Twelve months ago at the Emirates Golf Club, Rory McIlroy announced himself on the world stage with his maiden European Tour victory. Now the Northern Irishman is back, aiming to successfully defend his Omega Dubai Desert Classic title and, in doing so, carve another niche in golf’s record books.
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic is the most established of the three tournaments which go to make up The European Tour’s Gulf Swing, having begun life in 1989, but over the past 20 years no-one has claimed the distinctive Arabian coffee pot trophy in successive seasons.
Now McIlroy has the chance to alter that statistic and continue a remarkable rise to global prominence in the game; progress marked by the fact he was the youngest player in history to make it into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of the 2008 season as well as only the second 20 year old, behind Sergio Garcia, to feature in the top ten.
An additional incentive for the young man from Holywood is the fact that, should he triumph again come Sunday night, he would be – at 20 years and 279 days – the youngest player to successfully defend a title in European Tour history.
“After what happened last year, the Desert Classic will always have a special place in my heart and I am really looking forward to returning to defend my title,” he said.
“Your maiden victory on The European Tour is always a wonderful moment and it was made all the more special to have my mum and dad there beside the 18th green watching me hole the winning putt along with everyone from ISM who have been so helpful to me in my career.
“I really kicked on from there during the season and put in a lot of solid performances to help me make a big move up the World Rankings. I am looking forward to returning to Dubai to see all the many friends I made there last year and, of course, I hope I can produce a similar result.”
As has been the case during the past two weeks in the Gulf, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic has attracted a superb field, all players hoping to follow in the footsteps of Martin Kaymer who triumphed in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago and Robert Karlsson who took the trophy last Sunday in Qatar.
Both Karlsson and Kaymer, who now occupy second and third place respectively in The Race to Dubai standings, will tee up on the Majlis Course alongside the man who currently leads the way – South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel – while a plethora of European Tour stars will have their eye on the lion’s share of the US$2,500,000 prize fund.
Included in that number is Dubai resident Henrik Stenson, the last European winner of the trophy before McIlroy in 2007, and the man who finished third behind McIlroy and Justin Rose 12 months ago.
“The Dubai Desert Classic is one of my favourite weeks on the tour and I always look forward to it,” said the Swede. “If you look at my record, I think it speaks for itself. I’ve done well because I’m familiar with the Majlis Course having played there a number of times. The key to producing a low score there, I think, depends on how well you putt.”
Aside from the strong European contingent, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic has once again attracted an eclectic international field including several players from the United States all hoping to emulate Mark O’Meara who lifted the title in 2004.
Most notable debutant this year is Tom Watson – who thrilled the world of golf during an emotional Open Championship at Turnberry last July – and who will be making his first visit to a regular European Tour event since he competed in the 1993 German Masters in Stuttgart.
“I’m looking forward to visiting Dubai since I have heard so many good things about it,” said the 60 year old. “I’m very appreciative for the invitation to compete as the tournament has attracted some of the best golfers in the world and the winners’ list is impressive.”
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