The European Tour’s Middle Eastern swing concludes this week with the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club. Rafa Cabrera-Bello of Spain will defend the title.

Strong fields assembled in Abu Dhabi then again in Qatar over the last two weeks on the European Tour, and this week will be no different. Lee Westwood will make his first appearance of 2013 and he’ll be joined by fellow Englishman Paul Casey, who continues to progress on the road back to his best form. Last week’s winner in Qatar, Chris Wood will make a start, so too will Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.

This will be the 24th running of the Dubai Desert Classic and the list of past winners is impressive – Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and Tiger Woods have all lifted the trophy. Last season Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello came out on top. He finished one clear of Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher and Lee Westwood of England.

Dubai has been a happy hunting ground for Spaniards over the last few seasons. Miguel Angel Jimenez took the title at the Emirates in 2010, Alvaro Quiros followed in 2011 before Cabrera-Bello made it a Spanish hat-trick last season.

The Majlis Course at the Emirates Club was the first all-grass layout in the Gulf and it’s still recognised as one of the finest tracks in the Middle East. Travelling through the desert dunes, fairways pass seven lakes, desert areas, indigenous flora and the “Majlis” themselves. Arabic for meeting place, these tent-like structures are a distinctive feature sitting between the 8th and 9th holes.

The history of the Dubai Desert Classic dates back to 1986 when His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum approved the construction of a golf course in the desert. The Emirates Club opened two years later and the next season Mark James was winner of the inaugural Karl Litten Desert Classic (the competition was originally named after the designer of the course.)

This week represents a milestone for France’s Thomas Levet as he makes his 500th European Tour start.

Venue: Emirates Golf Club, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Date: Jan 31 – Feb 3
Course stats: par 72, 7,301 yards
Purse: €1,858,460 Winner: €309,232
Defending Champion: Rafa Cabrera-Bello (-18)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 31 – Sky Sports 1 from 6am
Friday 1 – Sky Sports 2 from 6am
Saturday 2 – Sky Sports 3 from 9am
Sunday 3 – Sky Sports 3 from 8am

Player Watch:
Thorbjorn Olesen – The Dane looks like being one of the players of 2013. He’s finished tied second and tied 22nd in his last two starts in the desert and he played reasonably in this event last year. Everyone’s waiting for him to make the next step on the ladder to the top echelons of the game and this could be the week.

Scott Jamieson – He had a fabulous start to the 2013 campaign with a win, a tie for third and a second place down in Africa. He’s struggled a little in the desert but this is a tournament he was tied fifth in last year, so look for him to do well this week.

Stephen Gallacher – Another man who’s not played to his full potential in the last two weeks. But a return to the scene of his tied second place finish last season might just inspire him.

Key hole: 9th. At 463 yards it’s one of the longest par-4s on the course. Add the complication of the water waiting all down the left side to an awkwardly shaped green and you have a real brute.

Skills required: Course management. There are a number of water hazards and bunkers to contend with as well as desert areas around the Majlis course. The winner will plot his way round employing a blend of power and accuracy.

Where next?
PGA Tour –
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