Four-time major winner Ernie Els rolled back the years to put himself in contention for a first victory since 2013 in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Els carded a second round of 65 at Emirates Golf Club, where he won his first European Tour title 25 years ago, to finish alongside fellow former champion Alvaro Quiros on 11 under par, a shot off the halfway lead shared by world number five Bryson DeChambeau and Australia’s Lucas Herbert.
DeChambeau recorded seven birdies and an eagle in his second consecutive 66, while Herbert also had seven birdies and an eagle in a superb, bogey-free 63
Els is just nine months away from being eligible for the Champions Tour and is currently ranked 527th in the world, but the 49-year-old is a three-time winner of the event and amazingly never finished worse than eighth in his first 11 appearances.
“I like this place, as you know. I’ve had some really great times here,” Els said after a round containing an eagle, seven birdies and two bogeys.
“I’m swinging well, my body feels well. Just, you know, going on the memory bank, I guess.
“Playing with Colin (Montgomerie) and Jose (Maria Olazabal) was also fun. We’ve done a lot in the game, and we had a good couple of chats, and I found my form. You’ve got to love it.
“We try and play the game to win tournaments and do as good as you can. I’ve had a good time. I’ve been a professional for a very long time and I’ve got one more year before I’m 50. I’m only 50 in October so I’ll try and have a good year this year and just try and enjoy it.
“I think it might play a little tougher over the weekend and in the afternoons if the wind comes. But I think still just keep the foot on the pedal, try and make some birdies. I think 20 under is probably where you need to be or maybe even more. There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
In contrast to Els, DeChambeau is seeking a fourth win in his last nine events, despite insisting he was far from his best for the second day running.
“I thought yesterday getting it around not making a bogey was awesome, but today even more impressive with three bogeys on the card, still shooting six under,” the American Ryder Cup player said.
“I was happy about that. Unfortunately, again, just didn’t have the right sensations and preparation over shots.
“I just felt uncomfortable, unfortunately, on a lot of them, and consequently just am not ball-striking my best. But hey, shoot, I’m not complaining one bit. There’s no complaining here for sure, so I’m happy.”
Herbert’s 63 was the lowest round of the week so far and was kickstarted by an eagle and two birdies in his first three holes, with five more birdies followed by a lengthy par-saving putt on the ninth, his final hole, after pulling his tee shot into the water.
“I don’t expect to shoot another two 63s out there,” the 23-year-old said. “I think today was some of the really good golf that I can play and it’s going to be hard to replicate that.
“But if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I won’t be doing too much wrong. Keep the bogeys off the card, try and pick off those par fives and I don’t think we’ll be too far away from it Sunday afternoon.”
Defending champion Haotong Li and England’s Matt Wallace and Callum Shinkwin are two shots off the lead on 12 under, with overnight leader Matt Fitzpatrick a stroke further back following a 70.
World number five Bryson Dechambeau tees off alongside Tommy Fleetwood and Sergia Garcia as the Omega Dubai Desert Classic gets underway on Thursday.
Here’s the groups and UAE tee times for the first round.
Tee 1 – 07:10: Gonzalo Fdez-castaño, Kim Koivu, Matthieu Pavon
Tee 10 – 07:10: Gaganjeet Bhullar, David Drysdale, Trevor Immelman
Tee 1 – 07:20: Peter Hanson, Darren Fichardt, Hideto Tanihara
Tee 10 – 07:20: Ryan Fox, Shubhankar Sharma, Rayhan Thomas (Am)
Tee 1 – 07:30: Lucas Herbert, Lee Slattery, Joachim B. Hansen
Tee 10 – 07:30: Thomas Bjørn, Stephen Gallacher, Miguel Ángel Jiménez
Tee 1 – 07:40: Nino Bertasio, Marcus Kinhult, Dean Burmester
Tee 10 – 07:40: Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Haotong Li
Tee 1 – 07:50: Matthew Southgate, Gavin Green, Jovan Rebula (Am)
Tee 10 – 07:50: Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Thorbjørn Olesen
Tee 1 – 08:00: Kalle Samooja Raphaël Jacquelin, Phachara Khongwatmai
Tee 10 – 08:00: Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Bryson Dechambeau
Tee 1 – 08:10: Thongchai Jaidee, Paul Waring, Mikko Korhonen
Tee 1 – 08:10: Matt Wallace, Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton
Tee 1 – 08:20: Andres Romero, Bernd Wiesberger, S.S.P. Chawrasia
Tee 10 – 08:20: Ernie Els, Colin Montgomerie, José María Olazábal
Tee 1 – 08:30: Bradley Dredge, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Thomas Aiken
