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Preview: Omega Dubai Desert Classic


Rock confident heading into Dubai after win

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) After beating Tiger Woods at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, rising star Robert Rock says he no longer fears playing against the big names.

Good thing. He's paired with U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and defending champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain in Thursday's opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic .

The 34-year-old Englishman, who cracked the top 100 with his Abu Dhabi win, has found celebrity life to his liking. He was mobbed by autograph seekers when playing a pro-am tournament Wednesday. He's also picked up a lucrative endorsement, signing on as the golfing ambassador for the opulent Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Plenty of people were still asking Rock about his shocking win over 14-time major winner Woods. They came into the final round tied, but Rock held his nerve to win the tournament by a shot over McIlroy. Woods was another shot back in a tie for third.

``It doesn't get much better than that for me,'' Rock told The Associated Press on Wednesday as he walked down the fairway of the first hole of the Emirates Club. ``To make it better, it would need to be the same sort of scenario in a major championship.

``The chances of actually getting the pairings right for that are slim ... I think I will have a chance to win other tournaments, but that one will definitely be a lasting memory.''

Rock, who won his first European Tour event last year, said the win against Woods had given him confidence and a sense he can compete with anyone.

``Certain occasions during my career, I've played with people that have really made me nervous and that was probably the most,'' he said of Woods. ``I played with Nick Faldo, who was a hero, and so was Seve (Ballesteros). After you do that, you are not scared of any groups you get. I'd love to play with him (Woods) again. He was great company.''

Rock dismissed critics who have suggested Woods can be rude on the golf course, after he was caught spitting on the green last year in Dubai. He said the former No. 1 repeatedly complimented him on his shots and put up with a packed gallery in Abu Dhabi that at times became a tad unruly.

``As far as golfing etiquette, it couldn't be better. It's a bit unfair when people criticize him,'' he said. ``There are a lot of distractions for him when he is playing, people talking, people using their phones, people taking pictures when they shouldn't.

``That was frustrating for me when I was hitting shots. I lost my temper a few times when that happened and he doesn't do that. He ignores it and just carries on.''

Rock, who until last month was better known for his relaxed demeanor and 1970s style haircut, said breaking into the top 50 would be a goal - in time to get him an invitation to the Masters. But his first priority is to win in Dubai.

``I'm up against two great players in that group,'' Rock said. ``The whole field is full of potential winners. The European Tour is very, very strong. I think my victory in Abu Dhabi proved that to some extent, that somebody down the lower ends of the world rankings can win a tournament.''

McIlroy, who won here in 2009, is looking to overcome inconsistent driving and mistakes in Abu Dhabi. Among the most costly was a two-shot penalty in the second round for brushing away sand in front of his ball in the rough of the ninth hole.

``I didn't feel like I played all that well in Abu Dhabi,'' McIlroy said. ``I scored very well and was able to get myself into contention, which was great.

``I felt like I needed to work on a couple of things last week, which I did, and I feel like they're getting better.''

Third-ranked Lee Westwood is in the field, looking to improve on a slow start to the year. He finished tied for 17th in Abu Dhabi and tied for 12th at the Qatar Masters. Fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer is competing after finishing tied for ninth in Qatar and missing the cut in Abu Dhabi.


Follow Michael Casey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mcasey1

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Dubai Desert field
Felipe AguilarAhmed Al MusharrekhFredrik Andersson Hed
Ross BainMatthew BaldwinThomas Bjorn
Gregory BourdyGary BoydRafael Cabrera-Bello
Michael CampbellJorge CampilloRoss Canavan
Alejandro CanizaresChristian CevaerS.S.P. Chowrasia
George CoetzeeRobert ColesFederico Colombo
Nicolas ColsaertsFred CouplesBen Curtis
John DalyRhys DaviesFloris De Vries
Carlos Del MoralDaniel DenisonRobert-Jan Derksen
Andrew DodtJamie DonaldsonBradley Dredge
David DrysdaleVictor DubuissonSimon Dyson
Johan EdforsYounes El HassaniNiclas Fasth
Kenneth FerrieRichard FinchOliver Fisher
Ross FisherTommy FleetwoodOscar Floren
Mark FosterMarcus FraserLorenzo Gagli
Stephen GallacherIgnacio GarridoJean-Baptiste Gonnet
Ricardo GonzalezEstanislao GoyaBranden Grace
Richard GreenTodd HamiltonAnders Hansen
Soren HansenPeter HansonGregory Havret
Benjamin HebertPeter HedblomMichael Hoey
Keith HorneDavid HorseyDavid Howell
Mikko IlonenRaphael JacquelinThongchai Jaidee
Scott JamiesonMiguel Angel JimenezRichard S. Johnson
Michael JonzonMartin KaymerSimon Khan
James KingstonSoren KjeldsenJbe' Kruger
Barry LaneJose Manuel LaraPablo Larrazabal
Paul LawriePeter LawrieTom Lewis
Sam LittleShane LowryJoost Luiten
David LynnMatteo ManasseroAhmed Marjan
Pablo MartinGareth MaybinRichard McEvoy
Damien McGraneRory McIlroySean McNamara
Shaun MicheelEdoardo MolinariFrancesco Molinari
Colin MontgomerieJames MorrisonJamie Moul
George MurrayChristian NilssonSeung-yul Noh
Alexander NorenMark O'MearaJose Maria Olazabal
Thorbjorn OlesenJuvic PagunsanAndrea Pavan
Phillip PriceAlvaro QuirosRichie Ramsay
Peter RichardsonRobert RockBrett Rumford
Ricardo SantosJake ShepherdMarcel Siem
Jeev Milkha SinghJoel SjoholmLee Slattery
Henrik StensonRichard SterneGraeme Storm
Nicholas ThompsonPeter UihleinJaco Van Zyl
Anthony WallMarc WarrenRomain Wattel
Steve WebsterLee WestwoodPeter Whiteford
Martin WiegeleBernd WiesbergerDanny Willett
Chris WoodFabrizio ZanottiMatthew Zions
Strength of field
World RankPlayersNo. in Field
TOP 10Rory McIlroy (1),Lee Westwood (6)2
TOP 25Peter Hanson (17)1
TOP 50Paul Lawrie (27),Francesco Molinari (29),Martin Kaymer (32),Branden Grace (34),Nicolas Colsaerts (36),Matteo Manassero (43),Thomas Bjorn (44),David Lynn (45),Jamie Donaldson (47),George Coetzee (49),Thorbjorn Olesen (50)11
TOP 100Alexander Noren (51),Rafael Cabrera-Bello (53),Miguel Angel Jimenez (54),Richie Ramsay (55),Shane Lowry (57),Marcus Fraser (58),Henrik Stenson (61),Marcel Siem (62),Anders Hansen (63),Bernd Wiesberger (68),Simon Dyson (69),Pablo Larrazabal (78),Alvaro Quiros (81),Ben Curtis (82),Fredrik Andersson Hed (88),Jeev Milkha Singh (93),Danny Willett (94),Stephen Gallacher (95),Robert Rock (96),Ross Fisher (99),Thongchai Jaidee (100)21