Ernie Els, who closed out 2006 with an impressive victory in the South African Airways Open in his native country, will dust down his clubs after a five week winter break to join three other Major Champions, seven of Europe’s successful Ryder Cup Team from The K Club and a host of title winners in The Commercialbank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club this week.
Els collected his 23rd European Tour title at Humewood Golf Club in December, and returns to competitive action in the second leg of the 2007 ‘Gulf Swing’ which got off to a flying start last week when Paul Casey won the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
The World Number Five is making his third visit to the shimmering green oasis in the Qatari capital in search of the gold Mother of Pearl Trophy which he won after a close duel with Henrik Stenson in 2005.
Els is joined in Qatar by fellow Major winners, Michael Campbell of New Zealand, Retief Goosen of South Africa and Scotsman Paul Lawrie, who captured the Qatar Masters crown as a prelude to claiming The Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999.
Stenson, of course, took a measure of revenge over his conqueror 12 months ago when he went one better and won the title with Els in 13th place. The Swede is one of the Ryder Cup winners from 2006 in the line-up for the tenth anniversary of the event along with Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Robert Karlsson, Paul McGinley and Lee Westwood and Casey, who moved up to World Number 13 on the back of his victory in Abu Dhabi.
Clarke, McGinley and Westwood all make their 2007 debuts in individual competition while Garcia and Karlsson finished together in a share of 14th place last week’s in neighbouring Abu Dhabi.
The field for The 2007 Commercialbank Qatar Masters is the strongest in the event’s history with a record $2.2 million at stake this week. Adding to the international flavour of the event is the first participation by American Ryder Cup player, Chris DiMarco and Australian Stuart Appleby.
DiMarco has extended his Gulf visit this year, having made his first appearance in 2006 and going home from Abu Dhabi laden with the spoils of a one shot victory over Stenson. Appleby, meanwhile, makes his Qatar debut five years after being edged out by Els in a play-off for The Open at Muirfield.
The Commercialbank Qatar Masters, co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, also includes several Asian players who have made a big impact on The European Tour, namely Thongchai Jaidee, Mardan Mamat, Thaworn Wiratchant and India’s Jeev Milkah Singh, who captured two European Tour titles in 2006 – the Volvo China Open and the Volvo Masters.
Apart from Els and Lawrie, three other past winners are in the field, namely Scotland’s Andrew Coltart, who won the inaugural event in 1998, Rolf Muntz of The Netherlands (2000) and Sweden’s Joakim Haeggman (2004).