McIlroy, Rose and Donald among early birds for Abu Dhabi

13/08/2013 18:27:56
Abu Dhabi HSBC Champion Jamie Donaldson   (Getty Images)
Abu Dhabi HSBC Champion Jamie Donaldson (Getty Images)

Welshman Jamie Donaldson will face three of the world’s top 11 players and the European Tour’s hottest young talent when he defends his Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship title this coming January.

Rory McIlroy, the world number three; Justin Rose, the reigning US Open champion and world number five; Luke Donald, the world number 11, and Abu Dhabi’s record-breaking global golf ambassador, Matteo Manassero, the world number 28, have all staked their claims on the Championship’s coveted Falcon Trophy and US$ 2.7million prize fund – the richest purse offered on the Desert Swing, the European Tour’s trio of early-season, regional events.

In addition to the European star quintet, Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), the Championship organiser, has revealed a stellar cast of the world’s leading players is being assembled for a tournament now firmly established in the European Tour’s top three events in terms of world ranking points. 

“Over the last eight years, spectators at the National Course and those watching around the world have come to expect the unexpected at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship,” said Faisal Al Sheikh, Director, Events Bureau, TCA Abu Dhabi.

“Although the Championship is renowned for throwing up surprises, our commitment to delivering a world-class field is unwavering. While nothing is certain in golf, we can guarantee the Championship will feature four days of unrelenting on-course drama and a pioneering off-course village activation led by our unbelievably supportive title sponsor.”

With HSBC entering its fourth year as the Championship’s title sponsor, officials promised to raise the benchmark even further for the ninth edition - running January 16-19 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

HSBC Global Head of Sponsorship and Events Giles Morgan said: “The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is now well established as the first flagship event of the new golfing year – the quality of the event and the field just gets better and better and it has rightly earned the reputation as the jewel in the crown of Arabian golf.

“As a centre of international trade Abu Dhabi is the perfect location for a high profile HSBC event. We invested here because we saw there was an opportunity for growth and that we could be the catalyst for that growth; the tournament is now a key part of our global golf programme and through our partnership with the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority we are now looking to drive the Championship – and the game of golf – to the next level in the Arabian Gulf.”

Rose returns to the emirate after an agonisingly dramatic Abu Dhabi debut at this year’s Championship. With clubhouse leader Jamie Donaldson one-stroke clear, the Welshman’s victory was sealed when closest challenger Rose saw a 12-foot birdie putt lip-out in-front of packed galleries on the 18th green.

A typically-defiant Rose erased that disappointment with a ruthless victory at Merion Golf Club in June, as he became the first Englishman to secure a Major championship in 17 years and the first to lift the US Open trophy for 43 years. Now he’s ready for a second crack at the Falcon Trophy.

“You always remember your first tournaments in new places and Abu Dhabi is no different,” said Rose. “I remember coming up the last knowing I had a real chance to win the trophy. It wasn’t to be yet from what I gather, my putt lipping out is pretty typical of the drama that unfolds every year in Abu Dhabi.

“Everything in life happens for a reason and that disappointment deepened my resolve to make sure my season didn’t develop into a series of near-misses. Thankfully, the opposite happened and the US Open was obviously life-changing. It’s important to keep progressing and I want to start next season with the same sort of purpose I did this year – Abu Dhabi is key to that.”

Heading Rose’s challengers will be McIlroy – a two-time runner-up at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Watched by the opening two day’s largest-ever galleries, the Ulsterman unexpectedly missed the cut in January and he’s eager to wipe the slate clean when he returns for a fourth consecutive year.

“It’s been an up-and-down year but my game is going in the right direction and I feel like I’m nearly there again,” said McIlroy, who scooped a Major championship in 2011 and 2012. “I’ve shown good form in the past in Abu Dhabi and I’ve always enjoyed playing the National Course. It’s a great venue that always draws big crowds, so hopefully I can give them more to cheer about next season. I was very disappointed to miss the cut in January but I’ve been close to that trophy a few times before and hopefully it’ll be my turn next year.”

