To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, some of The European Tour’s leading lights have recounted their favourite memories from down the years…
Even by his own elevated standards, Ernie Els’ record in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic is nothing short of astonishing.
Between 2002-2008, Els finished inside the top three in every single edition, winning twice (in 2002 and 2005) and finishing runner-up on three occasions.
It is therefore no surprise that the South African refers to the Omega Dubai Desert Classic as “my favourite event on the Tour”.
Indeed, his affinity with Emirates Golf Club stretches back over two decades, as he finished in the top ten in his debut appearance in 1993 before securing his maiden European Tour title 12 months later.
The four-time Major Champion said: “I came here for the first time in 1993, and really enjoyed the course and the tournament. One year later I came into the week in decent form after a couple of good results in South Africa. On the first day I played with one of my heroes, Sandy Lyle, and shot a 61 – to this day, it remains one of the greatest days of my career.”
Els would have to wait eight years for his second successful foray to the desert, cruising to victory by four shots from Niclas Fasth in 2002; and he duly notched a hat-trick of victories three years later, when he prevailed by a single stroke after a titanic tussle on the final day with overnight leader Miguel Angel Jiménez.
He recalled: “My third win in 2005, I got a bit lucky on the last day. On the 18th I pulled my tee shot left, but was fortunate to get a good lie in the desert. I had a line to the flag and managed to hit the green with my three iron, then sunk the putt for eagle to beat Miguel by one shot. So that was yet another great memory.
“As well as my three wins, I’ve also had quite a few close calls down the years, including when Tiger beat me in a play-off [in 2006]. I love coming back – it’s always been my favourite event on the Tour.
“One of the main reasons for that is the course. It’s always in immaculate condition, and it plays to my strengths because I like to draw the ball. So it suited me from the moment I stepped onto the course in 1993, and I’ve been coming back virtually every year since then.”
After a four year absence, Els has returned to the fray this year lured in part by Tuesday’s Champions Challenge, in which he was paired with Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie and American Mark O’Meara, respectively the winners in 1996 and 2004.
“This is a very special tournament and a special day,” said Els, “with all the past champions lined up except, of course, for Seve.
“We all miss him, but it’s great to see his son [Javier] here and I’m sure he’s going to enjoy his day. Seve did so much for this tournament and the Tour, so it’s great to see his son represent him.”
In the tournament itself, Els will play the first two rounds in the company of Thomas Björn and Henrik Stenson, both also former winners.