Starting with next week's Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, it will be time for some serious golf action in the region. Twenty-eight of the top-50 ranked players in the world, including No2 Sergio Garcia and No3 Padraig Harrington, will be seen in action during the three weeks of Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai, which again is a reflection of Europe's growing strength in world golf. So, what can you expect during the popular Desert Swing of the European Tour?
With Tiger Woods missing, Abu Dhabi has the strongest field this year. Both Garcia and Harrington are vying for the Falcon Trophy, and so is reigning Masters champion Trevor Immelman.
That makes it three of the four Major champions of 2008, or all three active Major champions, since Woods is out of action.
Qatar has the most unique field. Adam Scott, who won the tournament with a stunning final round of 61 last year, Retief Goosen, and PGA Tour stars Boo Weekley and Brandt Snedeker are starting only at Doha. However, you can rest assured that the most gripping drama will be played out in Dubai. Even in the absence of Woods, the Desert Classic has a strong field, which includes Garcia, Ernie Els and Henrik Stenson, among others. The main reason for that is the golf course.
There are very few tournament venues like the Majlis course of Emirates Golf Club. The course is unlike any modern-day courses, which are full of humungous holes. Length hardly matters at Majlis. Because of the dog-legs, it gives various options on almost every hole. And then comes the exciting finishing stretch of holes 16, 17 and 18, where anything can happen if you have the right strategy.
Of course, three par-5s on the back nine means there is a good chance that the championship is actually decided on the back nine of Sunday, like it was last year when Woods made five birdies in the last seven holes to win the title. So, as the excitement builds, here is a list of what some of the stars will be hoping for from the Desert Swing this year:
Henrik Stenson: Win Abu Dhabi and become the first player to complete the Desert sweep.
Ernie Els: The Big Easy is having a celebration party at the start of the Dubai week to celebrate the first anniversary of the Els Club. Another celebration at the end of the week would be very nice.
Sergio Garcia: Playing all three weeks and hoping to increase the lead at the top of The Race to Dubai before turning his attention to the PGA Tour.
Padraig Harrington: Come out sharp at the start of the year, and stay the same way throughout.
John Daly: Serving a six-month suspension from the PGA Tour, 'Long John' is planning to play all three events. His wish: keep the cameras away!
-Joy Chakravarty is editor of Middle East Golfer