The Dubai Desert Classic lived up to its top billing as World Number One Tiger Woods beat the defending champion Ernie Els in a sudden-death play-off after a classic final day duel over the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club.
The two giants in world golf finished the regulation 72 holes tied on 19 under par 269 before Woods captured the title for the first time in three attempts at the first extra hole.
As the drama unfolded, any one of half a dozen players could have lifted the title but in the end it was the greatest player of a generation who claimed the title and the €329,760 first prize.
Dane Anders Hansen put up a brave fight but the putts refused to drop and his challenge came up just short as he closed with a 71 to finish on 17 under par 271, a score matched by Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez after a 69. Double US Open Champion Retief Goosen was also in the hunt throughout but the leaders remained out of reach as he closed with a 71 to finish a shot further back.
Coming down the stretch it was the Australian left-hander Richard Green who held the upper hand as he reeled off a run a four birdies in five holes to edge one ahead playing the last. But his attempt to cut off the corner on the dog-leg 18th finished amid the trees in a horrible lie in the desert sand and his effort to get the ball back in play finished stymied behind a tree. He found the green in four but missed his par saving putt to finish with a 68 for an 18 under par total of 270.
Els and Woods, who had just birdied the 17th after a towering drive found the green, both needed to birdie the last to edge past him. Els duly rose to the challenge, finding the green in two and safely two putting for a 67 to post the target of 19 under par 269.
Woods in the final group matched him, getting up and down from the back fringe for a 69 to take the contest into a play-off. Woods has a phenomenal record in play-offs, losing only once in 13 previous attempts, and he was not about to suffer a second defeat. Woods hit a perfect drive while Els turned his over slightly to find the sand among the trees. With Woods hitting his approach to the back of the green, Els rekindled memories of his 2002 victory when he hit a four iron second shot. He attempted to repeat the feat with the same club but it just came up short in the water guarding the front of the green. From there he made bogey, leaving Woods with three to win which he duly took.
It was his second victory in successive weeks following his play-off win in the Buick Invitational on the US PGA Tour in his first outing of the year last week.
“It's a good start,” he said. “I couldn't ask for anything more than that. Two play-offs, too; very stressful, but still, I was somehow able to come out on top, don't know how, but was very fortunate today.”
Woods was struggling to find his form over the front nine but somehow turned it around to birdie the last two holes and force himself into the play-off.
“Today was a day that I'm very proud of, and I hung in there just like I did last week. Stayed around and made some key putts and some key saves and hit some crucial shots that allowed me to get into a play-off both times. It's a pretty good feeling when you're able to do that and turn things around like that.”
For Els there was obvious disappointment after coming so close to becoming the first player to successfully defend the title.
“I had to hit that four iron perfectly but I had half a decent lie, and it almost worked,” said Els. “A yard or two out. Just one of those things. That was my favourite tee shot of the whole tournament, I was five under on that hole for the week with an eagle and three birdies. But there you go. I cannot complain. After all the hassle I had with the leg, to come back, this was strongest field in the world this year, biggest week and to almost win it, is fine.”
Similarly Green’s title push was undone by one bad drive on the last but he can take comfort from the fact he stood toe to toe with two of the world’s greatest golfers.
“Unfortunately my driver has cost me another win,” said the 1997 champion. “It is pretty disappointing to see the result of it but that 18th doesn’t play as well for me as it does for the right handers. I tried to be aggressive off the tee and take a bit more out of it but just came off it and in the trees it was as bad a lie as you could get. I fluffed it out and unfortunately it got stuck behind a tree. Your nightmare has come true.
“These guys are just so good. I couldn’t quite do enough. It would have been nice to knock off a couple of number ones.”
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