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Qatar Masters

Ernie Els, Qatar Masters Champion
Qatar Masters, 10-13 March 2005

Things just got better and better as the week progressed in Qatar. I started the tournament with a very ordinary round of 73 and finished with a 65 to win the tournament by one shot. That was the score I was aiming to shoot at the start of the day, to get me to 12-under par, which I figured might be the winning total. Obviously, that kind of prediction doesn’t always work out. But this time it did and I must say I really enjoyed the challenge on that last day. It was a lot of fun. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the result. If anything, it felt even better than last week’s win in Dubai.

As I’ve already mentioned, it didn’t start well. I bogeyed my first hole on Thursday and that pretty much set the pattern for a round that never got going, as they say. I had to wait until the final hole to notch my first birdie of the day, for a one-over par 73. That birdie felt like it was a long time coming, but better late than never, I guess.

A four-shot improvement on Friday was a step in the right direction, but it was a strange day’s golf, to be honest. I couldn’t put my finger on the exact problem, but I was struggling to get the ball close with my approach shots. I say it was strange because my swing was feeling good and I was hitting a lot of solid iron shots. It just wasn’t happening for me, though. Needed to figure that one out at the weekend, because I knew I‘d have to really make something happen to get into contention.

Saturday was kind of similar, in that I hit a lot of solid iron shots and again struggled to hole putts. It’s funny how that happens sometimes; my swing felt good again and I was playing well from tee to green, but I just wasn’t converting enough opportunities on the greens. Still, a second consecutive 69 wasn’t a disaster. I had half a chance on Sunday.

It was pretty clear what I needed to do, though. I needed to play really well, and make a bit of a charge on the front nine to get myself in touch with the leaders…in a hurry! As I was saying in my introduction, 65 was the number I had in my mind. You never know what the leaders are going to do; no point worrying about that. You’ve just got to stick to your own game plan. And mine was to be aggressive, shoot at the flags and, most importantly of all, make some putts. The golf course at Doha is a great test, with strong par-5s and par-3s. I knew that even though the greens are very true to putt on, a low score wouldn’t come easy.

In a way I was pleased that the weather was blustery, because there’s less chance of the leaders running away from you on a day like that. Anyway, I made the perfect start, with a birdie at the 1st. Made a bit of a mess of the 3rd, having hit it in the water, but got out of that with a good bogey, if there is such a thing!

The middle of the front nine was definitely the key to my round. I made three threes in a row, all birdies, on 4, 5 and 6. And the wind was really blowing at that point. That was big. Then when I made my sixth birdie on the 12th, thanks to a curling, right-to-left, 25-footer, I knew I had a great chance to win. I was 10-under par, just a shot behind the leader, and needed a couple more birdies coming in to hit my target-65.

Got the first of those on the short par-4 16th, then made a solid par on the 17th. It was all to play for on the last hole, a long par-5. I had to get a good drive away, to give myself a shot at the green in two. I managed that, then hit a really solid 3-iron from about 260, which found the front edge of the green. A solid two-putt birdie, my eighth of the day, gave me just what I wanted; 65 and a 12-under par total.

Then I just had to wait. Both Richard Green and Henrik Stenson had chances to make it into a playoff for the title; they both gave it a good shot, but it didn’t work out for them. So, that was that. I’d won from being five shots behind at the start of the day - the best comeback of my career, as it happens. I suppose I got a little bit lucky to win in the end, but it felt really good. And the thing is, I feel like my game is right there and I can’t wait to get to America. The way things are going, I’m looking forward to teeing it up every day and really enjoying my golf.

Coming up this week... It’s a long trip from Qatar to Orlando, for the Bay Hill Invitational this week. First stop, though, is Palm Beach, for the member/guest day at Seminole on Monday. I’m playing again with my good friend Johann Rupert. In fact, we’re defending the ‘net’ title that we won in this same event 12 months ago. 63, I think it was. I hope he’s been practising!

I don’t know if any of you are familiar with the golf course at Seminole, but it’s a pretty special place. It’s certainly a lot of fun to play there. Ben Hogan used to spend time here between tournaments, beating balls for hours and perfecting that amazing swing of his. Many other legends of the game have played here, too. The likes of Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer. There’s a lovely feel about the place.

It’s a great golf course, as well. The condition of it last year was worthy of any tour event, with beautiful greens - firm, fast and true to putt on. I’ll tell you how things went (and whether our performance was a match for last year’s effort!) in next week’s report.

For now, let’s get back to the Bay Hill Invitational. It’s a while since I won this tournament, way back in 1998; and yet it’s always one of the first to go down on my schedule when I sit down and plan the year ahead. I like it a lot. It’s the kind of golf course I enjoy playing; it’s fairly long at 7,300 yards, and the fairways aren’t too tight so there’s room to give it a rip off the tee. It’s got one of the best finishing stretches in golf, as well.

It’s also one of the very few tournaments of the year where I get to stay in my own house, only a 30-minute drive from the golf course, which is another reason to feel good about this week.

As I was saying a bit earlier in this report, I can’t wait to tee it up at the moment. I feel really good about my game. I’ve got the club in a nice position at the top of my backswing, and I often think that’s the key for me in my golf swing. I feel like I can go after the ball and freewheel the club through the hitting area, which is the feeling I have when I’m playing my best golf. My rhythm is really good at the moment, too.

It’s a great time to be hitting some form, with the Players’ Championship next week and the Masters a couple of weeks after that. And you have to say it looks like being an exciting year, with Tiger, Phil, Vijay and a few of the other guys all playing well. It’s great for golf and everyone who loves the game.

Bye for now. I’ll write again next week.

Ernie's Stats Summary (European Tour 2005)
Tournament: Qatar Masters
Scores: 73, 69, 69, 65 - 276, 12-under par, 1st
Tournaments Played: 4
Prize Money: 555,286 euros
Position on Money List: 1nd
Stroke Average: 68.69
World Ranking: 3

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