ABU DHABI // The two best golfers on the planet will be the headline acts at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in January.
Woods, the world No 2, said yesterday that he was returning to the capital after his debut last year, and Mcllroy, the two-time runner-up, is coming back as the world No 1 in the US$2.7 million (Dh9.9m) event from January 17 to 20.
Speaking via a live telephone link at yesterday’s official launch of the event at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Mcllroy said it could finally be his turn to win the Falcon Trophy.
“I have been starting the season in Abu Dhabi for the last five years and this is the first time I am heading there as the world No 1,” Mcllroy said. “It is nice feeling to come and play in Abu Dhabi from the winter break. I have really enjoyed my time in Abu Dhabi. I have come close a few times and now feel it is my turn.”
Mcllroy was runner-up twice in the last two visits. He finished one stroke behind Robert Rock of England in January and was eight shots in arrears of Martin Kaymer, the three-time champion from Germany, in 2011.
Mcllroy was also looking forward to the challenge with Woods, who he described as “a hero of mine”.
“I had a great tussle with Tiger nine months ago and I’m sure he will be in contention again,” he said. “We have spent a lot of time playing together this year and its fun challenging the best.”
Having signalled his Falcon Trophy intentions with an imperious, bogey-free third round of 66 on his Abu Dhabi debut, a resurgent Woods was unable to halt the march of the eventual winner Robert Rock of England. But he is eager to find his groove when he returns to the emirate.
“I had heard so much about Abu Dhabi in the past and I was very impressed by the crowds, the organisation and the overall atmosphere,” Woods said. “I really enjoyed my time in Abu Dhabi and I wanted to return, particularly as I played well and came so close last year. I’d love nothing more than to win in January and start the season in the best possible way.”
Mcllroy climbed to top spot in the world rankings with a string of victories culminating in an eight-shot win in the US PGA Championship for his second major.
And with four tour victories in 2012, he subsequently played a key role as Europe retained the Ryder Cup at the Medinah Country Club in Chicago, Illinois.
Mcllroy said it took a while for the Ryder Cup win to sink in after a phenomenal comeback victory.
“I think it took everyone a little while to overcome what was a remarkable achievement,” he said. “Everyone in the team will cherish that moment for a long, long time.”
Faisal Al Sheikh, the event manager of Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority, the championship organiser, said to have the world’s top two-ranked players was only the opening salvo of announcements in what will be a star-studded line-up for the championship. “Having the world’s No 1 and 2 is what the spectators are looking for apart from the media and the sponsors,” he said.
“They represent a significant coup and demonstrate how far the championship has come it its relatively short history. But the most important for us as organisers is to assemble a world-class field for another exciting competition.”
The championship shattered its own four-day attendance record by attracting more than 82,000 spectators and Al Sheikh was confident of another record turnout.
“Rory is the No 1 but Tiger is probably the best known athlete in the world,” said Peter German, the tournament director.
“He generates huge amount of interest and publicity even if he’s No 2 or 3 in the world. People will come all the way to watch him play. And having both of them together is truly remarkable.”
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE