Two of Europe’s brightest young golfing talents, Matteo Manassero and Tom Lewis, are hoping strong Abu Dhabi connections will serve them well against a who’s who of the world’s top players when The European Tour returns to the Gulf for the 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Despite their tender years, Italy’s Manassero and Englishman Lewis, aged 18 and 20 respectively, will both be looking to bring their extensive experience of Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National Course to bear over the four days of competition from January 26-29.
Manassero, a global golf ambassador for Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), the Championship organiser, will contest his third consecutive Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, while Lewis, the 2011 Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year, dismantled the Par 72 course with a stunning round of 64 en route to finishing second in the 2009 Abu Dhabi Junior Golf Championship.
“Our commitment to bringing the world’s best players to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship every year is only matched by our steadfast support of grassroots golf, both locally and internationally, so it is fantastic to see protégés from the Junior Golf Championship, like Tom, returning to contest the main event,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Manager, ADTA.
“I remember seeing Tom a few years ago and you could tell he was going to be a wonderful professional. Even then he was very powerful and technically fluid - I’m sure it won’t be just the English contingent in our galleries that enjoy seeing him play. As for Matteo, who works so hard promoting Abu Dhabi internationally as a world-class golf destination, he can be assured of a hero’s welcome on his return to the National.”
The world of golf may lie at their respective feet, but neither youngster will have an easy run next month, as ADTA, alongside HSBC, the event’s Title Sponsor, has gathered arguably the strongest-ever field for a Middle East tournament.
With more players set to be confirmed in coming weeks, the star-studded field is already jam-packed with the world’s best players.
Among the contenders are defending and three-time champion, Martin Kaymer; two-time champion Paul Casey; three reigning Major winners, Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Rory McIlroy (US Open) and Darren Clarke (The Open); World Number One, Luke Donald; World Number Three, Lee Westwood, as well as Abu Dhabi debutant and 14-time major winner, Tiger Woods.
Australia’s World Number Eight, Jason Day, and Korean sensation, KJ Choi, the current World Number 15, have also signed up to try and claim their first Middle East title and a share of the event’s US$2.7 million prize fund.
Having broken records at every stage of his fledgling career, Manassero, who has two European Tour wins to his name, is eager to make it third time lucky in Abu Dhabi.
“The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is one of the biggest tournaments we play in all year outside of the Majors and the World Golf Championships, so I am hoping to make a good start to the year to help my quest for Ryder Cup qualification,” said Manassero, who became the youngest winner in European Tour history upon capturing the Castello Masters in October 2010 aged 17 years and 188 days. He claimed his second career victory at this year’s Maybank Malaysian Open.
“I first played in Abu Dhabi on an amateur invitation in 2010 and I was astonished by the size and luxury of the Emirates Palace, where all the players are accommodated; I remember thinking how much I wanted to be a professional if every tournament was going to be like that. Although I’ve made the cut both times I’ve played in Abu Dhabi, I haven’t really featured on the leader board and that is my aim this January.”
After claiming his maiden European Tour title in only his third professional start at October’s Portugal Masters, Lewis is relishing the prospect of kicking-off his first full year as a professional on familiar territory.
“It’s going to be great coming back to Abu Dhabi – time has really flown since the junior tournament two years ago,” said Lewis, who underlined his star quality at the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, where he posted the lowest-ever score by an amateur in Open history - a scintillating opening round of 65.
“Pretty much every tournament in 2012 is going to be a new experience, so being in Abu Dhabi will be great because it is a course I know well. I can’t wait to get back on the National and I’m already looking forward to playing in to the 18th green with that spectacular falcon-shaped clubhouse behind. The field is amazing and I’m crossing my fingers that I get paired with one of the top names, like Luke Donald or Tiger Woods at some point during the week..”
Having initiated a series of activities that saw 40,000 spectators attend this year’s event, up 20 per cent on 2010 figures, HSBC, the Championship’s Title sponsor, is anticipating the quality of field – coupled with a vastly improved programme of entertainment and events in the expanded Championship Village - will attract even more visitors in 2012.
Away from all the course action, the Championship Village has been expanded to 1,200m² and provides a fantastic range of attractions, prizes, games, competitions, live performances and family-friendly fun. Fans will also be able to enjoy the popular HSBC Interactive Zone, with its variety of sporting activities that reflect the diversity of HSBC’s global sports sponsorship. Open to all, the HSBC Interactive Zone allows people to test and hone their swing and putting techniques, while non-golfers can spend time in the creative area.
With Championship tickets priced at AED 50 for a daily pass and AED 150 for a four-day pass, a range of innovative promotions have also been introduced for next year. As well as a family-friendly picnic day, the first-ever ‘Dress in Red Day’ will see any visitor with red in their outfit - whether something simple like a red hat or even red accessories - enter for free. As is tradition at the family-centric event, Emirates Golf Federation members and children under-18 – when accompanied by an adult – also enter free of charge. HSBC customers can benefit by simply presenting their cards at the entry gate during tournament week. Premier card holders can redeem two daily tickets, while regular card holders can claim one daily ticket.
Tickets are available via the event’s official website, www.abudhabigolfchampionship.com, as well as online at www.timeouttickets.com and www.itptickets.com. Phone bookings can be made through the ITP toll-free hotline 800 4669, or for international visitors, +971 4 210 8943.