BONNYRIGG-BASED Jamie McLeary has landed the draw some players didn’t want in this week’s £1.6 million HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship.
He’s been paired with Simon Dyson in the Englishman’s first round since being hit with a two-month suspended ban for being disqualified in the BMW Masters in October.
One well-respected player said that the issue is a “hot potato” heading into the first leg of the European Tour’s Middle East Swing.
Speaking on condition of anonymity earlier this week, he said: “We just have to put the blinkers on and get on with it.”
Dyson was joint-second after 36 holes of the BMW Masters in October when he was disqualified for signing for an incorrect score in the second round.
The 36-year-old failed to add a two-shot penalty to his card after an incident on the eighth hole at Lake Malaren, when he touched the line of his putt after marking his ball, using the ball to flatten a spike mark.
Having reviewed the incident after being alerted to it by television viewers, European Tour officials charged Dyson with a serious breach of the Tour’s code of behaviour, a charge which was upheld when the Yorkshireman appeared before a three-person disciplinary panel at Wentworth last month.
He was given a two-month ban from the European Tour, suspended for 18 months, but was cleared of ‘a premeditated act of cheating’ in a somewhat contradictory verdict.
Dyson’s first appearance since that verdict was delivered will be made here tomorrow in the company of Tour rookie McLeary as well as the experienced Mark Foster.
“There is always a huge focus on this event and this year will certainly be no different,” admitted McLeary after learning of his draw for the opening two rounds at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
“However, I need to be concentrating purely on my own game and making sure it is ready for the challenge rather than worrying about what is happening around me.
“The fact that I have been drawn with players who between them have seven Tour wins is going to make this experience even more exciting. I am now just really looking forward to getting the new year underway and hopefully maintain the consistency that was a major part of my game last season.”
McLeary has played in two of the opening three events on the 2014 European Tour schedule after winning his card off the Challenge Tour.
With the field being headed by Open champion Phil Mickelson and the likes of Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia also in it, this is the biggest test so far in his career.
“This feels more like the European Tour, both due to the guys that are playing here and the way the course is set up,” added McLeary.
“The first two events I played were no different to the Challenge Tour, really, but here you’ve got players in the field that I’ve watched playing at the top level for the last 15 years.
“I played the front nine yesterday and it really is a big boys’ golf course. It’s long, it’s tight and the rough is fierce, which makes some of the scoring in the tournaments that have been held here in recent years very impressive indeed.”
McLeary, who is hopeful he will come off the reserve list for both the Qatar Masters and Dubai Desert Classic, was feeling off colour earlier in the week.
“My little boy was sick before I left and I was up all night with him. I felt ill after arriving here and when I played yesterday I had such a lack of energy,” he revealed. “My drives and irons were going nowhere and I honestly felt I’d lost clubhead speed since my last event.
“But I think it was more down to how I was feeling and hopefully I can keep picking up as this is such a big week.
“After this, I think I’ll get into both Qatar and Dubai and that shows the importance of winning a card off the Challenge Tour rather than coming through Q-School.”
McLeary is among eight Scots in the field after Cockburnspath’s David Drysdale pulled out with a back injury.