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Twenty six. That’s the number of players in the field at the Dubai Desert Classic using Callaway’s new Ai Smoke driver. Some of them are Callaway staff members, like Nicolai Hojgaard, who finished tied for seventh at one of the strongest fields on the DP World Tour calendar.

Hojgaard, who made his Ryder Cup debut for Europe in September, was in contention throughout much of the week at the Emirates Golf Club’s Majlis course, carding rounds of  68 69 73 69 to finish tied seventh at nine under par. Hojgaard finished just five shots behind winner, Rory McIlroy.

Among the other 25 using the Ai Smoke was equipment freeagent Adam Scott, who put the Paradym Ai Smoke Triple Diamond in the bag for his first event of 2024. The Australian star joined Hojgaard in sharing seventh place.

On the PGA Tour, the American Express leaderboard was packed full of Callaway staff members in a thrilling final round. Callaway ambassador Sam Burns was leading the California desert event late into the back nine at the Pete Dye Stadium course until he was undone by Dye’s brutal finishing holes. Burns made double bogey on Nos. 17 and 18 to fall to a tie for sixth, while University of Alabama star Nick Dunlap became the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour since 1991.

But Callaway did populate the upper echelon of the leaderboard with staffer Christiaan Bezuidenhout bagging his second career runner up on the PGA Tour. Bezuidenhout fired an impressive 65 in the final round at the American Express to finish at 28 under par. The South African native now has four career top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in 76 starts. On Sunday, he holed out for eagle at the par-4 15th hole from 138 yards, his second-longest hole out on the PGA Tour.

“I love this [tournament],” Bezuidenhout said. “This is my third time playing here. I always like to start my year here. Yeah, everything about this place, the weather, the people, the golf courses that we play on, all the courses are just in great conditions and, yeah, it’s just a joy to be here. Although, I don’t feel I had my full game today, I still managed to score. The whole week I really putted well. I made some great putts coming in as well now.”

One shot back of Bezuidenhout, finishing at 27 under, were three players – two of them Callaway players. Xander Schauffele, in his home state of California, and Kevin Yu, ensured Callaway had three of the top five players on the leaderboard. Schauffele repeated his efforts at the 2023 American Express, when also finished tied third [courtesy of a final round 62 last year]. Yu equalled his career-best result on the PGA Tour (tied third at the 2022 Butterfield Bermuda Championship) .

Australian fans would have loved watching Min Woo Lee open his 2024 season with a tidy share of 21st at the American Express.

Lee finished tied 21st at the American Express. Image: Getty

Coming off a much-needed break of several weeks in Australia with a solid result suggests the 25-year-old is prepared to replicate his heroics of 2023, when he notched two victories – the Macao Open on the Asian Tour and the Australian PGA Championship on the DP World Tour – as well as a maiden major top-five at the US Open.

Lee is now a fully-fledged member of the PGA Tour.

On the LPGA, Rose Zhang finished tied seventh at the Hilton Grand Vacations event in Orlando, Florida.