ABU DHABI // Paul Casey's affinity with the UAE is as strong as any of the world's top golfers and the Englishman has set himself a dual Emirati objective as he prepares to return from a two-month absence with a rib injury. By the time Casey arrives in Abu Dhabi in January to launch his defence of the title he won for the second time on the National course at the start of this year, he wants to go into golfing folklore as the inaugural winner of the Race to Dubai which concludes with the exciting US$7.5million (Dh27.5m) Dubai World Championship from November 19 to 22.
Casey is frustrated at losing his leadership in what was formerly the European Tour's order of merit to Germany's Martin Kaymer, the man who captured the Abu Dhabi title in 2008 in between Casey's two victorious years. Despite not picking up any prize money since the British Open in July, Casey, with total earnings of ?1,965,150 (Dh10.53m) is only ?27,000 behind Kaymer. A winner of three titles during this truncated year and 11 during his career, Casey is confident of overturning that small deficit before entering the fray for the $1.5m first prize on Greg Norman's Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
Casey, ranked four in the world, was speaking on a televised link between London and Abu Dhabi Golf Club to publicise the launch of the fifth event in the next season, to be staged there from January 21 to 24. He made no attempt to disguise his frustration at missing so much action at such an important stage. "I wanted to return this week at the Dunhill Links [in Scotland] but I have been advised not to," said Casey. "So my intended comeback will now be in the World Matchplay championship in Spain at the end of October.
"That is bittersweet for me. It's good that I shall finally be able to play again in a tournament which I have previously won but bad because my comeback plan clashes with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. "I have so many good friends in Abu Dhabi through my sponsors Aldar and really wanted to be there for the big day. But the golf has to take priority at the moment. "I can't afford to lose any more time by taking a tournament off my schedule."
Casey admitted that his form is bound to suffer from his lack of recent activity but maintained that his confidence has been unaffected. "All of this has made me very hungry for the golf that I have got coming up," he said. "It has knocked me back a little, but only physically, and I am going to come out of this as a keener, more determined, more focused golfer. I've got to take the positives out of this and that's what I am doing at the moment."
Winning in Abu Dhabi was a pivotal moment for Casey after a barren spell of two years. That spurred him to fulfil an elusive career ambition of winning a title on the US PGA Tour - the Shell Houston Open - before capturing the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship. "The Abu Dhabi event is so strong, it really takes some tremendous golf to win there," he declared. "Better golf maybe than in the other victories I have had."
Featuring twice on the honours board of four names - Kaymer and the American Chris DiMarco are the other former champions - has made Casey a willing ambassador for the Middle East with his colleagues on both of the world's major tours. "Promoting Abu Dhabi is a very easy job," he said. "It promotes itself. You look at the wonderful pictures on TV. It is very easy for people to get excited about what they see. I have been asked by many players and it is just a case of speaking the truth and telling them what I know.
"The way the players get looked after at the Emirates Palace Hotel is truly spectacular and something that I always encourage the guys to come over and see. "I always advise my fellow players just to try it once and then pass on their opinion. You then speak to them soon after and they tell you that they have nothing but wonderful things to say. It is nice to be part of promoting a country that I enjoy so much."