Ernie Els is relishing the prospect of returning to one of his happiest hunting grounds when the South African tees it up at the 25th edition of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, aiming to improve his own record at Emirates Golf Club.
The winner of the title an unprecedented three times, Els will join a star-laden field headlined by world number one Tiger Woods, Europe’s newly-crowned champion Henrik Stenson and Northern Ireland’s golfing sensation Rory McIlroy among other former winners of the European Tour event from January 27 to February 2.
It was Els’ emphatic six-shot victory at the 1994 edition of the event - his first on the European Tour - that launched the South African into world stardom.
Since that epoch-making triumph Els, affectionately nicknamed ‘The Big Easy’ for his calm demeanour on the golf course, has evolved into one of the most decorated golfers in the world, boasting a total of 70 professional wins, including a record seven World Match Play titles and four Major Championship titles.
Making his debut in Dubai in 1994, Els, as a 24-year-old, eclipsed a strong field which included the likes of Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples and Greg Norman to announce his arrival on the big stage.
The South African wasted no time in seizing the early initiative with a sizzling 11-under-par 61, a Majlis course record that stands to this day.
Indeed that opening round, which included 12 birdies, equalling the record for the most birdies in one round, is still widely regarded as one of the greatest ever rounds in the history of The European Tour.
Eight years later in 2002, Els triumphed again on the majestic Majlis Course to claim his second title in Dubai.
His love affair with the Majlis course continued when he claimed a record third Omega Dubai Desert Classic title in 2005 after a dramatic eagle three on the final hole which carried him past Welshman Stephen Dodd and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez.
“It feels great to return to a course where you have enjoyed some success. I think everyone knows I love playing in Dubai," Els said.
"I like the lines off the tees and the greens are quite soft so if you get your ball up, you can shoot some good scores."
“It will be fun to be part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of the tournament. Obviously I will be looking to win the event again,” said Els who is a whopping 169-under-par for the 46 rounds he has played at the Majlis course (the South African has missed the cut only once in his 12 appearances).
Commented Mohamed Juma Buamaim, vice-chairman and CEO of golf in Dubai, the promoters and organisers of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic: “We are delighted to welcome our only three-time champion back in Dubai. Ernie is a true champion and a great friend of Dubai.
“We have an incredibly strong field for the 25th edition of the event and I’m sure there the fans are in for a real feast of golf with all the drama and emotions on the course.”
The main tournament will be preceded by the Champions Challenge, an 18-hole stroke-play showpiece which will see former winners of the event contest for a $600,000 prize fund on the Majlis course on Tuesday, January 28.
‘golf in Dubai' is backed by Omega as the title sponsor and Dubal as the sponsor.
The co-sponsors are: CNN, Drydocks World & Maritime World, Emirates NBD, Mercedes-Benz and wasl while Dubai Duty Free, Carpetland and Motivate are the Patrons in golf in Dubai's drive to showcase the emirate's vibrant golfing scene to a worldwide audience.
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