Rory McIlroy spotted at UAE driving range

Columnist Tom Bushell looks ahead to the Abu Dhabi golf champs

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A friend of mine was at the Els Club this week and saw a chap on the driving range. He said the man had a Manchester United golf bag; he thought to himself: ‘Look at this kid – who does he think he is?’ He then saw him hit a ball and noticed it was quite a good shot – ‘lucky, I’m sure’ – followed by another decent shot.

The keen golfer then turned around: it was world number one Rory McIlroy, getting some practice in before the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which runs from January 17 to 20.

The Abu Dhabi tournament marks the beginning of the Desert Swing, three tournaments back to back in Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai. McIlroy has finished runner-up for the past two years and he’s certainly more than capable of winning in the capital if his Els Club practice is anything to go by (although the Manchester United golf bag can go).

Tiger Woods, the world number three and 14-time major winner, is also looking good for Abu Dhabi and is talking himself up for the championship – he believes he’s the fittest he’s been for more than 10 months. No matter how he performs, it’s great to see Tiger playing in the country.

Of course, the European Tour covers the entire globe, and some of the courses are located in stunning resorts. But it’s not just golf that can take you to paradise. Beach soccer also has plenty of potential: Tahiti is the setting for the 2014 Beach Soccer World Cup in September. The UAE side are hard at work next week in Qatar attempting to qualify, and if they do I think the Tahitian embassy will be a little busy with visa requests for any beach soccer fans in the UAE. I’m one of them, and even if you haven’t followed the side, Tahiti is a good enough reason to do so. UAE coach Marcelo Mendes has only once failed to get his side to the World Cup, so book your trip now before everyone else does (but don’t blame me if they don’t qualify)…

And another thing…
We may have seen Bradley Wiggins in a drowned rat capacity at the Rugby Sevens, but we could well see him competing in the UAE in 2014. The International Cycling Union and Dubai Sports Council have announced they will stage a ‘Dubai Tour’ next year, featuring the world’s best cyclists competing in the emirate. I would apply to be Bradley’s water boy for the race, but I’m not sure I’d be able to keep up…

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