Abu Dhabi Golf Championship Preview

The European Tour travels to The Gulf to begin its “Middle Eastern Swing” this week. First stop is the United Arab Emirates for the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship where Paul Casey defends the title.

Paul Casey defends

Lowdown: The European Tour begins its Middle Eastern swing with the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. It's the fourth running of the event and many of the world's best players will return to the Emirate to battle it out around this excellent Peter Harradine designed layout. Last season, Paul Casey completed a thrilling one-shot victory over Germany's Martin Kaymer. The win acted as a springboard for the 32-year-old as he went on to finish as runner-up in the WGC Accenture Match Play and to claim victory at the BMW PGA Championship. 2009 could have been an even better year for the Englishman had he not sustained a rib injury at the Open Championship that forced him to take the rest of the season off. Casey is now back from that injury and keen to defend his title. "I feel hungry to play a lot of golf," he said. "If I can just stay fit and healthy there's no reason why I can't do better things this year. An extremely strong field has assembled in Abu Dhabi. Inaugural Race to Dubai winner Lee Westwood makes his first start of 2010 and he'll be joined by the players who were second and third in the 2009 Race to Dubai - Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer. Sergio Garcia, Geoff Ogilvy, Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson will all tee it up at the National Course.

Venue: Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates Date: Jan 21-24 Course stats: par 72, 7,510 yards Purse: €1,500,000 Winner: €250,000 Defending Champion: Paul Casey (-21)

TV Coverage: Thursday 21 - Live on Sky Sports 1 from 7am Friday 22 - Live on Sky Sports 2 from 7am Saturday 23 - Live on Sky Sports 2 from 9am Sunday 24 - Live on Sky Sports 3 from 9am Player Watch: Martin Kaymer - The 2008 champion was runner-up here last season. It's clearly a course that suits the German and he's confident of another good showing this time out. "I think there is no better way to start the season than to come back to Abu Dhabi and put in a great result," he said. Geoff Ogilvy - He looked to be on sublime form in winning the SBS Championship in Hawaii. When he's at the top of his game, he's a match for anybody in the world. Rory McIlroy - He had a solid top-5 here last year and will be looking to start 2010 with a bang. McIlroy is such a talented player, he has a chance of winning every tournament he starts. Charl Schwartzel - He's won the last two tournaments on the European Tour and has the chance of becoming the first player since Seve Ballesteros to win three on the spin.

Key hole: 18th. Played directly towards the iconic Falcon shaped clubhouse, the final hole is a par five of 557 yards - reachable in two for the longest hitters, it means the tournament could swing at the death. Skills required: Power hitting. At 7,500 yards the course favours the longer hitters. Casey won last year and in 2007 while Martin Kaymer took the title in 2008 - both are renowned for their prodigious ball-striking.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?