Lowdown:

The European Tour travels to the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Jamie Donaldson of Wales defends the title and a stellar field has assembled.

This is the first of three straight European Tour events that will be held in The Gulf States. The Qatar Masters then the Omega Dubai Desert Classic will follow this event in consecutive weeks.

First contested in 2006, this is an event that was dominated by two players in the tournament’s early years – Martin Kaymer and Paul Casey. The Englishman won in 2007 and 2009 while the German has been the champion three times – 2008, 2010 and 2011. Last year Welshman Jamie Donaldson came out on top, he finished a shot clear of Justin Rose and Thorbjorn Olesen.

All three of those former winnners will tee it up again in Abu Dhabi this week, but they’ll face stern opposition from one of the European Tour’s strongest fields. Last year’s European Tour Number 1, Henrik Stenson will be looking to improve on two second place finishes in Abu Dhabi, and Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia are all on the start sheet and aiming for desert glory.

“Recent hard work is paying off,” said Garcia. “I feel a big win is just round the corner and there’s no reason it can’t be in Abu Dhabi.”

The field contains eight Major champions and no less than 79 previous European Tour winners.

Designed by renowned desert course architect Peter Harradine, the course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club is long and challenging with plenty of water hazards to negotiate. Stretched now to 7,600 yards, it’s a venue that suits the power hitters.

Image: McIlroy and Mickelson performed an opening act ahead of Thursday’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship when they added a new twist to traditional Emirati Al Razfa dancing

Venue: Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Date: Jan 16-19
Course stats: par 72, 7,600 yards
Purse: €1,971,000 Winner: €328,779
Defending Champion: Jamie Donaldson (-14)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 16 – Sky Sports 4 at 10am
Friday 17 – Sky Sports 4 at 10am
Saturday 18 – Sky Sports 4 at 9am
Sunday 19 – Sky Sports 4 at 8am

Player Watch:
Henrik Stenson – It’s very hard to discount the World Number 3. He was the best player in the world for the second half of 2013 and, despite injury concerns, he was fourth in his last outing at the Nedbank. He’ll be looking to start 2014 where he left off.

Joost Luiten – The talented Dutchman was tied third last week in the Volvo Golf Champions and he finished tied sixth in this event last year. Those results stack up, and Luiten looks a good bet this week.

Thomas Bjorn – Apart from a dreadful first round last week in Durban, the Dane played some excellent golf. He fought back with three rounds in the 60s to end the week tied 10th. He won the Nedbank last month and was tied third in this event in 2012.

Key hole:
18th. Played directly towards the iconic Falcon shaped clubhouse, the final hole is a par-5 that’s been extended to 567 yards this season. It’s still reachable in two for the longest hitters and that means the tournament could swing at the death.

Where next?
PGA Tour –
Humana Challenge preview