x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Champions Challenge a tasty appetiser for Dubai Desert Classic

The Champions Challenge, an 18-hole stroke-play shoot-out, will feature all 20 surviving past champions plus amateur Javier Ballesteros, who is standing in for his late father, Hall of Famer Severiano Ballesteros.

Henrik Stenson of Sweden is one of the former champions taking part in Tuesday's Champions Challenge ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic. Andrew Redington / Getty Images
Henrik Stenson of Sweden is one of the former champions taking part in Tuesday's Champions Challenge ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic. Andrew Redington / Getty Images

DUBAI // On second thought, perhaps Henrik Stenson was not the best guy to ask.

After all, between winning the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai titles, and bonuses on the PGA and European tours last year, he pocketed about US$20 million (Dh73.5m) in on-course lucre alone.

Stenson, the top European Tour player in this week’s 25th Omega Dubai Desert Classic field at world No 3, is part of the 21-man contingent playing Tuesday in the first Champions Challenge that offers a hefty bit of cash for the top three finishers.

The 18-hole stroke-play shoot-out features all 20 surviving past champions, plus amateur Javier Ballesteros, who is standing in for his late father, Hall of Famer Severiano Ballesteros.

“It should be a fun knockabout,” said Stenson, the 2007 Dubai winner.

Not to mention potentially lucrative.

The top three spots pay a combined $600,000, with $300,000 for the winner.

In the landscape of million-dollar winner’s cheques at top global events, the latter number does not generate the shock value it once did.

Consider the context, though.

Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher earned $423,000 last year for winning the Desert Classic main event, and today’s shoot-out winner will take home more than the 72-hole victors at four of the eight European Tour events staged in the 2014 season.

Small wonder that all 20 of the surviving past Desert Classic champions turned up for the one-day, one-off race to riches. The field includes four players who reached world No 1 – Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy.

Els, with three victories, and Woods, who won in 2006 and 2008, are the Dubai Desert Classic’s only multiple winners over the first 24 years.

Woods is coming off a rare missed cut at his season-opener in San Diego, where he had amassed eight career titles, and was expected to arrive in Dubai last night.

The most interesting group, perhaps, is the threesome of Miguel Angel Jimenez, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ballesteros.

Spain has produced five different Dubai winners over the years – the most of any nation – and three of the past four events on the European Tour have been won by Spaniards, including Sergio Garcia’s victory last week in Qatar.

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