IT WILL surprise some people to hear that Luke Donald is trying out new clubs after the year he has just had.
But England’s world number one is determined to make 2012 even better, with a first major, of course, top of his wish list - as it is for secondranked Lee Westwood.
‘‘This seemed like the perfect week to try some new stuff,’’ said Donald, although he has anything but a low-key start to the season.
He goes head to head with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – the two highest-profile players in golf at the moment – in the first two rounds of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
‘‘I’m not one to change and tinker too much, but the times when I do are usually at the beginning of a season.
‘‘Whether they’ll be in my bag in a few weeks who knows, but certainly I did some good preparation work and it felt very solid.
‘‘I wouldn’t have put them in if it didn’t feel as good, if not better, than what I was using. Under tournament conditions we’ll see how they perform, but I’m happy with the changes.’’ Donald has been top of the rankings since May and last month in Dubai completed an unprecedented double of money list titles on both sides of the Atlantic.
‘‘I’ve got a lot more positive experiences to fall back on. Winning four times last year and picking up all the awards adds a lot of confidence.
‘‘Even days when I struggle I feel I can find something to post a score.
That’s what I did so well last year and why I was so consistent.
‘‘It’s a new year and I have new things to achieve hopefully. Last year will be hard to follow, but there’s certainly a lot more in this game for me to achieve.’’ As there is for Westwood, older than his compatriot by four years and with far more near misses in the majors.
Hopes are high again for the 38- year-old after comprehensive wins in South Africa and Thailand last month, performances highlighted by rounds of 62 and 60.
Improved putting was the key and Westwood was delighted to see that only about four weeks into his work with Phil Kenyon.
‘‘I think it’s very difficult to win a major without making a few that are surprising or bonuses, so if I can start rolling in a few 25 to 30-footers that’s obviously going to make a massive difference.
‘‘My practice is a lot more structured and based around drills to make sure that I do the same thing over and over.
‘‘It helps your whole game. If you start making putts that you have not been making then it takes the pressure off your long game.’’ Despite their ranking positions Donald and Westwood are not the favourites this week – and nor is Woods despite his ending more than two years without a victory last month.
The two men at the top of the betting lists are McIlroy and Martin Kaymer. Not surprising really given their records on the course.
World number four Kaymer had won the last two years and three of the last four, while McIlroy has gone 11th, fifth, third and second.
McIlroy’s last appearance in the Middle East was for last month’s Dubai World Championship, where he was struggling with suspected Dengue fever.
He said: ‘‘I definitely wasn’t feeling my best the last couple of weeks of the season. I actually stayed out in Dubai for 10 days afterwards – I was advised not to travel anywhere for at least a week.
‘‘I got home on December 22, spent three or four days at home, then flew to Thailand to spend New Year with my family and Caroline’s family as well.’’