Sponsor boost to improve playing field

Deal with HSBC puts it ahead of Dubai and Doha in prize money.

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ABU DHABI // The Abu Dhabi Golf Championship claimed top billing yesterday in what is developing into a high-class 2011 Desert Swing, thanks to a lucrative sponsorship agreement with HSBC. The banking company has struck a five-year deal with Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), the tournament organisers, to provide funds to attract many of the world's leading players to the UAE capital for the popular early-season event.

The significant injection of funding (both sides refused to divulge the exact value of the deal) has enabled Abu Dhabi to jump ahead of neighbours Dubai and Doha in terms of prize money on offer. European Tour players will be competing for a total purse of US$2.7million (Dh9.9m) when the four-day showpiece gets under way on January 20 - an increase of $500,000 on last year's figures. The announcement, made at the Emirates Palace hotel, received a warm reaction.

George O'Grady, the chief executive of the European Tour, said: "This championship has quickly established itself on our international schedule with our members continuing to enjoy outstanding hospitality and a superb, challenging golf course. "We are delighted that HSBC has signed this agreement. The increased prize fund in 2011 will provide a solid platform to launch a run of four exceptional weeks in the Gulf next January."

Bigger pay days inevitably attract bigger names and it is expected that at least five of the world's top 10 will be on view at the National Course for the sixth staging of the championship. Martin Kaymer, who won it for the second time this year and has since gone on to capture his first major title in the US PGA championship, was one of three to send a taped message to the press conference. The German said: "Abu Dhabi is very special to me as it is where I won my first title [in 2008] and I'm looking forward to defending the title in January. Having seen the field, though, I will certainly have my work cut out to retain the title."

Lee Westwood, who pulled off a Dubai World Championship and Race to Dubai double last November, is also relishing a return to the UAE. "Everything about the event is quality and the players are treated like royalty throughout the week," said the Englishman who has been troubled by a calf injury recently. "Having spent so much time off this year I will be looking to kick-off my 2011 season strongly and a win in Abu Dhabi would be the perfect start."

Paul Casey, who won in Abu Dhabi in both 2007 and 2009, was fulsome in his praise for the two new partners. "In ADTA and HSBC we have two wonderful supporters of world golf who are both forward thinking in trying to make their tournaments stand out above the rest. I think they will be an amazing combination." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae