Nick Gordon
2 minute read
30 Jan 2014
6:00 am

Els looks back with some pride

Nick Gordon

The Dubai Desert Classic reaches a milestone of 25 years when the first group tees off at the Emirates Golf Club today and one player who is a firm part of the tournament's history is South Africa's Ernie Els.

FILE PICTURE: Ernie Els. Photo by Luke Walker / Gallo Images / Sunshine Tour

It was the scene of the “Big Easy’s” first European Tour victory back in 1994 and since then Els has claimed another two titles at the desert tournament.

He will join Thomas Bjorn and Henrik Stenson on the tee today in the final event of the Middle East swing on the European Tour and after a solid tie for 37th at six-under-par at last weekend’s Qatar Masters, it’s not unthinkable for Els to challenge at an event he describes as one of his favourites.

“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. I love coming back – it’s always been my favourite event on the Tour,” Els, who also won here in 2002 and 2005, told the European Tour website as he reflected on his history in the event.

Nine other South Africans join Els in a stellar field that includes world No 1 Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and there are several possible contenders in the group if their recent form is anything to go by.

Of the group, Dawie van der Walt and Branden Grace look to have chances, especially on the back of their showings in the Qatar Masters where they finished tied ninth and 13th respectively.

Grace has been paired with fellow South African Richard Sterne for the opening round.

Darren Fichardt has also been one of the standouts during the desert swing with a top 10 finish and a share of 16th in his last two events while Hennie Otto has also been relatively consistent by finished tied 37th and 19th in the last two weeks.

The rest of the South African contingent of Jbe Kruger, Garth Mulroy and Justin Walters have struggled so far, having missed cuts in both events so far, while Walters was disqualified from the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship a fortnight ago after a scoring irregularity. Jaco van Zyl will be playing in his first European Tour event of the year.