ABU DHABI // Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey could be excused for assuming, a few months ago, that they would bring to the Abu Dhabi HSBC World Championship a huge advantage in "course knowledge" over Phil Mickelson.
However, that familiarity - which has been gathered during their previous visits to the capital's flagship course - may now count for very little.
Organisers of the European Tour event have revealed that The National Course has been upgraded to make it more challenging for the world's top golfers.
Mickelson, the four-time major winner who play in the tournament for the first time, will headline the field for the four-day tournament which starts on January 20, and he will certainly be made to work hard to win a share of the increased prize fund of US$2.7 million (Dh9.9m), making it the richest event on the European Tour's Desert Swing.
Kaymer won the tournament last year with a score of 21 under par but, when he lands in the capital he will find the par-72 course has been modified. The course remains 7,440 yards but new bunkers have been added on five holes - 2, 5, 6, 13 and 17. This should pose few problems for Mickelson, who is renowned for the quality of his short game.
The finished sand hazards are both subtle and effective, with many bunkers pushed up closer to the greens.
Rather than simply deepen the traps, defined lips and steeper faces have been introduced to provide a strategic challenge for the field, which currently boasts six of the world's top 10 players and all four major winners from the 2010 season - the first time this has taken place on a tour event outside the United States.
"I think the players will enjoy the challenge of analysing the course changes and adapting their games," said Faisal al Sheikh, the events manager for Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), the championship organiser.
"I am confident The National Course will once again provide a stern test for the field and offer the millions of television viewers tuning in around the world a fitting spectacle for what has become a flagship showpiece in Abu Dhabi's ever-evolving sporting calendar."
With the course changes implemented to keep the professionals on their toes, Abu Dhabi Golf Club and National Course regulars will not find the adjustments too daunting from their regular tee-boxes.
"We didn't want to make The National a more difficult course for our club golfers because it was already a great test," said Andrew Whittaker, the course superintendent at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
"Our objective was to modernise the look and feel of the course, and the new bunkers will certainly make the players think long and hard about their club selection.
"We wanted to give the bunkers the impression of depth, so we've flushed the faces up rather than deepening the traps themselves."
With Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington part of the field, the Championship is poised to attract its biggest spectator turnout. To accommodate this, ADTA has arranged for a substantially expanded Championship Village with more attractions, restaurants, cafes and competitions.
* Compiled with agency