Ernie Els remembers winning a ‘magic carpet’ during his first visit to Dubai in 1993, when he beat Isao Aoki, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo in an exhibition match at Dubai Creek.
The magic carpet never flew, but the South African superstar, the most successful player in the history of Dubai Desert Classic, is hoping to make a flying start to his campaign this year having made a crucial change in his game.
The 46-year-old, a four-time major champion is making his 15th trip to the Dubai Desert Classic. He has won it three times, holds the course record at Majlis with a stunning 11-under par 61 that has stood since 1994, and never finished outside the top-10 in his first 11visits.
However, 2015 has been cruel to the man with arguably the smoothest swing in the game – he has been suffering from the yips while putting. Videos of him missing putts from inside a couple of feet have gone viral, and Els did not register even a single top-10 finish on any Tour. His best result was a tied 12th at the start of the year at Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Now ranked 205th in the world, Els reckons he has found something while playing the South African Open earlier in the year, and felt extremely encouraged by his performance in Qatar Masters last week, where he did not miss a single putt from inside five feet.
“I had a really tough one last year. I’ve had some bad years, but last year was probably the worst. It was all on the greens and it was getting into my head everywhere,” said the 2013 Open champion.
“But I feel a lot more comfortable now. During the South African Open, I changed to the left-hand low method of putting, and since then, I feel a lot more comfortable. My scores haven’t really shown it yet, but I feel like things are coming around.
“From really being terrible on the greens, which is probably an understatement, to being 100 percent from five feet last week, that’s the improvement I was looking for.
“I’m starting to feel more comfortable. My long game wasn’t that great over the weekend in Doha, but the things that I’m working on the greens are starting to come around a little bit. So that’s so pleasing. I mean, you cannot play the game if you can’t putt. You might as well find another job. So I was thinking that for a while…!”
With four players under the age of 28 on the top-four places of the world rankings, Els felt there was still place for players like him. Consistency, he felt, was the key, and he also took solace from the fact that history has proven there were some tournaments which favoured certain players despite their age.
In Els’ case, that would be the Open championship and the US Open, both of which he has won twice.
“I get that question a lot now. You’re getting into your late 40s now, and people ask you, what are you still doing out here; it’s a young man’s game,” he said.
“I remember back in 1994 US Open, I was a young gun and I was only one or two ahead of Tom Watson and Hale Irwin and Curtis Strange, who would have been my age back then, or close.
“Consistency is something that is going to be tough to keep it up. But I do feel that there are horses for courses and there are horses for some majors and so forth. It’s been proven through the years. Look at Tom Watson and Ray Floyd at the Masters; Hale Irwin at the US Open at age 45. So those things have happened. So there’s still room for us, to be blunt.”
Els is paired with Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Bernd Wiesberger the first two rounds and tees on Wednesday at 12:15pm.
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