New Bahrain event makes it a Middle East foursome

Sergio Garcia of Spain jumps to get a better view on the 18th hole during the pro-am Jan. 26, prior to the start of the Volvo Golf Champions at the Royal Golf Club in Bahrain.

Volvo Golf Champions

Jan. 27-30

Course: The Royal Golf Club, Montgomerie Course (7,243 yards, par 72), Riffa, Bahrain.

Purse: $2.28 million. Winner's share: $380,000.

The European Tour will break new ground this week with the Volvo Golf Champions event at the Royal Golf Club in Bahrain.

Nothing that new, actually. The European Tour has been has been “breaking new ground” since 1989, when the Dubai Desert Classic was added to the European schedule.

Many were outraged at the idea of the European Tour holding a tournament outside Europe. Ken Schofield, the European Tour’s executive director at the time, took a lot of flak for supposedly selling the tour out.

FIVE TO WATCH

Ian Poulter: Missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week but had a determined look on the practice range on Sunday in Abu Dhabi. British bookmakers list him at 12-1. It might be a good bet.

Colin Montgomerie: If anyone has an advantage this week, it is the Scot. He designed the golf course.

Nick Dougherty: The former British golden boy is struggling. Rounds of 81-82 in Abu Dhabi last week signified how low he has sunk in the Euro pecking order. The only way to go is up, starting this week.

Sergio Garcia: Missing in action for most of the last two years. Can he return to winning ways?

Barry Lane: At 50, the oldest man in the field still wants to mix it up with the young guns before he departs to the senior circuit.

Now, no one bats an eye when countries such as Bahrain come on board. In fact, Schofield looks like a genius for having the foresight to move the tour abroad.

The law of diminishing returns means sponsors have dried up in Europe. So Bahrain is just the latest in a host of new countries wanting to showcase the European Tour. Indeed, it is part of a four-week desert swing through the Middle East, a swing that could soon become five events if Egypt ever comes on board. (There already is a European Challenge Tour event in Egypt.)

What sort of showcase Bahrain will be remains to be seen. The field might not be quite as good as Abu Dhabi last week, but it’s not bad. Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Alvaro Quiros, Robert Karlsson, Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero are the headline acts for the Euro Tour’s first trip to the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Garcia is the most interesting player to follow this week since he is on the long road back to regain his standing in the game. The Spaniard is currently 80th in the Official World Golf Ranking – not good enough for a player who was once No. 2 to Tiger Woods.

The Spaniard had a lengthy spell out of the game last year to try to regain his mojo. He’s still waiting. This week should give us a good indication of where his game is.

“I am looking forward to building some momentum, enjoying it, having fun out there and getting the game back to where we know we can get it,” Garcia said. “It is obviously a work in process, but I am looking forward to it.”

This event is Europe’s answer to the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions, since only tournament winners are exempt into the event. Unlike the PGA Tour version, the entry list if not restricted to victories in the previous calendar year.

It’s the second European Tour event to be staged on a Colin Montgomerie-designed course, following the Irish Open at Carton House.

We probably won’t see a repeat of the 24-under score that Martin Kaymer won with in Abu Dhabi. Wind should play a big factor this week, since Bahrain is an island and subject to sea breezes. The first four holes play into prevailing winds, so competitors shouldn’t expect to get off to a fast start.

The prize fund this week is $1.7 million, but Volvo and the monarch of Bahrain have shelled out much more than that to lure marquee names to the kingdom.

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