Dubai set for ‘Major of the Middle East’

The Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which is often dubbed the ‘Major of the Middle East’, tees off this week with an array of star players in action, as Michael Stoneman reports

The European Tour’s ‘Desert Swing’ will conclude this week with the highly-anticipated Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which has once again attracted a host of golf’s biggest names to the UAE.

Following tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Qatar in successive weeks, Dubai’s Emirates Golf Course will stage this week’s action, with 14-time Major champion Tiger Woods topping the bill as he returns to play in Dubai for the first time since 2014.

Woods, a two-time winner of the Dubai Desert Classic, played his first PGA Tour event in 17 months at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open, having undergone two back surgeries since his last tournament in August 2015.

After missing the cut in San Diego, the 40-year-old – whose most recent victory came in the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational – is now looking forward to making his return to Dubai, knowing he has played well there in the past.

“I know the Emirates golf course well and I know the greens, so I know the putts," said the 2006 and 2008 winner.

"I know how it's going to play, and I've played it under so many different conditions over the years, whether we've had a lot of rough, no rough, we've had shamals, no shamals, whatever we've had there.

“I've played under all different conditions so it’s nice going to a golf course that I know.”

Woods’s appearance has helped drive interest in this year’s event, with organisers reporting strong ticket sales despite the withdrawal of world No. 2 Rory McIlroy due to injury.

But while Woods will not have to worry about the threat of McIlroy this week, he will still face a stellar field in the UAE, including Open Championship winner Henrik Stenson, defending champion Danny Willett and European Ryder Cup stars Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Thomas Pieters.

Twelve months ago, Willett’s final-hole birdie secured a one-stroke victory over compatriot Andy Sullivan, and the win helped catapult him to his first Major victory just two months later at the Masters. He will now be hoping to emulate Scotland’s Stephen Gallacher – currently the only back-to-back winner of the Dubai Desert Classic – while a host of other European Tour stars will be looking to follow in Willett’s footsteps by boosting their own Major prospects with victory at the Emirates Golf Course.

Among them will be South Korea’s Jeunghun Wang, who last week won the Qatar Masters in a play-off to claim his third European Tour title within the past eight months. The 21-year-old became the third youngest player in European Tour history to win three titles, with victory also all but guaranteeing him a Masters debut after he moved into the world’s top 50.

Another victory here at the ‘Major of the Middle East’, and Wang will surely underline his burgeoning status as a Major champion in-waiting.