On Thursday February 10, armed with bags of iron and panting caddies, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic will roll into town, dragging in its wake some of the finest golfers the world has to offer. Long considered the jewel in the crown of the European Tour’s Middle Eastern fixtures (the other two are taking place in Abu Dhabi and Qatar), the tournament has become an established date in the city’s social and sporting calendar since debuting back in 1989.
Obviously, this being Dubai, there’s an undisputed edge of glamour to the tournament (this year’s prize money is a nice little cheque for US$2.5 million), but the Desert Classic is also viewed as perfect preparation for the Masters, the US Open, British Open and the PGA Championship, hence the roll call of household names, from Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer to the paparazzi’s favourite, Mr Tiger Woods.
Indeed, of all the players descending on Emirates Golf Course, it’s still an off-form Tiger who’s attracting all the media attention: last year the squeaky-clean golfing poster boy transformed overnight into an almost untouchable love rat, and Wood’s arduous downhill slide has had a clear impact on his playing performance – he conceded the world number one ranking to England’s Lee Westwood, having held the title for a record 281 weeks, and hasn’t won a tournament since.
Yet, as an arena for the old hand to re-establish himself as the best in the world, there’s no better place for Tiger to come than Dubai. With the exception of Ernie Els, no other golfer has a better record in the Dubai Desert Classic: Woods has won the tournament two times and never finished outside the top five.
‘It’s a great venue,’ he recently said of Emirates Golf Club. ‘The Majlis course is always immaculate and the weather reminds me of being back home in Florida. What they’ve done is phenomenal. I’ve never witnessed anything like this and I don’t think anyone, anywhere in the world, has seen this kind of growth. Golf is just one component of it. The skyline keeps changing and the people turn out in droves [at the tournament] – it’s clear that they thoroughly enjoy it.’
This year is potentially Tiger’s last at the Desert Classic – it’s long been rumoured that he’s had an exclusivity deal with Dubai, which is soon to expire. This aside, he’s coming to the UAE to make a statement: he believes he’s still the world’s best. Will 2011 be the year of the Tiger? If so, it starts here.
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic runs from February 10-13 (tee-off times TBC). Tickets Dhs175 per day. Emirates Golf Club, Sheikh Zayed Road, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.dubaidesertclassic.com (04 380 2222).
For years, the carnival-like atmosphere at Omega Dubai Desert Classic has kept everyone entertained; expect nothing less in 2011. Fans will benefit from a giant TV screen in the public village, which will show all the action on the course. Needless to say there will be plenty of stalls and outlets selling refreshments, as well as free golf clinics, kids’ entertainment and all the big-name golfing brands selling their wares.
This year’s event also features an exhibition challenge match between five of the top players: Tiger Woods, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, Jeev Milkha Singh, Mark O’Meara and Noh Seung-yul will go head to head on February 8 at 6pm. The floodlit Majlis course will give the stars a chance to showcase their skills, as well as enabling fans to get up close and personal with the golfers during a clinic in wedge play.
Tickets for the challenge match (February 8) and Pro-Am competition (February 9) cost Dhs75 (Dhs60 for Emirates Golf Federation members). Email email@example.com.
Three to watch
Tiger Woods may be the most recognisable player to grace this year’s tournament, but he has some tough competition. Ben Jacobs, editor of Middle East Golfer magazine, gives us the lowdown on the Dubai Desert Classic’s other top contenders.
1 Lee Westwood: Westwood is the only world number one never to have won a major. From the Brit’s point of view, he’ll want to retain his number-one ranking and, yes, he obviously wants to do well in Dubai – after his heartbreak last year, when he lost in the playoffs to Jiménez, he’ll want a chance to redeem himself on UAE soil. He didn’t do too well in Abu Dhabi last month, either, so he’s looking to assert himself as the top seed. The big aim for him this year is to use tournaments such as Dubai to prepare himself for the majors.
2 Martin Kaymer: German pro Kaymer retained his title at the 2011 Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in January, the first tournament of the Desert Swing; as a result of his victory, he leapfrogged Tiger Woods to become the world number two. He’s played in 100 European Tour events and won 16 of them – a particularly good win percentage – and was the fastest European Tour player to reach €10 million (Dhs50 million) in earnings throughout his career. Kaymer is regarded as a consistent, almost mechanical player; he’s a fairly good putter and enjoys the desert. He’ll be one to watch.
3 Miguel Ángel Jiménez: The Spaniard won the Dubai Desert Classic last year, he’s a Ryder Cup winner, and he’s probably a future Ryder Cup captain to boot. He’d also be a popular winner here in Dubai – he’s a colourful character and a bit of a party animal, not to mention a favourite among the fans. As for his motivation, no golfer has ever won back-to-back Dubai Desert Classics, so Jiménez will be looking to cement his reputation by defending his title.