKibbin – who has made four cuts from four so far this season – is looking to kick on in his bid for a second career title on the circuit. McKibbin has moved to a career best 153rd in the updated world rankings on the back of his consistency.

Betting: Hojgaard is the clear market leader at 9-1 with his fellow Dane Olesen rated at 16-1 alongside Smith. Laurie Canter missed the cut in the Desert Classic but went 4th-2nd on his two outings before Christmas and is worth a look at 25-1. Each-way value can be found with Alejandro Del Rey at 33s.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports (live coverage from 8.0am).

Drive On LPGA Championship

Purse: €1.6 million (€245,000 to the winner)

Where: Bradenton, Florida, USA

The course: Bradenton Country Club – 6,557 yards, par 71 – is a renowned Donald Ross design (which has been modernised in recent years by Tony Jacklin), a private club which first opened for play in 1924. It is hosting this tournament as part of its centenary year. Although the course has been upgraded, the philosophy of Ross has been retained with small greens and an emphasis on precise approach play.

The field: Benefiting from its place in the LPGA Tour directly after the season-opening Tournament of Champions just a two-hour drive away, a strong field – including Lydia Ko, who is looking to win in back-to-back weeks after her success in Lake Nona – has been assembled. Leona Maguire is a past champion (in 2022, but on a different course – in Fort Myers).

Quote-Unquote: “That’s the million dollar [question], isn’t it? If I had the answer, I would do it every week. Solheim is just a special week. I love match play, team golf. There’s something about the Solheim Cup that brings something out in everybody ... if I can tap into that a little bit more this year, it’d be pretty nice” – Leona Maguire on how to take her Solheim Cup form into individual events on the LPGA Tour.

Irish in the field: Stephanie Meadow is making her seasonal debut and is paired in the opening round with Auston Kim and Celine Borge (off the 10th tee at 12.36pm Irish time); Maguire is in a marquee group alongside Jennifer Kupcho and Angela Standford (off the 10th at 5.27pm Irish time).

Betting: Ko’s return to form has seen the Kiwi back to familiar territory at the top of the market with Lilia Vu and Nelly Korda, who are all rated 10-1 chances, while Lexi Thompson – using a new Maxfli ball for the first time in competition – is 14-1. Maguire got some rust out of the system and improved in her final round at Lake Nona and looks decent value at 33-1 on a course where there is a premium on driving accuracy and approach play.

On TV: Live on Sky Sports Mix (live coverage from 5pm).

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