Tee 10 – 08:30: Ross Fisher, Andy Sullivan, Jason Scrivener
Tee 1 – 08:40: Shaun Norris, James Morrison, Scott Hend
Tee 10 – 08:40: George Coetzee, Jaco Van Zyl, Mike Lorenzo-vera
Tee 1 – 08:50: Ashley Chesters, Victor Riu, Nacho Elvira
Tee 10 – 08:50: Chris Paisley, David Horsey, Ahmed Marjan
Tee 1 – 11:30: Jeunghun Wang, Renato Paratore, Richard Mcevoy
Tee 10 – 11:30: Callum Shinkwin, Matthias Schwab, Scott Jamieson
Tee 1 – 11:40: Edoardo Molinari, Sam Brazel, Joost Luiten
Tee 10 – 11:40: Yusaku Miyazato, Tapio Pulkkanen, Justin Harding
Tee 1 – 11:50: Jorge Campillo, Andrew Johnston, Andrea Pavan
Tee 10 – 11:50: Alvaro Quiros, Justin Walters, David Howell
Tee 1 – 12:00: Tom Lewis, Adrian Otaegui, Byeong Hun An
Tee 10 – 12:00: Fabrizio Zanotti, Jordan Smith, Ashun Wu
Tee 1 – 12:10: Eddie Pepperell, Alexander Björk, Kurt Kitayama
Tee 10 – 12:10: Wade Ormsby, Romain Wattel, Paul Dunne
Tee 1 – 12:20: Martin Kaymer, Rafa Cabrera Bello, David Lipsky
Tee 10 – 12:20: Jacques Kruyswijk, Steven Brown, Victor Dubuisson
Tee 1 – 12:30: Lucas Bjerregaard, Thomas Pieters, Matthew Fitzpatrick
Tee 10 – 12:30: Benjamin Hebert, Maximilian Kieffer, Pelle Edberg
Tee 1 – 12:40: Robert Karlsson, Thomas Detry, Aaron Rai
Tee 10 – 12:40: Nicolas Colsaerts, Pablo Larrazábal, Robert Rock
Tee 1 – 12:50: Brandon Stone, Søren Kjeldsen, Richard Sterne
Tee 10 – 12:50: Alexander Levy, Joakim Lagergren, Kristoffer Broberg
Tee 1 – 13:00: Richie Ramsay, Erik Van Rooyen, Romain Langasque
Tee 10 – 13:00: Jens Dantorp, Haydn Porteous, Victor Perez
Tee 1 – 13:10: Kristoffer Reitan, Marc Warren, Oliver Fisher
Tee 10 – 13:10: Sam Horsfield, Sean Crocker, Adri Arnaus
Fleetwood will be joined by fellow Ryder Cup stars, past and present, including Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton, Thorbjorn Olesen, Thomas Bjorn, Lee Westwood, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Colin Montgomerie, in what will be a star-studded field as the world’s best compete for the famous Dallah trophy.
Omega Dubai Desert Classic 2017 champion Garcia triumphed earlier this year as the all-time highest points scorer in Paris, becoming the most successful Ryder Cup player in history.
The Spaniard was the second Omega Dubai Desert Classic champion who then went on to win The Masters, after Danny Willett accomplished the same in 2016. In a twist of fate, both Garcia’s and Willett’s caddies were assigned the No89 – the same year the Desert Classic was born. Will lucky number 89 be victorious again in 2019?
Reigning champion Haotong Li will return to Dubai to defend his title and look to secure back-to-back wins. The 23-year-old from China became the first Asian golfer to win the event in 2018 when he beat four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy by one stroke.
European Tour Rookie of the Year 2018, Shubhankar Sharma, is confirmed to join fellow UAE-based amateur Rayhan Thomas as well as Jovan Rebula, the British amateur champion and nephew of the only three-time champion, Ernie Els.
Current No1 in the Race to Dubai rankings, Aaron Rai has his sights on the famous Dallah trophy along with Rafa Cabrera Bello, Louis Oosthuizen, Eddie Pepperell, Matt Fitzpatrick, Matt Wallace and Andy Sullivan.
David Spencer, tournament director, said: “We are looking forward to ensuring that our 30th edition continues to enhance Dubai’s growing reputation as a world class golfing destination.
“The players love our tournament because they get to spend time in our dynamic and vibrant city. No doubt when the winner’s name is etched on our Dallah trophy in 2019, the tradition of greatness will continue.”
His Highness Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al Qasimi, from the Emirates Golf Federation, added: “The Omega Dubai Desert Classic has become one of the most famous golf tournaments in the world.
“The 2019 event will showcase the last 30 years with many stars past and present. It is a great platform for our sport and will help to encourage the next generation of golfers to our great game.”
Spectators will be able to enjoy a range of exciting new additions to the tournament for the special 30th edition, including a brand new viewing platform on the 18th green, new spectator area on the 15th hole and a redesigned tournament village.
With so much on offer, fans can take advantage of the event’s special 30th edition offer where they can enjoy a full four-day experience for only Dh250.
The 30th edition of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic will be held at Emirates Golf Club from January 24-27, 2019. Since 1989, the tournament has seen 24 different winners, including nine Major champions and 13 different nationalities.
For tournament information, tickets and hospitality packages, visit the tournament website www.omegadubaidesertclassic.com.