Top players back Dubai Invitational

Westwood and Garcia favour inclusion in the European Tour but finding space in schedule will be an issue while organisers keen to keep focus on charity.

DUBAI // The cream of European golf have backed Invitational organiser Abdullah al Naboodah's long-term plan to establish the annual one-day pro-am event, which took place at Dubai's Creek Golf Club yesterday, into a fully-sanctioned Tour date. While the key obstacle remains whether the Invitational can find a free week - or replace another tournament - in the European Tour's schedule, the continent's leading players' appraisals will no doubt boost the charity competition's claim for full inclusion.

"It would be good and I'm sure the schedule would allow it," said last season's Race to Dubai winner and European No 1 Lee Westwood, who partnered al Naboodah to victory yesterday. "I'm sure in the current economic climate if a fresh sponsor comes forward then the Tour would be interested, no matter what the format." Sergio Garcia concurred with Westwood's assessment: "There is space in the calendar," said Garcia. "Sponsors are not easy to find in the present climate and a possibility like this is always interesting. Any news ideas coming to the Tour are always good. It's something to look forward to in the future."

The Desert Swing already features three early-season regional tournaments, while the lucrative Dubai World Championship curtain-call takes the Middle East's Tour tally to four. The only question for double Abu Dhabi Golf Championship winner Paul Casey is whether an expanded 72-hole, four-day Invitational would be played in conjunction with the Desert Swing or Race to Dubai run-in. "I think it would be very cool," he said. "There's no issue with money or sponsors and it would have the full backing of players. The main issue, as always, is scheduling and finding a good slot in the diary for it. Later in the season is definitely the place to put it for me, either before or after Dubai."

Al Naboodah-backed Ross Fisher believes the tournament's field will be strong wherever it is scheduled. "This is my third time here and the event is going from strength to strength," said Fisher. "There's a great selection of pro's this year and if a 72-hole tournament happens then I'm sure that would attract a really class field." Dubai Desert Classic champion Rory McIlroy agreed. "There's definitely space on the Tour for another [regional] event," he said. "I know the guys love coming out here; we already play four events and I don't see any reason why there couldn't be another."

From the host's perspective, however, the primary concern is preserving the tournament's focus on charity. "It's not easy to build a tournament within the European Tour schedule," said al Naboodah. "But there is always hope. The main cause of the tournament, however, will always be to raise money for charity; it will never be a commercial entity. We don't have the same objective as prize money tournaments."

"Having such an elite field can only help our cause. I thank the players for showing up because we do not pay appearance fees, they are doing this totally for charity." @Email:emegson@thenational.ae

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