European Order of Merit winner and world number nine Padraig Harrington of Ireland is a strong contender for the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship title on his debut appearance thanks to a course that suits his game.
The 2006 European number one played nine practice holes at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Monday and 18 on Tuesday in the run up to the January 18-21 Championship and declared the course “very good”.
“I’m happy with how I’m swinging the golf club. I do feel good about my game and I like the golf course, too. It’s a really nice course,” said Harrington.
“When you travel to any event at the start of the year, it’s nice to play a course that you feel comfortable on. It’s definitely a course that would suit my game. I like grainy greens. I find them easier to read and I really feel like I can hole putts on them.”
The Irishman, who recently beat world number one Tiger Woods in a play-off for the Dunlop Phoenix event in Japan, said he could see why players such as defending champion Chris DiMarco of the USA (now ranked 21 in the world); and his victorious Ryder Cup team-mates Sergio Garcia (11), Henrik Stenson (13), Paul Casey (14) and Colin Montgomerie (17) were all returning for the 2007 Championship, which is owned by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA).
“The field is very good and can I see why. People who came last year talked well about the course, they see the course and the Emirates Palace hotel and that gets them coming back,” said Harrington.
“This event is strong and it’s going from strength to strength. It’s a good test of golf, and especially important at this time of year, coming back from the winter break, there are great practice facilities here.
“This is an event you come back to. If you don’t play well, you’ve got ideal facilities for tuning up your game, and if you do play well, it’s a good golf course. You can shoot really good scores, which is another plus. You don’t want to be coming out here to shoot two over par. You want the sort of golf course that you can make a few birdies on and play well on. I can see how a lot of players who were here last year would be coming back this year.”
Speaking on the eve of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, Harrington said he was looking to improve his game in 2007 with a view to winning his first major. “I’ve won tournaments all the way up to major championship level, so that would be the next step,” he said.
“Obviously, it’s a big step. If it doesn’t happen this year, so be it, whenever it comes along. But my game is improving every year and it’s inevitable that if my game keeps improving I will take the next step.”
Harrington will be trying out new irons and a new driver during the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. “Technology advances always. I can see a big difference in the longer irons,” he said. “The key with my game for majors is I want to hit my irons a little bit softer onto the greens. These definitely fly higher and sort of hold the trajectory well, whereas before, the one thing I got a little too often was an aggressive flight, which is great when you’re playing in windy weather and links courses, but not great when you’re playing stadium-style golf courses where you’re trying to fly a ball onto a green and stop it quickly.”
If Harrington triumphs in Abu Dhabi, he will walk away with a first prize of US$333,330 from a total purse of US$2 million. The first player to hit a hole in one at the Championship will win free rooms for life at Emirates Palace hotel and a Nissan 350Z. The luxury Abu Dhabi hotel and car manufacturer are among an elite list of sponsors for the event, which also includes Etihad Airways, Aldar, Standard Chartered Bank, Etisalat, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Omega and Xerox.
Tickets for the star-studded Abu Dhabi Golf Championship are available via the official website – www.abudhabigolfchampionship.com – online at www.timeouttickets.com, via the ITP toll free hotline 800 4669 or for international clients +971 4 210 8943 and at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Tickets are priced at AED 125 for a daily pass and AED400 for a four-day pass though preferential rates of AED100 and AED300 respectively apply to UGA members. Children under 18 will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Car parking will be free during the Championship.
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