Focus of the golfing world will centre on Dubai again this week when players from across the globe descend on the magnificent Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club for the 16th staging of the Dubai Desert Classic.
Mark O’Meara will defend the title he won in spectacular fashion 12 months ago after a week long tussle with Ireland’s Paul McGinley, the American eventually triumphing by a solitary shot after a final round 69 gave him a 17 under par total of 271.
It is a measure of the stature of the tournament that O’Meara – winner of The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1998 – is one of six former Open Champions in the field, the others being Ben Curtis (2003), Ernie Els (2002), Paul Lawrie (1999), Sandy Lyle (1985) and Greg Norman (1986 and 1993).
Indeed, O’Meara’s last official win prior to Dubai was at Birkdale, and he said: “I felt very privileged. At 47 years of age, it told me I can still do it. Certainly, winning the Masters and the Open was a dream come true, but to be honest with you, winning the Dubai Desert Classic is also up there with anything in my career.
“Certainly, it's a long way to travel for an American but every time I've come the hospitality shown me by the people in Dubai has been tremendous. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed has put all of this time and effort to develop Dubai into a world-class city - it's just unbelievable. I certainly look forward to coming back and defending my title because I feel blessed to have so many wonderful friends there.”
From the list of Open Champions on show, the name synonymous with Dubai is undoubtedly Els, for not only is the South African the only multiple winner from the previous 15 stagings of the event, he also holds the course record, his magnificent 11 under par 61 on the way to his first victory in 1994, still standing proudly.
“Dubai has become one of the most popular sporting venues in the world with many star names lining up to play here,” said HE Mohammed Ali Alabbar, Chairman of the Dubai Desert Classic Executive Committee, Organisers and Promoters of the event.
“But as sports fans ourselves we always get a thrill when the real superstars of the game agree to play in Dubai and there are few bigger names in golf than Ernie Els. I’m delighted he has again agreed to join us as he is a great friend of the Desert Classic as well as one of the best players in the world.”
Els is one of seven former champions in the field, lining up alongside Thomas Björn (2001), Robert-Jan Derksen (2003), Richard Green (1997), David Howell (1999), Colin Montgomerie (1996) and O’Meara.
Howell won the event in one of the two years it was played at the nearby Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club – the other being 2000 when José Coceres triumphed – but all other 13 stagings have been at the Emirates Golf Club.
Competitors this year will once again find Karl Litten’s verdant oasis in the desert in pristine condition, providing the perfect platform to compete for the richest prize fund in the tournament’s history, namely $2.2 million.
M. A. Al Ghurair, Managing Director of main sponsors Dubai Aluminium (DUBAL) said: “At DUBAL, we are again delighted to be the main sponsors for the Dubai Desert Classic.
”Over the years, the Dubai Desert Classic has grown from a fledgling tournament in one of the game’s most unusual venues to become a prime event on The European Tour and a ‘must-play’ for many of golf’s biggest names.
“We are particularly proud that our support of the Dubai Desert Classic has helped raise Dubai’s profile in the world golfing community. Today, the name of Dubai is synonymous with golfing facilities par excellence – and a great deal of the city’s popularity as a golfing destination is down to the success of the Desert Classic.”