Abu Dhabi will kick off yearlong Tiger vs. Rory Show

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There will be 124 players who will tee it up in this week’s $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but two will command all the attention.

Get ready for the Tiger Woods vs. Rory McIlroy Show.

Woods and McIlroy have gone head-to-head many times in the short space of time McIlroy has been in the professional game. However, their clash in Abu Dhabi marks the first time they will have done so playing the same equipment.

McIlroy will turn up in head-to-toe Nike gear, switching to the company Woods has been with for most of his professional career. The Northern Irishman, who climbed to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking last year, has jumped ship for a reported 10-year deal.

Sponsors HSBC and the oil-rich sheiks of Abu Dhabi will be looking for a return on the lavish appearance money they’ve splashed out to lure golf’s two biggest names to the desert. They’ll be hoping the two end up going hammer and tong down the stretch on Sunday.

The appearance fees paid to the pair likely dwarf the prize fund. Such figures aren’t exactly printed in the official program, but Woods could be getting about $2.5 million, the figured bandied about last year, with McIlroy netting $1 million to $1.5 million.

The fact Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia aren’t in the field suggests they perhaps didn’t get the money they wanted to turn up in Abu Dhabi. Westwood, of England, has begun his season in Abu Dhabi during each of the past three years; Garcia, of Spain, has played in three of the past four. Maybe the sponsors had only enough cash for Woods and McIlroy.

European Tour stars Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell won't be in Abu Dhabi, either. However, Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Jason Dufner add quality. Martin Kaymer returns to a happy hunting ground, too. The German Ryder Cup hero has won three of the past five Abu Dhabi tournaments.

Kaymer missed the cut last year, but don’t be surprised if he’s in the mix come Sunday. He likes the desert air.

Despite the sponsors’ wishes for Woods and McIlroy to steal the show, don’t be shocked if we get a repeat of last year. No one factored on Robert Rock taking down Woods in the final round, yet the Englishman did just that.

Such is the strength in depth of the European Tour that any one of the other 122 players could walk away with the title. However, the crowds will only have eyes for two players.

Will Woods lay down a marker of his intentions for 2013? Will McIlroy play as well with his new gear?

Let the battle of the swooshes begin.

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