Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Ernie Els has used the Dubai Desert Classic as a springboard before. He won in Dubai in 1994, then captured that year’s U.S. Open. In 2002, after winning in Dubai, he went on to a victory at the British Open.
On March 6, after a three-week layoff, Els won his third Dubai Desert Classic. Could the Masters be far behind?
“This is part of my run-up to April and the Masters, and I needed a win,” Els said after shooting a final-round 68 to finish 19 under par and earn 277,878 euros (approximately $367,890).
Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and Welshman Stephen Dodd finished a stroke behind to earn 144,812 euros apiece. Colin Montgomerie shot 16 under, finished fourth and earned 83,364 euros.
A playoff seemed likely as the tournament wound down, but Els scotched that idea with a touch of magic on the dogleg-left, 547-yard, par-5 18th hole.
Els, trailing by a stroke, hit a massive tee shot, cutting the corner of the dogleg. He was left with 178 yards to the green and hit a 6-iron to 18 feet. He holed the subsequent eagle putt to deny Jimenez his sixth title in the past 15 months, and Dodd his second since November.
“I missed a lot of putts on the back nine, but that putt on 18 was obviously the most important,” Els said. “I was a little tentative on a couple of putts today. For that one, I felt good for some reason. I could see the line and got it on line. It was a great feeling when it went in.”
With Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson battling it out for the Ford Championship at Doral, Els sent an important signal to them and the rest of the golf world that he will be ready by the time he arrives at Augusta National.
“They (Mickelson and Woods) are playing at a very high level,” Els said. “Tiger seems like he’s really striking the ball well again, and so does Vijay (Singh). It just seems like he’s not making any putts at the moment.
“Nobody wants to back off this year. I think a lot of guys are looking for big years.”
Jimenez had a chance to force a playoff at the final hole but three-putted from 70 feet, missing a 9-foot birdie putt.
“It was hard to lose,” Jimenez said. “I never thought he was going to make eagle. That’s golf.”
Dodd, winner of the Volvo China Open at the end of last year, used some clutch putting to stay in contention.
“I holed a lot of good putts, which makes the difference between a good score and a mediocre score,” Dodd said.
But it was not enough. Neither Dodd nor Jimenez was going to stop Els from taking the desert by storm.