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On the Road with Ernie: Dubai Desert Classic

Since returning from knee surgery, Ernie has recorded a win and two second place finishes, including one this past weekend at the Dubai Desert Classic. Find out all the details, including what made it a record-breaking weekend for the Big Easy, in this edition of On the Road with Ernie...

I’ve had a night to reflect on this year’s Desert Classic. As you can probably imagine, there are some mixed emotions. You know, I played some good golf this week, shooting four nice rounds and finishing at 19-under par, which was my winning total last year. In fact, it was the exact same numbers – a pair of 68s, a 67 and a 66. Repeating that is obviously a decent effort. And it felt good holing that six-footer on the 72nd green to get into the playoff; I mean, when you’ve been away from the game for a while that’s a big putt to make. But then again there’s the disappointment of not converting it into a win. Still, when the dust settles all you can do is take the positives from a week like that. It feels great to be out there battling for championships again. I missed that when I was away through injury. And I know it’s early in the season yet, but the way my game feels so soon after making my comeback…well, 2006 looks like being a good year. Already I’ve had a win and two close seconds; and I’m really excited about the season ahead. I just love the competition; it’s what drives me. Sure, you get disappointed when things don’t go your way. But you just come back next time and try to do it right. That’s what this game is all about.

Off to a Fast Start

Anyway, for the record let me talk you through the tournament. I made a pretty fast start on Thursday, starting on the par-5 10th and reaching the turn in three-under par. Then I birdied the 1st, to get to four-under par. I should have pushed on from there, but I could only par my last eight holes for a bogey-free 68. It was a pretty solid effort, but I left quite a few shots out there. Conditions were about as good as you’re ever going to get on this golf course – warm, sunny and with not much in the way of wind. It was a day for shooting a really low number, but I had 33 putts. It’s probably four more than my tournament average and it was kind of frustrating. But I didn’t do any damage and was pleased with my golf from tee to green, so no complaints on that front. Hopefully in the second round I could make some putts.

I was playing the golf course the right way round on Friday and not much was really happening for me on the front nine, which is the tougher of the two nines. I finally got things going, though, with three birdies in four holes from the turn. Then I made an eagle on the last to shoot 66. I hit a lot of good shots again, as I did in the first round. The only difference, basically, was on the greens. I rolled in a few putts and had 29 in total, which is a bit more like it. At 10-under par I was in decent shape for the weekend and looking forward to having a crack at winning my fourth Desert Classic.

Record Breaking Weekend

Of course, those who’ve been following the last few website reports would know that being here for the weekend meant I broke Bernhard Langer’s all-time European Tour record of consecutive cuts made. That’s 70 tournaments in a row now. Quite proud of that record; it says a lot about my consistency – we all have rounds when we don’t feel like we’re on our game, but what this record says more than anything else is that even on days like that I was able to get the job done and salvage a decent score out of a potentially bad situation. That’s what you have to be able to do in this game.

Anyway, on Saturday I played okay and I continued to feel a little bit more comfortable on the greens. 68 was a good score, but it should have been a couple of shots better. I made a few silly bogeys, especially on 16 where I had only a wedge to the green and took five. That’s really soft. But hey, I wasn’t sad about my position after three rounds. I was only two shots behind and that’s nothing. I love this course. I figured if I could put it all together on Sunday and play with the same rhythm that I had on Saturday, and maybe make a few putts, I could shoot 65 and that would be good enough to win. You don’t know what the weather’s going to do, but that’s the target I was setting myself, anyway.

The Playoff

As it turned out, 66 would have been good enough to win. But I shot one more than that…and that meant a playoff with Tiger. That tee shot on 18 is one of my favourite shots on the entire golf course – this week alone I was five-under par for that hole. I felt good about hitting driver again, but I just turned it over too much.

I had a decent lie in the sandy waste; 198 to the front, 210 to the pin; a 4-iron, basically. I suppose I could have laid-up, but it’s easy to say that in hindsight. I remember hitting a great shot from almost the same spot a few years back and making eagle; I guess I was trying to do the same thing again. The shot was on. And it almost worked; just a yard or two out. But there you go. It’s one of those things. I cannot complain. After all the hassle I had with my knee, to come back here against the strongest field in the world this year and almost win, that’s fine. Congratulations to Tiger; it was fun going head-to-head with him again.

Like I said at the beginning of this report, overall I’m pleased with my performance. And it was good to be back in Dubai again. This is a wonderful golf tournament and the organisers, who do such an amazing job looking after us and putting on such a great show, certainly got the tournament they deserved in 2006. Let’s hope they get a chance to see a re-match in 2007. I look forward to that!

I also really enjoyed the site visit to my golf course at the start of the week…and just witnessing how this place is changing. Dubai really is an incredible place. It’s come a long way since I started coming here in 1993. Obviously this tournament is a huge attraction. That’s part of the reason why all of these buildings are going up and all of these beautiful resorts are coming here. And with the resorts, there will be golf courses. I’m getting busy, Greg Norman is here, Nick Faldo is coming, I’m sure Mark O’Meara is going to build something here. All of the great names in golf design, they are getting busy here. It helps cement Dubai’s place on the golfing and tourist map. If you’re considering a holiday with family or friends, this place has got to be on the short list. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Coming up this week…

I’ve flown home to Wentworth this week and we’ll be here until the weekend when I head off to California for the Nissan, my first PGA Tour event of 2006, starting on February 16th. I’ll obviously spend some time working on my game between now and the weekend. I’ve also got a Media Day at Wentworth, where we’re giving the press a chance to play the new-look West Course. I’ll maybe fill you in on that in my report next week. Anyway, talking of new-looks, I hope you like the redesigned website. I think the guys have done a great job

Bye for now. I’ll write again just before I leave for the States.

Ernie’s stats (European Tour 2006)
Tournament: Dubai Desert Classic
Scores: 68, 66, 68, 67 - 269, 19-under par, 2nd
Tournaments played: 4
Prize Money: 519,420 euros
Position on Money List: 3rd
Stroke Average: 69.31
World Ranking: 5

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