SPORTS
01/14/2013 01:08 pm ET

Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy Kick Off 2013 Battles At Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship

By Alistair Tait, Golfweek

There will be 124 players that will tee it up in this week’s $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but two will command all the attention.

Get ready for the Tiger Woods versus Rory McIlroy show.

Woods and McIlroy have gone head-to-head many times in the short space of time McIlroy has been in the professional game. However, their clash in Abu Dhabi marks the first time they will have done so playing the same equipment (well, reportedly, for now).

McIlroy will turn up in head-to-toe Nike gear -- switching to the company Woods has been with for most of his professional career. The Northern Irishman has jumped ship for a reported $250 million, 10-year deal.

Sponsors HSBC and oil rich Sheiks of Abu Dhabi will be looking for a return on the lavish appearance money they’ve splashed out to lure golf’s two biggest names to the desert. They’ll be hoping the two end up going hammer and tong down the stretch on Sunday.

Expect the appearance fees paid to the pair to dwarf the prize fund. Such figures aren’t exactly printed in the official program, but I’m guessing Woods will be getting in the region of $2.5 million, the figured bandied about last year, with McIlroy getting between $1 million to $1.5 million.

The fact Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia aren’t in the field suggests they perhaps didn’t get the money they wanted to turn up in Abu Dhabi. The Englishman has begun his season in Abu Dhabi the last three years, while Garcia has played in three of the last four. Maybe the sponsors only had the cash for Woods and McIlroy.

No Ian Poulter, Luke Donald or Graeme McDowell either. Although Justin Rose, Ernie Els and Jason Dufner add quality. Martin Kaymer returns to a happy hunting ground, too. The German Ryder Cup hero has won three of the last five Abu Dhabi tournaments.

Kaymer missed the cut last year, but don’t be surprised if he’s in the mix come Sunday. He likes the desert air.

Despite the sponsors’ wishes for Woods and McIlroy to steal the show, don’t be shocked if we get a repeat of last year. No one factored on Robert Rock taking down Woods in the final round, yet the Englishman did just that.

Such is the strength in depth of the European Tour that anyone of the other 122 players could walk away with the title. However, the crowds will only have eyes for two players.

Will Tiger lay down a marker of his intentions for 2013? Will McIlroy play as well with his new gear?

Let the battle of the swooshes begin.

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