Todd Hamilton heads for Euro Tour

FORMER Open champion Todd Hamilton is hoping to hit the big time again on the European Tour after losing his card in the United States.

The 44-year-old, whose play-off win over Ernie Els at Royal Troon in 2004 was his last victory, has entered next week's Abu Dhabi Championship, the first leg of the three-week Middle East swing.

While Hamilton's Open triumph earned him a ten-year European Tour exemption, it was only worth five years in his home country and, after finishing 133rd on their money list last season, he went back to the qualifying school. Just like 2001 Open champion and former world No1 David Duval, he failed to win a card there, and said: "I like to play a lot. I may go play in Europe for a while."

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Globetrotting is certainly not new for Hamilton. He was a regular in Japan and Asia prior to capturing a US Tour card at the eighth attempt earlier in his career.

Fellow American Anthony Kim is also in next week's high-class field and so is Australian Geoff Ogilvy, winner of the US Tour's opening event in Hawaii on Sunday.

Ryder Cup star Kim, runner-up to Ross Fisher at the Volvo World Match Play in Spain in November, chose not to play the season-ending Dubai World Championship, but finished 38th on the money list and has retained European membership for this year.

"I've not had the chance to play in the Middle East yet, so this will be an interesting experience," Kim said. "I have heard a lot of good things about Abu Dhabi and it seemed like the right place to start my year. I want to start winning tournaments regularly and that for me is priority number one.

"I've been working hard on my fitness and technique and I have already started to see major gains. It's something I want to carry over to Abu Dhabi and beyond."

He can collect Ryder Cup points only in US Tour events but will be an interested observer as the battle for European places hots up.

After four relatively low-key tournaments in South Africa either side of Christmas, Lee Westwood starts his defence of the Order of Merit title against nearly all the other leading contenders for spots in Colin Montgomerie's side.

Padraig Harrington and Fisher are not playing – Harrington's first event is in Los Angeles next month – but Paul Casey is back from Hawaii to defend the title and Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter kick off their seasons.

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Meanwhile, former Open runner-up Jean Van de Velde is one of 169 players in action when the next stage of the 2010 Asian Tour starts in Thailand today.

The Frenchman, who famously blew a three-shot lead on the final hole at Carnoustie in 1999, has decided on the move for family reasons. "My wife and kids are based in Hong Kong and Asia is where my life is now," he said.

"Asia is exciting, there are good tournaments and great players. I need a change of scenery as well. After playing 20 years in Europe, I decided that it is time to do something different."

Wallace Booth, who is set to finalise a deal with a management company in the next week, and fellow Scot Lee Harper are also in the field in Thailand.