World Number One and defending champion Tiger Woods will renew his desert rivalry with three-time winner Ernie Els at the Dubai Desert Classic this week as they headline the field at the Emirates Golf Club for the third and final instalment of The European Tour International Schedule’s 2007 Gulf Swing.
After European Tour Player of the Year Paul Casey’s win in Abu Dhabi and Retief Goosen’s victory in Qatar last week, another world-class field will compete over the stunning Majlis Course in Dubai.
Joining Els and Woods are nine of Europe’s victorious 2006 Ryder Cup Team, including past champions David Howell, who is making his first appearance of the year after a two-and-a-half month break, and Colin Montgomerie, the eight-time European Tour Order of Merit winner.
Casey, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Robert Karlsson, Paul McGinley, Henrik Stenson and Lee Westwood, all heroes from The K Club in Ireland last September, are also in action.
Much of the focus will understandably be on Woods, the 12-time Major Champion, as he looks to extend his remarkable run of victories. Dating back to last year’s Open Championship in July, Woods has won nine of his last 12 tournaments worldwide, and, following his win at the Buick Invitational last weekend, seven consecutive tournaments on the US PGA Tour.
Twelve months ago Woods won the Dubai Desert Classic for the first time in three attempts when he held off the challenge of Els, the 1994, 2002 and 2005 champion, after a thrilling final day duel when only a play-off could separate these two giants of world golf.
Els is hunting an unprecedented fourth Dubai Desert Classic title this week. The South African, who won the South African Airways Open at the end of last year, is setting out with a new focus as he embarks on a three year plan to regain the World Number One spot.
“Tiger’s been the best player ever since he's come out here,” said Els. “But I just want to get the best out of myself, and that is basically what I'm striving for. The only way I can do that is to become Number One in the world and right now it's a little far off to think about it, he's so far ahead. That's why I thought a three year plan is more realistic than just trying to go in and bash it out.
“It will be great to see Tiger in Dubai and I will just try and play as well as I can. If I can do one better than last year, it would be great.”
Former World Number One Greg Norman and Mark O’Meara, the 2004 champion, are also among the household names on show in Dubai. Norman twice won The Open, captured 86 titles worldwide and held the World Number One World spot for 331 weeks, a streak only Woods has beaten. O’Meara, who like Norman is eligible to compete in Seniors tournaments following his 50th birthday on January 13, counts the 1998 Masters and Open among a haul of 29 titles worldwide.
Among the other past champions is Thomas Björn, who like Els, Montgomerie, O’Meara, Stenson and Westwood, is a brand ambassador to Golf in Dubai - the promoters and organisers of the Dubai Desert Classic. Robert-Jan Derksen and Richard Green, who performed with distinction in finishing fourth in Qatar last week, complete the list of past champions in the field.
The course, which first hosted a European Tour event in 1989, has undergone some small changes on the 15th and the 18th holes. The 18th will play longer from the tee as it did in the early days, while one or two fairways have also been narrowed.