Six of Europe’s victorious 2006 Ryder Cup Team will return to competitive strokeplay action in a stellar field including Ryder Cup rival and defending champion, Chris DiMarco, in the second Abu Dhabi Golf Championship this week.
European Tour Player of the Year, Paul Casey, and Order of Merit winner, Padraig Harrington, are joined at Abu Dhabi Golf Club by Sergio Garcia, Robert Karlsson, Colin Montgomerie and Henrik Stenson from The European Ryder Cup Team which claimed an unprecedented third successive victory against the United States at The K Club in Ireland last September.
DiMarco was part of the American Team on the receiving end of the record-equalling nine point defeat and will be looking to hit back with a successful defence of his Abu Dhabi title. Twelve months ago, competing in a European Tour event for the first time excluding the Majors and the World Golf Championships events, he ended a four year wait for a victory by holding off Stenson and Garcia.
Stenson, who holed the winning putt at The K Club, will be looking to go one better on his return to Abu Dhabi after coming so close to victory in the inaugural event. That performance marked the start of a glorious three-week spell in The Gulf as he followed his runner-up finish with victory the following week in The Commercialbank Qatar Masters before ending joint seventh in Dubai.
World Number Nine, Harrington, the second highest ranked player in the field behind South Africa’s Retief Goosen (eight), makes his first appearance of the calendar year much earlier than usual as he looks to get 2007 off to a flying start.
The Irishman has traditionally waited until Malaysia to banish the winter blues but this year makes an early emergence in his quest to build on a successful 2006 which culminated in him winning the Harry Vardon Trophy for the first time.
Harrington won the Order of Merit after a closely fought battle with Casey and the Englishman is another player aiming to make an early impression in the New Year. Three victories and a host of top ten finishes in 2006 further underlined Casey’s status on the world stage as he earned the accolade of Player of the Year and climbed to World Number 15 at the end of 2006.
Indeed, with Casey, Harrington, Garcia, Goosen and Stenson, the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship can boast an impressive international field which includes five players from the World’s Top 15.
No fewer than 22 champions from The 2006 European Tour International Schedule, in addition to José Manuel Lara, Alvaro Quiros and last week’s Joburg Open winner, Ariel Canete, are also in the field.
Meanwhile American Notah Begay III, a room-mate of Tiger Woods during their days at Stanford University who earned his European Tour card through the Qualfying School Final Stage last November, makes his first appearance in a regular European Tour event since 2000.
The National Course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club has undergone substantial changes over the past 12 months with new bunkers added to the left of the landing areas of the first and 11th fairways and new tees on the third and sixth holes, adding 67 and 38 yards respectively to those two holes. Extensions to the front of the back tees on the 16th and 17th holes will allow adjustments within the same tee on windy days rather than having to move to a forward tee as well.
The Abu Dhabi Golf Championship is the eighth event of The 2007 European Tour International Schedule and the first of a three-week ‘Gulf Swing’, preceding the Commercialbank Qatar Masters and the Dubai Desert Classic, and carries a prize fund of $2,000,000.
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