Mickelson aims to conquer the Middle East

The golfer feels 'there's an obligation to bring the game to different parts of the world'.

Phil Mickelson will play the Abu Dhabi Championship in his first Middle East appearance.
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Phil Mickelson, the four-time major champion, said he hopes to increase the global appeal of the game after confirming his participation in next year's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

The American left-hander, ranked No 4 in the world, will play in the Middle East for the first time when he lines up in the field for the four-day tournament at Abu Dhabi Golf Club in January.

Already a winner in the Far East - his HSBC Champions victory in 2009 was one of seven European Tour wins - Mickelson, 40, is now targeting the Middle East and the US$2.7 million (Dh9.1m) tournament in the capital.

"I've wanted to go to the UAE for a while, and this is the perfect time," Mickelson told The Associated Press. "It should give me great weather to work on my game, and it gives me a chance to get to the UAE. The whole family is going, and they're pretty excited about it.

"I feel like there's an obligation as a player to try to bring the game to different parts of the world. The UAE, especially Abu Dhabi, and China seem to be our greatest growth opportunities."

The tournament, won last year by Martin Kaymer, will pit Mickelson, the US Masters winner, against this year's other three major winners - Graeme McDowell, the US Open champion, Louis Oosthuizen, the runaway winner of the British Open, and Kaymer, who made his big breakthrough at the US PGA Championship.

Lee Westwood,the world No 1, Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy will also be in action.

Mickelson, however, is a significant catch for the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) who are now backed by a new sponsorship agreement with HSBC.

The link-up on a five-year contract enabled the event organisers to add a further $500,000 to the prize fund and overtake their Desert Swing rivals in Dubai, Qatar and Bahrain by offering the highest purse of the four events.

"We have consistently targeted and attracted players of the highest calibre because we want our galleries to be exposed to the best the world has to offer," Faisal al Sheikh, the events manager of ADTA, said.

"Players of Phil's stature reserve their diaries for only the most prestigious tournaments, so his choice of Abu Dhabi for his regional debut is testament to the championship's growing maturity.

"This year sees our most impressive field yet to go alongside an exceptional prize fund. Golf fans attending the championship and those watching around the world will see a feast of the finest golf."

Despite Chris DiMarco's victory in the inaugural championship in 2005, the European Tour tournament has not been well-attended by American tour players.

"The Arabian Gulf is now established as an important part of worldwide golf and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is a centrepiece of the sport in the region," Mickelson said in a news release yesterday. "I understand the course and hospitality are among the best anywhere so I'm really looking forward to my first trip out there."

* With agencies