Evergreen Els one behind leaders in Dubai

Fri 25 Jan 2019

Evergreen Els one behind leaders in Dubai

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By V. Krishnaswamy

Dubai, January 25: Scott Hend, the 2016 Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, and Wade Ormsby, the 2017 Hong Kong Open winner, were lying tied-14th as the best Asian Tour players at the midway stage of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Yet, even better than either was the Asian Tour Honorary Member and International Ambassador, the 49-year-old Ernie Els, who is also due to lead the International Team at the President’s Cup this year. Hend (66-70) and Ormsby (67-69) are nine-under-par 136, while Els is two shots ahead. 

Hend, who was two-under-par on the front nine, frustratingly had nine straight pars on the easier back nine, which has three par-fives.

Els shot a brilliant seven-under-par 65 with seven birdies, an eagle and two bogeys to go with his first round 68. At 11-under-par, Els, with 2011 Desert Classic winner, Spain’s Alvaro Quiros is tied-third.

Els and Quiros trail co-leaders, 23-year-old Desert Classic debutant Lucas Herbert of Australia (69-63) and Bryson DeChambeau (66-66), whose only previous appearance in Dubai was in 2016 as an amateur ranked 530th in the world.

Also putting themselves in line for a crack at the title, were Matt Wallace, winner of three titles including the Hero Indian Open in 2018, and the defending Dubai Desert Classic champion, Li Haotong of China. They were 10-under-par and tied-fifth, two shots behind co-leaders Herbert and DeChambeau.

Thongchai Jaidee (66-71) slipped from overnight tied-second to tied-26th while Justin Harding (70-68), who has four wins, two of them on Asian Tour in 2018, was tied-29th.

The reigning Asia number one, Shubhankar Sharma (71-69) grinded, it out despite wayward driving off the tee as his iron play and putting rescued him. He made the cut at four-under-par, in tied-47th. Sharing 47th place was Kurt Kitayama, winner of the 2018 AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, with rounds of 71 and 69.

Sharma’s colleague, Gaganjeet Bhullar, also ensured weekend action, as he birdied the 17th to get to three-under-par, which was the cut line for the week. He was tied-57th.

The prominent Asian Tour members missing the cut included Phachara Khwongwatmai (70-74), Gavin Green (71-74), David Lipsky (74-73), S.S.P. Chawrasia (72-75) and Jeunghun Wang (72-77).

The evergreen Els, who is the only man to win this event three times in 1994, 2002 and 2005, turns 50 in October this year. He has wonthe Desert Classic three times, finished runner-up three times and been third another three times. He has nine top-threes in 16 previous appearances.

A top-10 here would be his 300th Top-10 in over 800 starts as a pro.

“I don’t keep stats,” he said with a smile.

Els added: “I like this place, as you know. I've had some really great times here. I'm swinging well, my body feels well. Just, you know, going on the memory bank, I guess. Playing with Colin (Montgomerie) and José 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.” Monty and Olazabal missed the cut.

Sharma’s iron play keeps him around

 

Sharma, who missed the cut in Dubai last year, was all over the place off the tee but time and again his fine iron play got him out of trouble. After the sixth, till when he made two great par saves, his putting also found the rhythm.

He said: “I hit my irons well, got my putter going after the sixth and it was really good on the back nine, but I just don’t know what happened with my driving. I was all over the course. I found very few fairways.”

He added: “At the range, I was hitting good, so I am going to see what to do with my coach, Mr Jesse Grewal, who is here this week.”

Bhullar said: “I have been playing well, but am not getting the scores that this play should. I missed so many narrowly, lipping out, stopping short by a roll like on 18th, and just sliding past to a foot or so. Still, I am happy to be around for the weekend.”

Sharma started with a birdie and then did not find any more on the tougher front nine. He did drop a shot on sixth, which took a shot from him on the first day, too. On the back nine, he birdied 10th, 12th, 16th and rolled in a 15-16 footer on 18th for a fourth birdie. He added: “On the 11th, I really hit my only bad shot with the iron and gave away a bogey.” 

Herbert catches the eye

 The 23-year-old Australian Lucas Herbert (69-63), who had five top-fives as a rookie last year to rise to 78th in the world, took a share of the lead with American Bryson DeChambeau (66-66), the world number five and the highest-ranked player in the field this week.

Herbert blazed through a round of 63 while DeChambeau, who had four wins in 2018, shot 66 despite three bogeys.  Both are 12-under and trailing them by one are three-time Desert Classic winner, Ernie Els, who was five-under for Par-5s, and the 2011 winner, Spaniard Alvaro Quiros (69-64), who closed with four birdies in last four holes.

Herbert, who attracted a lot of attention last year when he played a practice round with Tiger Woods before The Open at Carnoustie, confirmed his talent last year by finishing in the top-10 seven times, five of which were top-fives.

DeChambeau who analyses everything he does, said: “Man, you know, I thought after yesterday getting it around not making a bogey was awesome, but today even more impressive with three bogeys on the card, still shooting 6-under-par. I was happy about that. Unfortunately, again, just didn't have the right sensations and proprioception over shots. I just felt uncomfortable, unfortunately, on a lot of them, and consequently just am not ball- striking my best. But I'm not complaining one bit. There's no complaining here for sure, so I'm happy.”

And, by the way,  proprioception, is sometimes described as ‘sixth sense’. It is the sense of the relative position of one's own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. A scientist and a golfer rolled into one, that’s Bryson DeChambeau.