American Tiger Woods, the World Number One, and Ernie Els of South Africa, currently ranked third, headline a stellar cast for the 15th Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club, one of the most eagerly awaited early season tournaments on The 2004 European Tour International Schedule.
Els and Woods, voted Player of the Year on The European Tour and the US PGA Tour respectively last season, won no fewer than 12 titles between them worldwide in 2003 and will both relish the challenge of the Majlis Course.
For Els, it is a return to familiar territory. He is the only man to have won two Dubai Desert Classic titles, winning in 1994 and 2002, and he holds the course record of 61. Indeed that opening round in 1994, which included 12 birdies, equalling the record for the most birdies in one round, is still widely regarded as one of the greatest ever rounds in the history of The European Tour.
Els's record in Dubai makes impressive reading. In his six previous appearances he has never finished outside the top eight and won twice. In total 22 of his 24 rounds have been under par. He has never been over par.
"I think everyone knows I love playing in Dubai," Els said. "I like the lines off the tees and the greens are quite soft so if you get your ball up, you can shoot some good scores."
Winner of three Major Championships and the 2003 Volvo Order of Merit, Els looked on course to claim a third Dubai crown last March until overhauled by a brilliant final round 65 by Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen.
This year Els has continued to impress, successfully defending both the Heineken Classic on The European Tour International Schedule and the Sony Open in Hawaii on the US PGA Tour.
Woods, winner of last week’s World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play, will be making his second appearance in the Dubai Desert Classic having narrowly lost out to Denmark's Thomas Björn in 2001. On that occasion Björn and Woods went head to head for all four days before Björn came out on top by two strokes.
Björn and Els are among six past champions in the field, the others being last year's champion Derksen, Richard Green of Australia, England's David Howell, Colin Montgomerie of Scotland and South African Wayne Westner.
The starting line-up includes seven champions from The 2004 European Tour International Schedule along with Darren Clarke, the current leader of the Volvo Order of Merit. Clarke, third in last week’s WGC - Accenture Match Play, Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter, who made the last eight, and Montgomerie, who progressed to the last 16 at La Costa Resort & Spa, will all be competing.
Since it first appeared on The European Tour International Schedule in 1989, the Dubai Desert Classic at The Emirates Golf Club has become firmly established as one of the premier events of the season. Apart from two stagings at the nearby Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club in 1999 and 2000, all other 13 tournaments have been staged at the Emirates GC and this year players will be competing for a record $2 million in prize money.