19th hole: Kim happy with Middle East sojourn

Making his first appearance in the Middle East this week, Kim said after his two-under par 70 second round that the National Course layout reminded him of Palm Springs.

Opting to leave his trademark glittering belt buckle at home in Texas, talented 24-year-old Anthony Kim instead used his golf clubs to catch the eye yesterday. The world No 24, who last season decided to split his time between the European and PGA tours, looked comfortable and composed in the Emirates, showing his ever-growing gallery exactly why he is developing into one of the biggest draws in America.

Making his first appearance in the Middle East this week, Kim said after his two-under par 70 second round that the National Course layout reminded him of Palm Springs. It was an off-the-cuff observation, but it may not be too well-received back home, where some of Kim's critics claim he should not have been here in Abu Dhabi. The annual Bob Hope Classic is taking place this weekend in La Quinta - 16 miles from Palm Springs - and with Kim having attended school in the resort city, the PGA Tour had hoped he would add his sparkle to a flailing sponsor-hungry tournament.

Scott McCarron, the American golfer who, as well as playing on the PGA Tour, also advises on its players' council, said Kim should have shown loyalty to the American tour and played in the Hope instead of "chasing money over in Abu Dhabi". Instead the confident, if at times controversial, Californian opted to ask for a "conflicting events release" to play in the Emirates. It was granted. Kim, who caused a stir the last time he was linked with an appearance in the UAE - he left it until the week of the event before pulling out of the European Tour's season-ending Dubai World Championship - intimated yesterday that he has no regrets about his Middle East excursion this time around and revealed he feels fortunate to be invited.

"I completely understand the Tour is losing sponsors, but unfortunately I couldn't be [there]," he said after finalising a four-under finish going into today's penultimate round. "I really wish I was [at the Bob Hope], but this is such a great tournament, I didn't want to pass up the opportunity. I always wanted to come to this part of the world and feel lucky to be here right now." Those watching him as he walked the 7,510 yards around the course will at times have felt equally as privileged to see him in action. Stepping up to the tee on the first, he watched his drive swing wayward to the left landing in some potentially tricky sand.

But, having dusted himself down, he drilled an absolutely wonderful approach shot to land within 10 yards of the pin, tapping in with ease. Yet dressed in a prim pink polo shirt, it was only his play on the greens - and perhaps some mischievous remarks from Darren Clarke - that left him red-cheeked. His putter let him down for the majority of the afternoon, but when he judged it right - as he did on the first, second and 11th, notching birdies - he looked formidable.

"I didn't get many putts to fall," he said. "But I think they'll fall this weekend and I just have to keep my head down. For the first tournament of the year, you're going to be a little rough, but I'm expecting to knock that off pretty soon. [My game is] not perfect, but it's getting there." Which is positive news for Abu Dhabi, good news for the European Tour and great news for Kim. But not so for the organisers of the Hope, who yesterday endured another day of torrential rain that even Kim's belt would have struggled to shine in.

After his Abu Dhabi decision he can expect an equally tempestuous welcome on his return back Stateside. @Email:gmeenaghan@thenational.ae