Monday, 03 March 2003
World Number Two Ernie Els, alongside six of the successful European Ryder Cup team from last year, will headline the field for the 14th staging of the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club this week.

Unquestionably the player of the year so far with two victories on The European Tour International Schedule and two on the US PGA Tour, Els will come to Dubai as defending champion, after an imperious performance 12 months ago, four rounds in the 60s seeing him win by four shots from Niclas Fasth.

Not that rounds in the 60s in Dubai should come as a surprise for the reigning Open Champion. Indeed, his performances at the Majlis course over the years make almost as impressive reading as his winning total of 29 under par 259 in the Johnnie Walker Classic last month.

In the five times he has contested the tournament he has never finished outside the top eight and has notched two wins, his first being in 1994. In total, 18 of his 20 rounds have been under par including, of course, the record 11 under par 61 which he set in the first round in 1994. He has never been over par.

Not surprisingly, the 33 year old South African will start favourite but he will face a stiff challenge from a strong field led by the six Ryder Cup players, Thomas Björn, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Phillip Price and Lee Westwood.

Clarke, in particular, is in fine form coming into the event, a new driver and increased fitness helping him to the quarter-finals in last week's World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play.
Björn, of course, is always guaranteed a warm welcome to Dubai, having wintered in the Gulf State for a number of years, and his popularity was enhanced in 2001 when he held off the challenge of World Number One Tiger Woods over all four rounds, to claim the title from Woods and Harrington. The Irishman returns this week chasing his second title of the season following his win in the BMW Asian Open.

The Dubai Desert Classic is one of the most eagerly anticipated stops on The European Tour International Schedule and one of the reasons for that is the Majlis course itself, a verdant oasis in the middle of the desert and one of the engineering masterpieces of the world.

All 18 greens were relaid for last year's tournament and the changes made to Karl Litten's original design were well received across the board - all competitors will find the course in equally excellent condition this year.

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