On the Road with Ernie: Strong Start to 2007Ernie Els prepares to tee off at the Dubai Desert Classic this week, a tournament he's won three times, after a solid third place finish last week in his 2007 debut at the Qatar Masters. Read all about it in this edition of On the Road with Ernie...
Every year I want to start my first tournament strongly and get into a nice, positive frame of mind. Obviously winning is my goal, but it’s important to at least play nicely and get some good scores under my belt. So if you look at it like that, last week’s Qatar Masters was a good week for me. I enjoyed it. And I had a little bit of a chance out there on the last day to sneak up and win the tournament. You know, you can’t ever give up. Golf is a crazy game and anything can happen. But in the end, 3rd place was okay. I’ll take that and move on to Dubai in good spirits.
In any case, 13-under par is a pretty good score around that golf course. It’s one shot better than when I won here in 2005. The windy weather makes scoring difficult and so most days it is a very demanding golf course. On Thursday I was hitting balls on the range and the wind was really up, but I kind of like that. It’s the reason I love links golf, as well; you have to try some different shots, work your golf ball, and use your imagination. It’s a challenge, but it’s good fun. I guess that’s why I always feel like I can do well here.
Anyway, I got off to a bit of a slow start to my first round, but I got things back on track with a couple of birdies on the par-5s and then finished strongly to shoot a three-under par 69. That was okay for starters. This was my first competitive round of golf for a month and you’re bound to be a little bit rusty. Not fully tournament sharp, if you know what I mean. And the wind tends to blow a bit harder in the afternoon, so we probably got the tougher half of the draw. Hopefully on Friday morning I could take advantage of some calmer conditions and post a low score.
We certainly got the calmer conditions on Friday morning; man, it was perfect for scoring. I didn’t take advantage, though. After making a birdie on the 10th, my first hole of the day, I had a double-bogey on 12. Then, having battled back into a fairly decent position, six-under par for the tournament and looking good going into the weekend, I bogeyed two of the last three holes. That was really frustrating. Any time you shoot 71 on a day like that you’re going to lose ground on the leaders. And I did. There was lots of work to do at the weekend.
On Saturday I had in mind to shoot something like a 65 or a 66. To be honest, though, I didn’t hit the ball all that great. In the end, 68 was a decent score on the day because it was a real battle out there; I had to scramble for everything. That just about kept me in the tournament, but on Sunday I knew I would have to play better – basically, make fewer mistakes, more birdies and try and shoot something really low. Then you just see what happens. You obviously can’t control what the guys in front are doing.
As it happened, the leaders weren’t really going anywhere, so the tournament was wide open. My front nine was a little scrappy again, though, and in the end that slow start probably cost me a chance of winning the tournament. It meant I had some catching up to do on the back nine. As I said before, though, golf is a crazy game. You have to keep fighting, because who knows? You might chip in, you might hole a second shot. Something incredible might happen so you always try to keep your options open and keep trying to give yourself a chance for a birdie or an eagle.
The good thing was on the back nine I played nicely, hit a lot of solid shots and gave myself a lot of chances. All through the back nine I was aiming for 14-under and desperately trying to get to that mark, but I just ran out of holes. If the birdie putt on 14 had gone in it might have been a different story; I really hit a sweet putt there and I don’t know how it missed. But hey, it was really enjoyable and overall I was pleased with a 67. That was a good score; I mean, it was blustery out there and the pins were tucked away in some tight spots.
In the end, even 14-under par wouldn’t have been enough. That was an amazing finish by Retief, to go birdie-eagle on the last two holes – two tough holes, as well – and win by a shot, that’s pretty special. Hats off to him. He’s waited a long time between wins, just like I had to leading up to the South African Open in December. It feels good; especially when you do it like that!
Coming up this week….
Everyone knows how much I love this week in Dubai. The Desert Classic is one of my favourite tournaments of the year and my record in this event always gives me a lot of confidence; in nine appearances I’ve won it three times, had seven top-3s and never finished lower than eighth. Overall I’m 139-under par for the 36 rounds I’ve played in this event. And it’s great to see Tiger out here again. He’s been the best player ever since he came out here and it’s always a pleasure to compete against the best and try to beat the best. If I can go one better than last year, it would be great!
I started this week by meeting up with our head of design Greg Letsche for a site visit on Monday to the new golf course we’re building in Dubai, the Dunes at Victory Heights. From the earliest plans and drawings we wanted to create a windswept, almost a dunes-style golf course in a very natural, rolling landscape, with perfectly manicured playing surfaces. Now, with construction going so well, it’s fantastic to see this ‘desert links’ as we’re calling it, taking shape. We’ve got seven holes already grassed and most of the 18 is now roughed out. You can now really see how amazing it’s going to be. We’re all very excited about it.
The family flew over from England at the weekend to spend this week with me. It’s great to have them here. I obviously have a great life and I enjoy what I do, but at the same time it’s difficult to be away from home as much as I am, so I love it when the family can come with. We’ve even brought over a teacher for Samantha so she can still do her school homework!
No need for me to go to school too much on this golf course; I feel as though I know the Emirates like I know my home golf course. Okay, it’s matured and got a bit tougher since I shot my course record 61 back in 1994, but it is basically the same place. So, as I said before, I always have a lot of good vibes whenever I play here.
And there were some positives about my game last week in Qatar, especially as it was my first tournament in over a month. You know, I hit a few loose shots here and there, but we can work that out. I’ll be looking to eliminate a few mistakes and put in a really strong performance over four rounds here in Dubai.
I’m looking forward to it….looking forward to it a lot!
Anyway, that’s it for this week’s report. I’ll write again next Monday.
Bye for now.
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