Ernie Els is well used to appearing in golf’s record books but the South African will attempt to make two further significant entries this week when he defends his title in the 17th staging of the Dubai Desert Classic on the majestic Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club.
Firstly, after making the cut in last week’s Commercialbank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club and equalling Bernhard Langer’s long standing record of 69 consecutive cuts made on The European Tour, the 36 year old South African will be aiming to create a new record of 70, his own particular odyssey having begun in the 2000 Johnnie Walker Classic in Taiwan.
But Els will also attempt to become the first player in the illustrious history of the Dubai Desert Classic to win in consecutive years. He is already the only player to have taken the title and the distinctive trophy on more than one occasion (1994, 2002 and 2005), but he will look to produce the same form as last year to reach another milestone.
Twelve months ago Els posted a final round of 68 for a 19 under par total of 269, one clear of Stephen Dodd and Miguel Angel Jiménez with Colin Montgomerie fourth. But it was the final hole of last year’s event which will live long in the memory of all those fortunate enough to have witnessed it. Trailing playing partner Jiménez and Dodd, who had moments earlier birdied the 18th to move to 18 under par, Els firstly hit a monstrous drive to cut the corner off the dog-leg.
Then, left with 178 yards to the hole, Els hit a brilliant six iron approach to 22 feet away – a shot later voted RBS Shot of the Month – before calmly stroking the ball home, punching the air as it dropped. The fact that he was the only player to eagle the 18th on the final day underlined his achievement.
Statistics would suggest that Els is the man to beat this week having never finished lower than eighth in his eight appearances in the tournament. He is also 120 under par for those 32 rounds, one of which is the course record 11 under par 61, set on the opening day of the 1994 tournament, which still stands.
But, as always, a high quality field has assembled in the desert to challenge for the title and the lion’s share of the $2,400,000 prize fund, led by Els’s South African compatriot and World Number Three Retief Goosen alongside World Number One Tiger Woods.
Goosen will be paying his eighth visit to the Dubai Desert Classic and, although he has not yet tasted victory, he did finish runner up to fellow countryman Wayne Westner in 1993 and was eighth in 1998 when José Maria Olazábal of Spain captured the title.
Woods’s first visit to Dubai came in 2001 when he was pipped to the title by Denmark’s Thomas Björn while, in 2004, he finished in a share of fifth as his good friend and fellow American Mark O’Meara picked up the gleaming silver trophy.
But now the World Number One is back and looking to make it third time lucky. “I always enjoy visiting Dubai,” he said. “It is an extremely hospitable place where the people and the tournament organisers treat the players so well. The level of competition is always extremely high too so I know I will have to play my best golf if I’m going to win.”
All competitors will compete over a course commonly referred to as ‘The Desert Miracle’, the name give to the Majlis Course when it became the first all-grass championship golf course in the Gulf region in 1988, a year before former Ryder Cup Captain Mark James won the inaugural Dubai Desert Classic in March 1989.
It remains a remarkable feat of engineering to this day, and many have followed in its footsteps. Designer Karl Litten’s brainchild still inspires awe amongst all who play its verdant fairways, as well as those who simply visit its unique and ageless clubhouse.
The Majlis Championship course is a challenging par 72 layout, sculptured around the original tall desert dunes. It takes its name from the Arabic for ‘meeting place’. Indeed, one of the most prominent features on the course is the Majlis building itself, positioned between the eighth and ninth holes.
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