World Number Five Ernie Els is looking to get his New Year off to a flying start on his return to action in the Commercialbank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club.
The 2005 champion, the highest ranked player in the field, is well aware of the challenges ahead, particularly the swirling shamaal wind that sweeps across this most exposed of the courses visited by The European Tour in the Gulf region, and is hoping to shake off the usual anxiety that accompanies a new start with plenty of birdies.
“I am a little anxious to start a new year,” admitted Els. “You want to start nicely and you want to hit the ball well and make birdies. But I know how the wind can blow here. I have just hit some balls on the range and it is really up. It will be difficult scoring conditions which might be good for my first event of the year. It means we have to play some different shots.
“But I am really looking forward to it and it is great to be back. It seems this tournament gets bigger every year which is great credit to Commercialbank. They have some really quality players here this week so it is a strong field for this early part of the year which is good to see.”
Els, teaming up with a new caddie in JP Fitzgerald for the first time after parting company with long term caddie Ricci Roberts, will be looking for back-to-back European Tour titles following his win in the South African Airways Open at the end of 2006, a win that has brought renewed optimism and determination.
“The win in South Africa was my last chance to win an event for the year,” he said. “It was not the strongest of fields but I still had to shoot the numbers and it was very satisfying. I felt I played like I wanted to play all year and thankfully it came in the last event. Now I need to take that feeling and move forward with it.”
The quality of the field in Qatar, the strongest in the ten year history of the event with players such as last week’s winner Paul Casey, Darren Clarke, Chris DiMarco, Sergio Garcia, Reteif Goosen and defending champion Henrik Stenson, will not make Els’ task of becoming the first player to win the title twice any easier.
“I really feel focused and want to have a good year. It is nice to see a strong field here and that boosts ranking points. It is good for The European Tour and the Asian Tour.
“I haven’t felt I have been on top of my game since 2005 but I want to get back to the form I want to perform at and competing with the best again. That’s my goals. I am here to win this week but there is a lot of golf to be played.”