A group of rising European Tour stars will be part of an exciting field at the OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic and will be among the major champions and marquee names vying for the prestigious title.
Fellow first-time winners from the 2020 season will join Sami Välimäki, the current Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year; Robert MacIntyre, Romain Langasque, Min Woo Lee and Rasmus Højgaard, all aiming to take the next step in their careers.
With the intention of emulating his illustrious compatriot Ernie Els by winning his maiden European Tour title in Dubai, big-hitting South African Wilco Nienaber will also tee it up.
While the tournament can boast the likes of Tiger Woods, Seve Ballesteros and Colin Montgomerie among its past champions, with Els (1994) and Rory McIlroy (2009) breaking through on the Majlis, the Dubai Desert Classic has been a breeding ground for upcoming talent.
The ascent of Välimäki has been rapid. He earned his sixth start on the Tour at last year’s Oman Open after winning his European Tour card via Qualifying School in November 2019, and went on to finish 11th in the Race to Dubai.
He was named the ‘Breakthrough Athlete of the Year’ at the Finnish Sports Personality of the Year Awards earlier this month.
“Last season I achieved the main goal I had, which was to win and get a better category on Tour, and now I can’t wait to make my Dubai Desert Classic debut this year,” said the 22-year-old from Finland. “To be able to progress to this point after only turning professional in 2019 is something I’m very proud of and I want to keep going and keep improving. I know this is an important event in the world of golf when you look at some of the past winners and it would be amazing to join them.”
After getting three runner-up finishes, MacIntyre was named the 2019 Rookie of the Year and he broke through late on in 2020 with victory at the Aphrodite Hills Cyprus Showdown. The 24-year-old is now able to kick-on and to underline his status as one of the emerging stars of Europe.
“I finished eighth in my Dubai Desert Classic debut last year and felt good on the Majlis course throughout the week,” said the left-hander from Scotland. “As a whole, last year was up-and-down for me on the golf course, but I’m looking forward to a clean slate this year and hopefully making some more progress – and this will be a great test against a world-class field and I’m excited to return.”
When the Tour resumed following the initial halt to the 2020 season to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Højgaard was one of the in-form participants. Last summer, during the UK Swing, the young Dane posted four top-tens in succession, finishing the run with his second campaign victory at the ISPS Handa UK Championship.
“My debut at the Dubai Desert Classic last year didn’t quite go as planned as I missed the cut, but I enjoyed the tournament and the experience,” said Højgaard, 19, who was born a week after his compatriot Thomas Bjorn won the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic. “The golf course was hard but playable and now I know what to expect when I return so I’m looking forward to getting back there again.”
At last year’s ISPS Handa Vic Open, Australia’s Lee sealed his first home soil victory and he will expect to follow in the footsteps of his elder sister as a winner in Dubai after Minjee won the OMEGA Dubai Moonlight Classic in November.
“Watching Minjee win in Dubai last year was special and I can’t wait to get out there and try and emulate her,” said Lee. “It felt great to get my first win early in the year and I’m feeling good about the new season and making my debut in the Dubai Desert Classic.”
Frenchman Langasque, who captured the coveted Amateur Championship at Carnoustie in 2015, won his first European Tour title at the ISPS Handa Wales Open at Celtic Manor last August with a two-stroke victory over Välimäki. The 25-year-old posted nine top tens on tour prior to the win, including a runner-up finish at the South African Open 2019.
Meanwhile, following a series of impressive performances last year, Nienaber has firmly established himself on tour.
In November, the 19-year-old launched a 439-yard drive en route to a runner-up finish at the Joburg Open and earlier in the season, after earning a last-minute place in the field as an alternate, posted a 4th place finish at the English Championship.
“Last year went beyond my expectations and I can’t wait to see what 2021 has in store,” said Nienaber. “I’m really excited about being able to tee it up in events like the Dubai Desert Classic for the first time, hopefully I’ll be able to play my best and write my name alongside some of the game’s greatest players who have won this famous event.”
For this year’s OMEGA Dubai Desert Classic, an elite field has been assembled, with a host of Major Champions and Ryder Cup stars like Collin Morikawa, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter all set to mix it with tomorrow’s stars.