Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and a host of stars have sparked an exceptional level of excitement for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
A strong field will tee off Thursday morning at the Majlis course in a quest to win the title, but only one will lift the coveted trophy on Sunday.
Here’s a hole-by-hole guide to one of the most celebrated courses in the UAE.
A fighting fit Rory McIlroy believes he has started his year ahead of schedule after flourishing in his return to action in Abu Dhabi – and has labelled himself a serious contender at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic which starts Thursday.
McIlroy’s appearance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last week was his first since October 8 after shutting down the 2017 season three months early due to a niggling rib injury.
The Northern Irishman produced a stunning 18-under par 270 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to grab a share of third alongside England’s Matt Fitzpatrick.
It was a performance that not even he expected, but McIlroy – twice a winner of the Dubai Desert Classic – has declared himself as a front-runner this time around.
McIlroy said: “If someone had said to me at the start of the week, you’d shoot 18-under par your first week back on, I thought, quite a difficult golf course – the rough was up a little bit and maybe some of the greens were soft, tricky conditions on Sunday – I would have thought a score of 18-under par would have a great chance to win.
“It was above expectations for me to be honest. I thought if I could have shot four rounds under par and just saw some good, positive signs in my game, I would have went away happy, played four rounds and felt no ill effects of the week.
“I did exceed expectations. I guess that has changed the way I view this week a little bit because of how I played last week.
“I know that my game is in good enough shape to contend and try to win.”
The 28-year-old is excited about returning to Dubai after also missing last year’s tournament due to injury – three weeks after finishing runner-up to Graeme Storm at the BMW SA Open.
Winless in 16 months, McIlroy will be hoping to replicate some of his sterling form in Dubai as he bids to win a third title at Emirates Golf Club.
“I missed it last year and I missed having a chance to win and having a chance to compete,” he said.
“(I’m) looking forward to getting back out there (today) and trying to give myself another chance to win.
“I feel like I’ve got a bit of a spring back in my step because of what happened last week and I’m very confident in myself.
“It’s a golf course I know how to get around and I know how to shoot good scores on.
It is the start of a seminal year for McIlroy as he targets the Masters – the one title that has eluded him from achieving a coveted career Grand Slam. A fantastic build-up to Augusta waits – which will include another seven tournaments – continuing from Thursday in Dubai.
He may have gone 12 majors without a win, having missed the Open Championship in 2015 because of injury, but McIlroy insists he is focused only on the week ahead rather than the first prestigious major of the year on April 5.
“Once April starts, I’ll start to think about Augusta, or the end of March, or whatever, the first time I go up there and play a couple of practice rounds before the tournament,” he said.
“Right now it’s just about getting myself in a nice bit of form and playing tournaments and playing well and so no, I’m not really thinking about that right now.
“But come March time, April time, I’ll turn my attention to it and start to focus on maybe shots that I need or different clubs I might need in my bag or whatever it is.
“My focus is on the Dubai Desert Classic and trying to win here for the third time.”
Golfing great Colin Montgomerie feels European golf is on the cusp of a special new era as they prepare to wrestle the Ryder Cup back from famous foes America.
The United States will come into the 2018 tournament as defending champions in September for the first time in eight years – having stopped a three tie losing streak at Hazeltine two years ago.
Much of the talk over the past two years has centered on the US being heavily fancied to retain the title in France for the first time in a quarter of a century – since they backed up their 1991 triumph with victory at The Belfry two years later.
Backed by world number one Dustin Johnson, there are eight Americans ranked inside the world’s top-20, five of whom are in the top-10.
But there are nine Europeans in the top-20 and European legend Montgomerie is anticipating a thrilling spectacle in Paris.
“I think we are beginning to see one here (a strong European era),” said the Scot at Emirates Golf Club on Tuesday ahead of appearing at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – starting on Thursday.
“Thomas Bjorn must be thrilled with the state of European golf right now, as we all are.
“We’re all great fans and love the European game, and I think that he can only be delighted about what’s happening at the weekend there with Sergio (Garcia) winning and Tommy Fleetwood proving himself yet again.
“I just saw Tyrrell Hatton and I believe Paul Casey has rejoined the [European] Tour and you’ve got Jon Rahm, as well. The four guys I mentioned are going to be a real asset to Thomas’ team come September.”
Montgomerie enjoyed a winning stint as European captain, leading the continent to a thrilling 14.5–13.5 victory at the Celtic Manor in Wales in 2010.
He also appeared in eight Ryder Cups as a player, winning five times in the span of six events (1995, 1997, 2002, 2004 and 2006).
And while Bjorn will likely lean on the experience of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Garcia, he feels the team will be refreshed by the new, young wave of talent.
“I think that the Americans fancy themselves as they always do, you know, as favourites coming in here with success recently,” said Montgomerie, a winner here in Dubai in 1996 – the seventh staging of the tournament.
“But I tell you what, that will be game on in France. It will be very, very interesting to see how we go there. Those four players I mentioned will really be a huge asset to Thomas, that Darren (Clarke) didn’t have last time.
“These two years is a long time in sport and it’s moved on greatly in those two years. The likes of Fleetwood, Hatton, Jon Rahm, have appeared, really from nowhere on to this world stage. And Paul Casey, thank goodness, has rejoined the Tour because he’s always been a world player.”