Golf's grand old man Els wants to exorcise the demons
Dubai - The South African legend will be making his 15th appearance in the 27th edition of the event where he has played 52 rounds so far.
With 68 professional wins and four Major titles, he has nothing to prove to the world. But events over the past year have meant that Ernie Els, one of golf's grand old men, wants to exorcise the demons within and come out the better from it.
Els has had some bad days over a pro career stretching back to 1989 but none more so that last year, which he termed as the "worst."
It has been anything but easy for the 46-year-old, who goes by the moniker 'The Big Easy,' but Els is looking to turn it around when he returns to the very scene where, as a 24-year-old, he won his first European Tour title.
The Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club may well be termed his backyard, having won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic a record three times in 1994, 2002 and 2005. The South African legend will be making his 15th appearance in the 27th edition of the event where he has played 52 rounds so far.
And his stats make for some astonishing reading. In those 52 rounds, Els has a total of 172 under par and has fired under par in 45 of his 52 rounds. He has never finished the tournament over par.
Els has nine top three finishes in his 14 appearances and his course record of 11-under 61 on the opening day in 1994, which contained a European Tour record of 12 birdies in a single round, still stands to this day.
Els is now eager to put a mediocre year behind and hoping to fly away on a 'magic carpet.'
"It's wonderful to be back. Going back to 1993, first time here, I played an exhibition, I'll never forget, the Creek course, played with Isao, Seve and Nick Faldo, and it was a nine-hole challenge match and I shot 33 at the Creek course and won a magic carpet. It's not magic; it doesn't fly," Els said, laughing.
"But since then, I've just had a great time here. I remember finishing Top-10 in '93 and then obviously winning in '94, shooting that 61 with Sandy Lyle, first round, and Greg Norman, No. 1. I've had some great times here, on and off the golf course. So, it has been a good relationship," he said.
Els is keen on renewing that relationship when the tournament tees of this Thursday.
"I am really looking forward to it. 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. But I feel a lot more comfortable now. After the South African Open or during the South African Open, I changed to the left-hand low method, and since then, I feel a lot more comfortable. My play hasn't been -- or my scores hasn't really shown it yet but I feel like things are coming around," said Els.
"I'm looking forward to this year. We've got great tournaments coming up. I'd love to make a bit of noise this year for as much as I can," he added.
And Els said that even at this age and stage of his career, he still wants to prove to himself that he still has what it takes.
"I still want to prove something to myself. Like I said, I had a terrible time on the greens and I feel that can't really leave you. If you're good, it doesn't really leave you. You've got to prove it to yourself. I think I'm the same as any other golfer of my age, any generation, if you look at from the Lockes to the Peter Thomsons to Gary Players, Arnold Palmers, Jack Nicklaus, to the Seves, Normans, you know, we are all very similar. We want to play until we die, in our minds we're not done, and I'm not done yet," he said.
"That's why I really try to get over the problems that I had last year on the greens. I was determined to try and get over it. There were days when I thought I will never get rid of it, but you know, keep going. I still feel I've got some golf left in me. You know, I'll probably sound like a broken record like any other elderly golfer, but I feel still like I can offer something and see if I can do that," added Els.