A spectacular seven under par 65 enabled Robert-Jan Derksen to complete a fairytale story by capturing his first European Tour title, holding off the reigning Open Champion and World Number Two Ernie Els to win the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club.
Derksen, who graduated from the European Tour Qualifying School last November, started the final round three shots behind the leaders and surged through the field with five birdies and an eagle to set the clubhouse target of 17 under par 271 which the defending champion could not match, leaving the 29 year old Dutchman as the fifth first time winner on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule.
“Before this year I never thought I could win,” said Derksen. “But I started believing in myself a bit more this year. Ernie was kind to make a bogey on the last yesterday so I thought, three strokes behind, I had a chance if I played well. I needed a bit of luck but that is what I got today.”
Els was undoubtedly the favourite having won five of his last seven events and appeared on course for his third European Tour victory of the season as he pulled two strokes clear with four birdies and just one dropped shot in his first 11 holes. But in a crucial five minute period Derksen holed from 75 feet for a superb eagle three on the 13th before Els made a double bogey six on the 12th - a four shot swing which put the former Dutch Amateur Champion two ahead.
Els hit back with birdies at the 13th and 15th but Derksen was again in the driving seat when he birdied the 18th, pitching to four feet and converting the putt. All he could do was wait and see if Els could match him. During the third round Els drove the 17th green to set up a birdie but couldn’t repeat the feat on the final day, his drive finding the scrub and although he chipped to ten feet, the putt slipped by.
Needing a birdie on the final hole, a hole he had bogeyed in the previous two rounds, Els hit a towering drive but his three iron second shot ran through the green. Faced with a treacherous chip towards the water, Els left his ball well short of the hole and missed his birdie attempt.
It was a remarkable climax to the week for Derksen, one of the last men in the field and playing only his third event of the year, as he became only the second Dutchman to win on The European Tour International Schedule. The cheque for €291,994 (£200,000) was almost 20 times higher than his previous best but far more valuable was the two year exemption. Derksen had earned Membership of The European Tour twice before through the Qualifying School and once through the Challenge Tour but each time he had been unable to retain his card. Now he is exempt until the end of 2005 and lies in sixth place in the Volvo Order of Merit on €294,591 (£201,779).
Derksen was emotional as he appreciated the enormity of his achievement and he said: “I travelled to Johannesburg and Singapore as first reserve but didn’t get into the field. I only knew as I boarded the plane from Holland on Monday that I was going to play in Dubai. I knew the re-rank was coming up for Qualifying School graduates but now I don’t need to worry about that and it’s a wonderful feeling.”
Els remains top of the Volvo Order of Merit having won twice and finished second twice in his four stroke play events of the season with €774,850 (£530,730).
“The golf course really played tough over the weekend,” said Els. “But I only made one mistake today on the 12th. I had 175 yards to the hole into the wind and it was just in the first cut. I hit a seven iron and just hit it long and it flew. It flew 200 yards and I had no shot from there. So I made ‘double’ there.
“But then I played well coming in and I did what I wanted to do. I couldn’t hit two better shots than the two into the 18th. I had 215 yards to the hole and hit a beautiful three iron. If it stayed on the shorter stuff I had a better shot but in the long stuff, you hit it too hard and you hit it in the water. I didn’t hit a very good chip to say the least but I was concerned it was going to run away with me.
“But what can you do. One guy comes out of the pack and beats you. He played well so it is one of those things.”
Alastair Forsyth and David Lynn, who went into the final round tied for the lead, shot final rounds of 71, one under par to finish in joint third place alongside Ian Woosnam, who closed with a three under par 69, on 14 under par 274.