Nike stablemates face off in Abu Dhabi

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club in the United Arab Emirate signals to the world that the 2013 golfing year is well and truly underway.

Although there have already been two PGA Tour and one European Tour events this calendar year, that the world number one and two will do battle for the first time in 2013 provides a focus of attention for the game that has been missing to date.

The tournament carries not exactly huge prize-money but the resources of the event reach far and wide, their collective and financial power attracting Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

It will be the first occasion the game's current greatest attractions will play in the same event as stable mates under the Nike umbrella and there will be much anticipation as to how McIlroy's new and lucrative deal with the American sporting giant pans out on the golf course.

McIlroy has a brilliant record at this golf course, having been inside the top five of four of the five occasions he has played the event. The Northern Irishman has not played competitively since Dubai World Championship which he won but he has no doubt been preparing himself for his 2013 debut and a lack of tournament play should not be a major issue for him.

With four victories in his last nine starts of 2012 McIlory deserves to start favourite just ahead of Woods. Woods' last event was at his own tournament the World Challenge in California in December where he finished 4th. He played sparingly towards the end of 2012 but whenever he did play he was impressive and has often shown in the past that he can perform well after a tournament break.

Justin Rose plays his first event of 2013 but the manner in which he finished off 2012 suggests he will be quickly back into tournament mode. His last event was when 4th at the Australian Open six weeks ago and despite the fact that this is his first time he will play in Abu Dhabi he is such a class player it should not count against him.

Jason Dufner missed only one cut in 2012, that coming in his very first event of the season but from that point on he was superb, winning twice and being runner-up on three other occasions. He gave an indication when runner-up at the Perth International in October that new venues and new environments don't bother him and even though an average 18th in a limited field at the Hyundai he could improve sharply.

Martin Kaymer won his last start of 2012 when he took out the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa and he is nearly back to the level of golf he was producing two years ago. If that is the case then he has a very good chance this week on a golf course that has been so good to him.

Already a two time winner of this event, Kaymer, appears likely to be a strong contender again and continue his rise back toward the elite of the game. It is important to note that in his 2011 victory he finished eight shots ahead of Rory McIlroy who was runner-up.

Others well worth keeping an eye on are the improving Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els and Francesco Molinari.

The Australians in the field are Marcus Fraser, Richard Green, Brett Rumford and Andrew Dodt while Michael Campbell is the sole New Zealander and looks to continue the improvement he displayed late in 2012.

Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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