After being made an Honorary Life Member of The European Tour last year, Donald, a former world number one, is another giant tipped for Abu Dhabi glory. The first player to win both the European Tour and PGA Tour money lists in the same season (2011), Donald’s accurate ball-striking is perfectly-suited for a title tilt on the notoriously-treacherous National Course. With three previous Abu Dhabi appearances under his belt (2008, 2011 and 2012), the Englishman insisted the emirate is the destination to tee-off the new season.

“After a break through Christmas and the New Year, Abu Dhabi is a huge stage where the world’s very best players are all looking to start a fresh season with victory. The size and scope of the tournament creates real early season buzz and there’s always a genuine sense of anticipation as everybody guesses over who’ll find their form first – it’s fantastic to be a part of that,” said Donald, who visited the 300-metre high sand dunes of Abu Dhabi’s Liwa Desert – dubbed ‘the world’s biggest bunkers’ - on his last visit to the emirate in 2012.

“My aim for Abu Dhabi is the same as always: be in contention and, if the putts roll in, win. I’ve been more diligent with my preparations recently, working on my putting and harnessing the shots that I know need some attention. I’m definitely moving forward with my game and I have a good feeling about the progress I’m making.”

After securing the biggest win of his fledgling career at May’s BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, Manassero - who sports ‘Golf in Abu Dhabi’ on his cap as part of a global golf ambassador role with TCA Abu Dhabi – is eager to carry his stunning form through to his next professional outing in his ‘second home’. 

“It’s been a busy and crazy year so far but I’m feeling good,” said the youngest-ever three-time winner on the European Tour. “The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is right up there with the world’s best tournaments now and the emirate would be the perfect place to secure my fifth professional win. My all-round game is improving with every tournament and I’m feeling stronger mentally and physically. Winning in Abu Dhabi is second only to winning a Major in my objectives list – for me it is a case of when, not if.”

With so many of the world’s top 20 players eyeing his title, reigning champion Donaldson is confident he can defend the Falcon Trophy and prove his second – and biggest – career win was no fluke.

"We all want consistency every week but in reality it’s all about winning the big tournaments - it's about getting 'W's' on your record. Victory brings its own type of pressure but I'm keeping expectations in check and concentrating on all the small things that keep me playing well. You are where you are in golf and until January 19 next year I am the Abu Dhabi champion - I won't be giving it up without a fight and I very much look forward to playing in such a wonderful part of the world again."

Via its specialist one-stop-shop ‘Golf in Abu Dhabi’ initiative, TCA Abu Dhabi has launched a series of ‘Play, Stay and Watch’ packages for international spectators and golf tourists to take in the Championship.

Based around three-, five- and seven-night products, varying options for flights, on-the-ground transfers, accommodation, tee-times at the emirate’s six diverse playing facilities and access to most of Abu Dhabi’s leading leisure and culture-based attractions ensure packages can be tailored to suit all kinds of budget.

Additionally, international travellers booking seven-night packages will receive a complimentary VIP group clinic at the Championship with a world top 30 player. To find out more about the packages or to book a tailored Championship experience, visit: www.golfinabudhabi.com

Available via the event’s official website – www.abudhabigolfchampionship.com - and (INSERT TICKETMASTER DETAILS), Championship tickets are priced at AED50 (US$13.3) for a daily pass and AED150 (US$ 40) for a four-day pass, while a 20% ‘early bird’ discount offer is available on all Championship tickets booked before October 31.

A new-look Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship website featuring information on Abu Dhabi Golf Club, the star-studded playing field and the world-class line-up of family-friendly activations in the HSBC Championship Village, is due to launch in October.

 The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has attracted a marquee line-up of sponsors, including:
• HSBC – Title Partner
• St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort – Official Hotel Partner
• Etihad Airways – Official Airline Partner
• Cadillac – Official Automobile Partner
• Rolex – Official Timekeeper Partner
• Xerox – Official Document Management Provider
• Nike Golf – Official Apparel Supplier
• Media Partners – CNN (TV); Gulf News (Newspaper); Golf Digest Middle East (Magazine)

Fans can also follow the Championship online and via various social media:
Website: www.abudhabigolfchampionship.com
Facebook: Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship
Twitter: @adgolfchamps / #adunexpected