The European Tour travels to the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. England’s Robert Rock defends the title and a stellar field has assembled.

This is the first of three straight European Tour events that will be held in The Gulf States. The Qatar Masters then the Dubai Desert Classic will follow this event in consecutive weeks.

First contested in 2006, this is an event that’s been dominated by two players – Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey. The Englishman won in 2007 and 2009, while the German has thrice been the champion – 2008, 2010 and 2011. Last year it was England’s Robert Rock who came out on top, finishing one clear of Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.

All three of those former champions will start this week but they’ll have their work cut out to win again. World Number 1 and last year’s runner-up, Rory McIlroy is on the start sheet again, so too is World Number 2, Tiger Woods. England’s Justin Rose and Jason Dufner of the USA will also tee it up.

McIlroy has a formidable record in this tournament. He’s finished inside the top-five in his last four starts at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. He’s relishing the prospect of his first competitive outing of 2013.

“I’ve had a nice break over Christmas and the New Year, but it’s back to business now. Abu Dhabi is a great place to start the season, as it’s one of my favourite tournaments,” he said. “Hopefully I can carry my momentum over from last year into this one.”

Designed by renowned desert course architect Peter Harradine, the course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club is long and challenging with plenty of water hazards to negotiate. Stretched last season to 7,600 yards, it’s a venue that suits the power hitters.

Venue: Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Date: Jan 17-20
Course stats: par 72, 7,600 yards
Purse: €2,020,000 Winner: €336,725
Defending Champion: Robert Rock (-13)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 17 – Sky Sports 1 from 6am
Friday 18 – Sky Sports 2 from 6am
Saturday 19 – Sky Sports 3 from 9am
Sunday 20 – Sky Sports 3 from 8am

Player Watch:
All eyes will be on Rory and Tiger, but who else might sneak under the radar and feature this week?

George Coetzee – The South African was tied sixth here last year and is making his 2013 debut after an excellent 2012. He’ll be looking to make a step-up this season and a good performance here would be the perfect springboard.

Thomas Bjorn – Tied third here last year and tied ninth last week in Durban. The Dane will be looking to continue his solid start to 2013.

Paul Lawrie – Another man who finished in the top-10 here last year and the top-10 in the Volvo Champions last week. Expect for him to place this time out.

Key hole: 18th. Played directly towards the iconic Falcon shaped clubhouse, the final hole is a par-5 that’s been extended to 567 yards. It’s still reachable in two for the longest hitters and that means the tournament could swing at the death.

Where next?
PGA Tour –
Humana Challenge preview