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Shane Lowry won the Abu Dhabi Championship in 2019 Image Credit: AFP

With exactly six months to go until the stars of golfing world return to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi Championship at Yas Links, let’s take a look at why this year’s event is set to be a whole lot different.

Firstly, the tournament has moved from its traditional January slot to November 7, the week before the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates.

The tournament, and the DP World Tour Championship, now makes up the brand new DP World Tour Play-Offs, where the DP World Tour’s No.1 player will be crowned after the back-to-back Rolex Series events.

Aside from the date, what else has changed?

As the tournament is no longer part of the regular season, the field size has been reduced to just the top 70 leading players on the Race to Dubai Rankings the week prior to the tournament. In comparison, last year’s edition featured a field of 126 players, with Victor Perez emerging victorious to become the first Frenchman to win a Rolex Series event.

In addition to this, the tournament could see some of the game’s top talents from the PGA Tour compete thanks to a new exemption being introduced by the DP World Tour later this year.

From the start of the ‘Back 9’ series of events on this year’s Race to Dubai calendar, which begins with the British Masters at the end of August, the leading 15 non-members from the top 70 on the PGA Tour’s FedExCup will be eligible to play in these nine events in a bid to qualify for the both the Abu Dhabi Championship and DP World Tour Championship.

Scottie Scheffler won the Masters Tournament for the second time last week
Could Masters champion Scottie Scheffler be making a trip to Abu Dhabi? Image Credit: Masters Tournament

World No.1 Scottie Scheffler, U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark and Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama are a selection of the star names currently ranked inside the top 15 who could make the most of that exemption.

“With the PGA TOUR’s season finishing towards the end of August, there is an opportunity for these players, as well as our leading dual members, to play in our ‘Back 9’ events once their participation in the FedEx Cup events is over,” said Tom Phillips, DP World Tour’s Head of Middle East.

“We’ve already seen an increasing number of these players at the BMW PGA Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in recent years, and you can also see the appeal of say coming to Europe to play in the Open de France and staying in Paris, or the Open de España and spending time in Madrid.

“That will only help further enhance these fields and there is also the opportunity for DP World Tour members who aren’t already exempt to qualify through their Race to Dubai ranking and their performances in the earlier Global Swings.

“I think it is a great innovation, especially with it being the leading 15 available non-members from the FedEx Cup top 70, which means we could see a number of different PGA Tour members crossing the Atlantic for different events on the ‘Back 9’ and bringing something a little different to those fields alongside our DP World Tour members.

“It also gives these PGA Tour members to opportunity to try to qualify for the DP World Tour Play-Offs, where they will be considered ‘in addition to’ in terms of the field composition, again, enhancing these tournaments whilst preserving the opportunities available to our core membership.”

Can LIV golfers qualify for the tournament?

It had been assumed that LIV players would not be able to qualify for both the Abu Dhabi Championship and DP World Tour Championship as they would have been serving suspensions.

While the likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia have all resigned their DP World Tour memberships and wouldn’t be able to qualify for the tournament, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton and Adrian Meronk are all still DP World Tour members and have been picking up fines and one-week suspensions each time they play a LIV event.

With the LIV Golf schedule featuring 14 events across the globe, it was thought the trio would have to serve a 14-week ban following LIV’s final event of the season in September.

Tyrrell Hatton has cut loose from the field at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Tyrrell Hatton won the Abu Dhabi Championship in 2021 Image Credit: DP World Tour

But that doesn’t seem to be the case according to the DP World Tour’s new CEO, Guy Kinnings, who discovered defectors could serve their bans in the LIV rest weeks throughout the year, even if they had no intention of playing those events.

This means they could serve some of their suspension at tournaments such as the Italian Open and BMW International Open, despite the trio likely having no wish to participate in them.

Once the LIV Golf season has finished and Rahm and Co have served the remainder of their suspensions, they should be free to play in the Back 9 series of events as the look to qualify for the DP World Tour Play-Offs.