Next year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship will feature arguably the strongest field ever assembled at a Middle East golf tournament, after organisers Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) and title sponsor HSBC unveiled an eye-catching roster of Major winners and past and present world number ones for the January 26-29 showpiece.
Three reigning Major winners head Abu Dhabi's 2012 line-up and will battle it out for the European PGA Tour-sanctioned event's US$2.7 million prize fund, with Charl Schwartzel (US Masters), Rory McIlroy (US Open) and Darren Clarke (Open Championship) all eyeing top honours at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
The Major-winning trio will be joined in Abu Dhabi's dream field by Luke Donald, the current world number one, and three other players that have reached the summit of the sport's rankings: Martin Kaymer, the defending champion and three-time Falcon trophy winner, enigmatic Englishman Lee Westwood, and Abu Dhabi debutant, Tiger Woods – the most famous name in golf.
With more household names set to be confirmed in coming weeks, half of the world's top 10 players – including Australia's Jason Day, the current world number eight – will square-off on the National Course for the championship's seventh showing. The contenders also include Korean sensation, KJ Choi – the current world number 15.
"The giants of golf are coming to Abu Dhabi," said Faisal Al Sheikh, Events Manager, ADTA. "Traditionally, we have prioritised depth of field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and that has not changed for our seventh year. It is safe to say we are amassing the finest field to ever contest a Middle East tournament.
"Much-loved by Abu Dhabi galleries, the ever-popular Martin Kaymer will be back; but to win a fourth title he must overcome his sternest challenge yet. The collection of world-class contenders includes familiar faces and some new ones. We are confident that record crowds will gather to see Tiger Woods make his Abu Dhabi debut in what will be his only competitive Middle East appearance of the year."
Having initiated a series of activities that saw 40,000 spectators attend this year's event, up 20 per cent on 2010 figures, HSBC, the Championship's Title sponsor, are anticipating the quality of field – coupled with a vastly improved programme of entertainment and events in the expanded Championship Village – will attract even more visitors in 2012.
"Today, we are cementing the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship's position as the region's pre-eminent date on the Tour calendar. In our second year as sponsor, we are delighted to see such major steps forward in terms of players and in the overall offering for spectators," said Simon Cooper, Deputy Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, HSBC Middle East & North Africa.
"The Championship has become a key part of our global golf programme and through our partnership with ADTA we are now looking to drive the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship – and the game of golf – to the next level in the Middle East.
"Earlier this month we saw our defending Champion, Martin Kaymer, secure an HSBC double, winning our WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in China. Now we will wait to see if he can go on to win his fourth Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship title.
"We are also delighted to welcome Tiger Woods to the tournament for the first time. He has been a long time supporter of our HSBC golf tournaments around the world and we are looking forward to seeing how he tackles the challenging National Course."
Woods, whose numerous achievements include 14 Major wins, 71 PGA Tour wins and the record for most consecutive number of weeks as the world's top-ranked player, revealed he has been eyeing Abu Dhabi for some time.
"I've heard a lot about Abu Dhabi and the Championship which is a favourite among many of the players who return each year," said Woods. "I'm looking forward to 2012 and what I hope will be a great year of golf for me. I've always enjoyed playing in HSBC events around the world, so I have been interested in including the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in my schedule for some time. I am also intrigued to spend time in Abu Dhabi. Visiting new places is one of the things I really enjoy about being a professional golfer."
With Woods, Donald, Kaymer, McIlroy, Westwood, Clarke, Schwartzel, Day and Choi forming a truly world-class international field, Peter German, the Tournament Director, promised more star player announcements in weeks to come.
"The players unveiled today make a very strong statement about the position of this event on the European Tour. We are committed to delivering one of the strongest fields ever seen in regional golf and we'll only be adding to this incredible line-up before January 26."
Players also weighed in, with defending champion Kaymer, 26, throwing down an early gauntlet to his potential challengers. "Abu Dhabi is a special championship for me, obviously. I love the course and I've played some of my best golf on the National. The amazing field means next year is going to be a special and it will be my toughest Abu Dhabi challenge yet," he said.
Meanwhile, Englishman Donald praised the championship's emergence on the international golf scene; the world number one insisting it is now a must-play event for the game's leading names. "Abu Dhabi is putting golf at the heart of its development; the investment in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has created one of the calendar's most attractive dates. I don't think it's any surprise to see so many of the world's best players including it on their schedule."
Elsewhere, Open winner Clarke believes local fans are in for a feast of golf. "It's going to be a real treat for the galleries. There were 40,000 spectators last year and that's only going to shoot up in 2012 with the field we are looking at," said the Northern Irishman.
McIlroy, Clarke's compatriot and fellow 2011 Major winner, believes the exciting, hotly-contested Championship is the perfect environment for the game's top players to get their prospective seasons started. "Abu Dhabi is a great way to begin the year," said McIlroy, 22. "Every year the field gets stronger and stronger and the championship gets harder to win. I finished second last year, so I'm hoping to go one better this time! I think there will be some truly great leader-board tussles over the weekend."
Away from all the course action, the Championship Village has been expanded to 1,200m² and provides a fantastic range of attractions, prizes, games, competitions, live performances and family-friendly fun. Fans will also be able to enjoy the popular HSBC Interactive Zone, which offers a variety of sporting activities that reflect the diversity of HSBC's global sports sponsorship. Open to all, the HSBC Interactive Zone allows participants to test and hone their swing and putting techniques, while non-golfers can spend time in the creative area.
With Championship tickets priced at AED 50 for a daily pass and AED 150 for a four-day pass, a range of innovative promotions have also been introduced for next year. As well as a family-friendly picnic day, the first-ever 'Dress in Red Day' will see any visitor with red in their outfit – whether something simple like a red hat or even red accessories – enter for free. As is tradition at the family-centric event, Emirates Golf Federation members and children under-18 – when accompanied by an adult – also enter free of charge. HSBC customers can benefit by simply presenting their cards at the entry gate during tournament week. Premier card holders can redeem two daily tickets, while regular card holders can claim one daily ticket.