Four-Ball: Weighing the positives for Abu Dhabi clash

World No. 1 Jordan Spieth, left, is coming off a win at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. No. 3 Rory McIlroy, right, typically plays well in Abu Dhabi. Will they, or possibly Rickie Fowler, be on top at week's end? Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy has been in the Middle East preparing to start his 2016 season while Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler played in Hawaii two weeks ago. Who has the advantage in Abu Dhabi?

And will we continue to see anchor-ban questions come up this season like we saw with Zac Blair on Sunday at the Sony Open?

Our scribes weigh in on those topics and more in this week's edition of Monday Four-Ball.

1. Of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, which player has the edge this week in Abu Dhabi?

ESPN.com senior golf analyst Michael Collins: In eight appearances at this event, McIlroy has four runner-ups and has finished outside the top 11 only once. As much momentum as Spieth has coming into the week, betting against the Northern Irishman trying to get back the No. 1 ranking at a course he's obviously comfortable on would be foolish.

ESPN.com senior golf writer Bob Harig: McIlroy. He might be making his first start since late November, but he is well familiar with Abu Dhabi Golf Club -- unlike Spieth and Fowler. This is the ninth consecutive year that McIlroy is playing the tournament, and he's had several close calls, including a tie for second last year.

ESPN.com senior golf editor Kevin Maguire: Spieth. Although McIlroy owns a large advantage in course knowledge, Spieth's game has proved it travels well, as we've seen in Australia. The Texan has typically been a quick study, and coming off a victory in Hawaii won't hurt him, either.

ESPN.com senior golf writer Jason Sobel: Spieth has the edge because he's fresh off a dominant victory. McIlroy has the edge because he's accustomed to playing this Middle East swing. And Fowler has the edge because he can fly under the radar with the other two grabbing most of the attention. So I guess what I'm getting at is: It's pretty even.

2. What impressed you the most from this week at the Sony Open?

Collins: Although you expect the best players in the world to crush a 506-yard par-5, I can't believe the ninth hole gave up 48 eagles for the week. The 2015 scoring average was 4.26, and this year it went down to 4.20. Maybe we should say, "These guys are great."

Harig: This is not new, but it remains impressive how young players manage to get themselves in the hunt and don't back down. Zac Blair's approach to the 18th on Sunday -- knowing he needed an eagle to get in a playoff -- was impressive, even though he missed the putt and finished third. Fabian Gomez had one tour victory beforehand but not a lot of other success, and he outlasted Brandt Snedeker, a tour veteran, to win a second title.

Maguire: He didn't win, but Kevin Kisner's ability to stay around the lead impressed me the most. The former Georgia Bulldog owns four straight top-10 finishes, and in just six starts this year (compared to 30 last year), he is two-thirds of the way to topping his best season in his PGA Tour career.

Sobel: The guts shown by less experienced players Fabian Gomez and Blair with the tournament on the line. Sure, each had contended for titles before -- and Gomez won one -- but a birdie putt from off the green and a belted 3-wood were the best things I saw all week. Just another example that today's younger players aren't scared to play on the big stage.

3. With questions surrounding Blair and whether he anchored his putter in the final round, how should golf police the issue?

Collins: The PGA Tour should start by making the phone number to the rules trailer unlisted. What's going to happen next? The tour officials have to determine intent, which is exactly what happened in Blair's case. By the time this issue is over, the PGA will make another amendment to the rule. Just what we need. Boo!

Harig: This was inevitable, and rules officials have to do exactly what they did on Sunday -- simply ask the player about it. This is the fallout of the ruling that bans anchored strokes, and there are bound to be times when it appears the club is being used in that manner. Unless it is clearly obvious -- which it wasn't in this case -- all that can be done is to question the player.

Maguire: Rescind the anchor-ban rule? OK, so they don't have that authority -- but we can dream, can't we? There really isn't much the PGA Tour can do other than ask the player in question. The interesting part will be to see how often this comes up during the course of the year and whether any actual penalties result. An infraction will be very difficult to prove, though.

Sobel: It should happen just as it did here: Officials should ask the player whether he committed a violation, and when he tells them he didn't, they should profusely apologize for even doubting him in the first place.

4. Phil Mickelson opens his 2016 at the CareerBuilder Challenge this week. With a new swing coach in his corner, where do you set expectations for Lefty?

Collins: I expect Mickelson to finish just inside the top 30. With all those changes, it will benefit him to play in a pro-am format, as it isn't the same pressure the first three days as playing in a normal tour event. To expect him to come out and win, or even finish top-5, would be asking a bit much.

Harig: Mickelson took a big step by changing coaches at this point in his career, but the expectation is it has a motivating effect. Whether he comes out strong will be interesting to see, but he is expected to play four tournaments in a row starting this week, which gives him a good chance to see how quickly the changes have taken hold.

Maguire: Have we ever entered a calendar year with lower expectations for the two guys who carried the mantle of best golfers in the world, in Mickelson and Tiger Woods, for the better part of two decades? Lefty has proved time and again that he can catch lightning in a bottle unlike anyone else, so a strong finish isn't out of the question. But I certainly wouldn't expect anything better than a top-20 finish.

Sobel: I'm cautiously optimistic for Mickelson this year. He always talks a good game; he'll forever insist his game is close and he's in terrific shape, whether that's true or not. But I usually tend to believe him -- and this occasion is no different. What people often forget when analyzing him and his swing is that no matter what, he still owns one of the world's top-three short games. That goes a long way.