Now tied at No. 4 in rank, McDowell and Mickelson paired in Abu Dhabi

four major champions
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Masters champion Phil Mickelson, British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen, U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer got together for a sail on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi.
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PA Sport

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Graeme McDowell and Phil Mickelson, now tied for fourth in the world ranking, will go head-to-head in the first two rounds of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Thursday and Friday.

For Mickelson, making his debut in the Middle East, this is his first tournament since mid-November.

McDowell, though, has already made a flying start to the new season. His last round was an 11-under par 62 that nearly put him in a playoff at the PGA Tour opener in Hawaii two weeks ago. It matched the lowest round of the Northern Irishman's professional career and the added importance of the performance was that he knew some people would be questioning his decision to change club and ball sponsor.

Given that he was struggling to keep a place in the world's top 50 last May, it has been an incredible time for the U.S. Open champion, Ryder Cup hero and Tiger Woods conqueror -- he beat Woods in sudden death at the Chevron World Challenge last month after trailing by four with a round to go.

Tempting as it might be to go with the flow a while longer, McDowell is not playing again for a month after this week.

"I didn't have a whole lot of time off in the winter -- Christmas flew by in a blur and then I was in Hawaii," he said. "I'm going to take four weeks off to recharge and get ready for a big spring and summer.

"You can play too much and I have played a lot and travelled a lot, so I am going to pace myself,” he explained. "I could easily continue right now, but I think I've got to be sensible for the important part of the season from the Masters (in early April) through to the PGA Championship (mid-August)."

In contrast, Mickelson is embarking on a run of six successive events.

"Butch Harmon came with me so he can visit his learning center in Dubai, which is only a 45-minute drive away," Mickelson said. "We'll be able to work each day before and after the round. That'll give me an opportunity to get the fundamentals right and my game sharp as I start the season.

"Six in a row sounds like a lot, but I'm eager to play as much as I can and two of those weeks are home games for me,” he explained. “Torrey Pines (site of the Farmers Insurance Open) is about a 20-minute drive from home and I commute daily to Los Angeles for the Northern Trust (Open).

"My body feels great (he revealed last August he was under treatment for psoriatic arthritis) and I've been able to practice and work out to get ready for the upcoming year,” he said. "Now it's time to get back to work. Again, I'm expecting great things in 2011."

With all four of last season's major winners in the field -- Mickelson, of course, is the Masters champion -- PGA Championship winner Martin Kaymer and British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen are also partners. Alongside them is Padraig Harrington, whose name is on both of those trophies, while two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen is the third member of the Mickelson-McDowell group.

World No. 1 Lee Westwood, meanwhile, plays with his Ryder up teammates Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari.