Phil Mickelson to skip Humana Challenge for Abu Dhabi start to 2014

Stephen Dunn

Phil Mickelson will launch his trimmed-down 2014 schedule in the Middle East rather than on the West Coast, which can’t be good news for organizers of the Humana Challenge.

Phil Mickelson dealt the star-light Humana Challenge a blow when he announced Tuesday he would kick off the new year in Abu Dhabi.

The 43-year-old five-time major winner has pledged to play fewer tournaments in 2104 so that he’s fresh for the four majors. The La Quinta, Calif.-based event that former president Bill Clinton saved from extinction was the first official tilt to get the ax, though Mickelson, who started the 2013 PGA Tour season with five consecutive West Coast contests, has just swapped one desert course for another in committing to play in the Middle East from January 16-January 19, the same week as Humana.

With Tiger Woods reportedly skipping the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, where he got his penalty-laden 2013 campaign off to a shaky start with a missed cut, Mickelson, currently No. 4 in the world, will be the highest ranking American to compete among a gaggle of European golfers.

"To play Abu Dhabi in the early part of the year is a great opportunity," said Mickelson. "I’ve wanted to return since my first time there in 2011. The golf course and facilities at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club are outstanding and the quality of the field and the good weather make it a great place to start my 2014 season."

Mickelson, who finished T37 last year at PGA West, was the biggest name to participate in the former Bob Hope Classic over the past two years. His custom-made Callaway golf shoes will be difficult to fill for organizers of the tournament that boasts Brian Gay as its defending champion.

Humana’s loss, of course, was HSBC’s gain.

"This event is gathering huge momentum and gets the golfing year off to a flying start," noted Giles Morgan, HSBC’s global head of sponsorship and events (the same Giles Morgan who ripped Woods for skipping last week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in China). "The quality of the field speaks volumes about the tournament and Phil is undoubtedly yet another headline attraction."

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