Monday, January 26, 2009

The 20th Dubai Desert Classic

The third event in the European Tour's Persian Gulf swing has historically featured the best field, as hefty appearance fees have been paid to the world's best to tee it up in the Dubai Desert Classic. Tiger Woods, the 2006 and defending ('08) champion, has reportedly collected upwards of $3Million just to play in the event each year.

This year, with the $10,000,000 Race to Dubai, the stakes have been raised and more top players than ever are headed to the desert, armed with affiliate European Tour memberships, to try to cash in. Most players have already played in the first two events in the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi Championship and last week's Qatar Masters.

The European Tour's swing through the Persian Gulf features prize pools that nearly double the tour norm, with another $2.5 Million up for grabs this week. The tour's best and brightest are looking to position themselves for a run at their share of the $10,000,000 Race to Dubai, as well as securing a spot in the top 60 on that list, allowing them to play in the Dubai World Championship, which will feature a $10,000,000 prize pool!

World #2, Sergio Garcia, will be in the field this week and looks to continue a strong start to the '09 season. Garcia won the season opening HSBC title in China and followed with back-to-back top tens in the U.A.E. (T-8 Abu Dhabi, T-7 Qatar). He has yet to shoot over par in his first 12 rounds, and currently sports a scoring average of 68.58. The 28-year-old Spaniard currently leads the Race to Dubai, but a long season is ahead of him, as the race runs through November 22nd and the aforementioned Dubai World Championship. As it has been in recent years with the Order of Merit, which the Race to Dubai replaces, all four majors and each WGC event will also be counted towards the final money list standings.

Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez, and '08 European Tour Rookie of the Year Pablo Larrazabal will join Sergio and Qatar Masters champ Alvaro Quiros, respresenting a strong Spanish contigent at this week's event.

Sweden boasts two players currently ranked within the World Top Ten and both will be in Dubai this week, as Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson ('07 Dubai winner) both try to step into the winner's circle for the first time in '09. Stenson played great in Qatar, holding the lead at one point on the back nine Sunday, but ended in a T-2 after Alvaro Quiros poured in a few late birdies.

Ernie Els has seemingly spent more time in the air than on the golf course, lately, as he flew from South Africa to Hawaii to the U.A.E. in a three week span. He stays grounded this week, making the short trip from Qatar to Dubai. Hopefully, it will bring a little stability to his game, as he only managed a T-31 last week and a T-39 at the Sony, after getting off to a good start with a T-6 at Kapalua. Dubai should bring back fond memories for Els, as he has always played extremely well, having won three times ('94, '02, '05).

Americans Mark O-Meara and Erik Compton have both received sponsors exemptions into the field. O'Meara won this event in 2004, and Compton is trying to get his career on track after TWO heart transplants have put his career on the back-burner to suriving.

Other notables in the field include a strong cast from the United Kingdom: Rory McIlroy, Paul Lawrie, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Paul McGinley, and 2010 Ryder Cup captain hopeful, Colin Montgomerie.

Martin Kaymer entered the final round in 2008 tied with Tiger Woods and shot a fantastic 66. Of course, Tiger shot 65 and beat the young German by a stroke in a dramatic finale to last year's event. Kaymer returns, has been playing well, and is not a bad choice if you're a betting man.

This week's European Tour event should be a good one, and all four rounds are being shown in the mornings on the Golf Channel. The commentary and camerawork leaves a little to be desired, but the golf should be great!