Golf

Tiger, Rory open year in spotlight

Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose pose with a camel at Abu Dhabi.
GolfWeek Alistair Tait
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ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The 2013 European Tour season might be three tournaments old, but it really kicks off in earnest in the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The number of big hitters in the field makes this a “proper” golf tournament.

Here are Five Things to watch for in Abu Dhabi this week:

1. Tiger vs. Rory Show

The oil-rich emirate and HSBC have shelled out a lot of money to lure the world’s two most recognized players to the Middle East. The combined appearance fee of both is probably more than the total prize money.

The sponsors are milking their appearance for all its worth. As with last year, they are paired together for the first two rounds. They go out at 10:40 p.m. ET on Wednesday (7:40 a.m. local time) and 3 a.m. on Friday morning, in the company of former world No. 1 Martin Kaymer.

McIlroy won the battle last year, finishing second to Robert Rock, with Woods tied for third, a stroke behind. The difference this year is that the current world No. 1 has switched clubs. Will McIlroy’s Nike debut be enough to get the better of Woods, or will he need some more competitive time to break in the new sticks? And will Tiger make a statement of intent as to how he will fare in this year’s majors?

2. Getting back to his best?

Martin Kaymer practically owned this tournament a few years ago. The German won three times and finished second in four years from 2008-11. He was an incredible 80 under for those four years.

Last year, Kaymer inexplicably missed the cut, blaming swing changes for throwing his game off course. The German arrives in the Middle East with renewed confidence after holing the putt that helped Europe retain last year’s Ryder Cup.

The man from Dusseldorf reached World No. 1 shortly after his 2011 Abu Dhabi win. He has since sunk to 28th on the world pecking order, but feels he’s ready to move upwards.

TABLES TURNED

With Rory McIlroy getting all the attention, Tiger Woods knows how his fellow pros felt all these years.

“I’m ready to compete against the best,” Kaymer said. “Whether it’s enough for No. 1, we will see.

“In everything you achieve, the journey is the fun part. I don’t know where the journey will get me to. Just knowing that I will get up there eventually and I can compete against Rory, Tiger, Phil (Mickelson) and all those guys again is the exciting part.”

Kaymer will find out this week where his journey is heading.

3. Only in it for the money

Jason Dufner might be teeing it up in Abu Dhabi and next week’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, but don’t expect him to be making a habit of playing in European Tour events. He’s in Abu Dhabi only for the appearance money.

The languid American was asked the question most US visitors are asked when they turn up in places like Abu Dhabi: Any thoughts of joining the European Tour?

Strange question considering the only time Dufner has actually played in Europe is in the British Open. The closest he has ever came to a “regular” European Tour event came at the end of last year, when he finished second in the co-sanctioned ISPS Hand Perth International.

No surprise then when he said: “It (Euro Tour membership) could be a possibility in the future, but not this year.”

PLAYING NICE

After Ryder Cup rejection, Colin Montgomerie takes the high road.

Not any year, more likely. Dufner joining the European Tour has about as much chance as Colin Montgomerie climbing Mount Everest.

So why is Dufner in the Middle East?

“I just think it’s a good thing to kind of compete around the world and see where you stack up,” he said.

Heard that one before, many times. Of course, it couldn’t be anything to do with the large wad of greenbacks stuffed into his back pocket, could it? Strangely, it never is.

4. Players to watch

Keep an eye on 26-year-old Swede Kristoffer Broberg. He’s the talk of the range this year in the early running for Rookie of the Year.

Broberg won four times on the European Challenge Tour last year to guarantee himself a place on the main tour this year. The word is he practices harder than anyone. With his long hair sticking out of his cap he looks every inch the Viking. Will he have the strength, though, to compete against the world’s best?

CO-STARS

Nike wastes no time putting Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods together in a new ad.

Also watch for Norway’s Espen Kofstad. He topped last year’s European Challenge Tour Order of Merit to gain a ticket to the big show. No male Norwegian has ever come close to matching Suzann Pettersen’s exploits in the women’s game. Can Kofstad rise to that challenge?

5. Rock's encore

Robert Rock surprised everyone last year by taking down Woods in a head-to-head matchup on the final day. The one-time teaching pro made for great copy. A story about a journeyman pro who once worked at Swingers Golf Centre practically wrote itself.

There was talk of Rock using the victory as a springboard to a Ryder Cup place. However, he never came close to his Abu Dhabi form the rest of the year, posting just one top-10 finish.

What will the Englishman do for an encore?

Tagged: Jason Dufner, Robert Rock, Martin Kaymer

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