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Top players head to the Gulf

The European PGA Tour opens a three-week swing in the Gulf taking in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai with Tiger Woods providing the finale.

It was Dubai that became the EPGA's first golf tournament in 1989 with the Qatari capital Doha following in 1998 and Abu Dhabi linking up to make it a regional three-in-a-row last year.

It's all part of the Gulf region's growing importance in golf and sports in general linked in with the measures taken to develop the area in leisure infrastructures and promote it as a tourism haven.

The second Abu Dhabi Golf Championships sees feisty American Cris DiMarco defend the title he won last year against a top field including six of Europe's triumphant Ryder Cup team.

European Player of the Year Paul Casey and Order of Merit winner Padraig Harrington are joined by Sergio Garcia of Spain, Swedes Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson as well as former European number one Colin Montgomerie of Scotland.

Stenson finished second to DiMarco last year before going on to win in Doha the following week and placing joint seventh in Dubai en route for Ryder Cup glory.

Irishman Harrington will be getting his year underway earlier than usual in the captial emirate and will be the second highest-ranking player taking part at world number nine, one behind South African Retief Goosen.

There will also be an interest in the appearance of former American standout Notah Begay who has decided to try his luck out on the other side of the Atlantic and won his tour card last November.

"Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi and I made golfing history and while it's commonly held that history never repeats itself, I shall be looking to turn that particular saying on its head next January," the 38-year-old DiMarco said last month.

"The start of the year brings many opportunities and I view the Abu Dhabi Championships as an important personal goal for 2007."

The National Course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club has undergone extensive work since last year with new bunkers and new tees added on several of the holes.

The following week, Stenson will defend his Qatar Masters title in a field that will include 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell of New Zealand, former winner Ernie Els of South Africa, DiMarco, Garcia and Goosen.

The tournament will be jointly sanctioned by the Asian PGA Tour and has attracted most of the top players from that continent.

To finish off the three-week swing, world number one Woods will again be the big draw at the Dubai Desert Classic from February 1-4 where he is the defending champion, having won for the first time last year in a dream play-off against Els.

The American is due to kick start his season the previous week at the Buick Invitational in San Diego and Dubai will be a key test of his form as he begins his preparations for the year's first Major, the Masters at Augusta in early April.

January 17, 2007


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