Ernie Els has made a significant impact on European Tour history already with his 22 tournament victories and his back to back successes in the Order of Merit in 2003 and 2004. But now the South African stands on the verge of equalling one of the Tour’s all time records as he heads into this week’s Commercialbank Qatar Masters.
For nearly a decade, the record of the most consecutive cuts on The European Tour has been held by the 2004 Ryder Cup Captain, Bernhard Langer, the German teeing up at the weekend in every tournament he played between the 1991 PGA Championship at Wentworth Club and the same tournament in 1996, a grand total of 69 events.
Now Els is set to move alongside Langer on that mark, the South African currently standing at 68 tournament cuts made in a row having begun his own particular run in the 2000 Johnnie Walker Classic at the Westin Resort, Ta Shee.
The omens for Els succeeding in his quest are good. Not only is he in good form, having claimed his 22nd European Tour International Schedule title before Christmas with victory in the dunhill championship and finishing second the following week in the South African Airways Open, he also comes to the spectacular Doha Golf Club as defending champion.
The three time Major winner was in superb form last year on Peter Harradine’s verdant oasis in the desert, recovering from an opening 73 to post three rounds in the 60s, his final round 65 good enough to pip third round leader Henrik Stenson by a solitary shot.
Indeed his final round 65 helped equal two records set by the 2004 champion Joakim Haeggman of Sweden, namely the lowest final round by a winner in the eight year history of the event and the largest final round comeback by a winner, namely five shots.
Of course, should Els make the cut and equal Langer’s record, he will be odds-on to set a new mark the following week in the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club, another course with which he has a particular affinity having won the title three times – including last year – and where he still holds the course record thanks to the stunning 61 he posted in 1994, the year of his first victory.
But Els will have thoughts only for The Commercialbank Qatar Masters and Doha Golf Club this week and, although he might be confident of making the cut, he will face a stiffer task in picking up the lion’s share of the US$ 2 million prize fund as a quality field has assembled in the desert for the co-sanctioned event with the Asian Tour.
Main challenger in the bookmaker’s eyes will be World Number Two Vijay Singh, who warmed up for his first visit to Qatar with a share of eighth place in last week’s inaugural Abu Dhabi Golf Championship at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
But also worth consideration will be three of the stellar names from the stable of promoters International Sports Management, Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Lee Westwood, who will all be making their first appearances in a stroke play event in the 2006 calendar year.
Both Westwood and McGinley – the winner of the season ending 2005 Volvo Masters at Club de Golf Valderrama – played in the inaugural HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai last November, the first event of the 2006 European Tour season, while McGinley was part of the winning European Team against Asia in the inaugural Royal Trophy in Bangkok a little over two weeks ago.
However it will represent Clarke’s first outing of the 2006 season, the Northern Irishman’s schedule, understandably, governed by the progress of his wife Heather as she continues to battle illness.
While The Commercialbank Qatar Masters is memorable for a number of reasons, it is also in The European Tour record books as the tournament where the fewest number of shots came between the halfway leaders and the cut mark.
That occurred in 2004 where only five shots separated the five joint leaders on six under par 138 and the mark where the cut fell on one under par 143, seeing a total of 84 players in action over the weekend.