Paul Casey launches his defence of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club this week hoping to retain a title for the first time since his amateur days.
The 30 year old Englishman claimed the crown in the Emirate 12 months ago, a superb final round 65 propelling him from a share of sixth place at the start of the day into the winner’s circle by a shot from Sweden’s Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jiménez of Spain.
It was Casey’s eighth European Tour triumph, victories achieved around the world from the Gulf to Europe, Asia and Australia. However, on none of these occasions the following season did the 2006 European Tour Golfer of the Year manage to retain the title.
It is ironic for, during his amateur days, the two time Ryder Cup man repeated title successes with regularity; claiming the prestigious Pac-10 Championship three years in a row during his time at college in the United States while he also won the English Amateur Championship in both 1999 and 2000.
Now Casey is back in Abu Dhabi aiming to put that statistic right in his professional career and admitted he was looking forward to the challenge. “The win in Abu Dhabi last year was an important milestone for me and the perfect way to start last year,” he said.
“I will be looking to kick-start my season and I would love to defend my title. The reception I received last year was incredible and I hope the fans will bring me as much luck as they did last time.”
Casey’s task will not be an easy one against a high-quality field which has assembled in Abu Dhabi, the tournament having quickly establishing itself as a favourite on the schedule since American Chris DiMarco claimed the inaugural title in 2006.
Leading the challenge, and renewing his rivalry with the Englishman will be Ireland’s Padraig Harrington who, of course, gave European golfing fans their greatest moment for many years in July 2007 when he won The Open Championship at Carnoustie.
At the end of 2006, Harrington narrowly pipped Casey for The Harry Vardon Trophy as European Number One and, two months later, looked like he was going to come out on top once again as he led into the final round of the 2007 Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.
But it proved not to be Harrington’s day as a final round 71 saw him slip back to share fifth place as Casey stormed through to breast the tape. “I am all set for Abu Dhabi which will be my first event of the year,” said Harrington. “I am flying my whole team out because the great weather and excellent facilities make it the perfect place to jump-start my year.
“I know I’ll have a huge Irish following as the UAE capital is now on the Irish map since the launch of Etihad flights to Dublin. Last year was great, everyone was so friendly and hospitable and I’m really looking forward to returning.”
Confirming the strength of the field is the fact that, Casey and Harrington aside, six other men in the top 25 of the Official World Golf Ranking – Luke Donald, Niclas Fasth, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood – will tee up.