Big Easy stays on course for fifth title of the year

DUBAI: Ernie Els made an uncharacteristic error at the last but stayed on track for his fifth title of the year yesterday, firing a four-under-par 68 in the Dubai Desert Classic's second round. 

The defending champion was one ahead of the field playing the par-five 18th but hit his four-iron approach into the water guarding the green to run up his first bogey of the tournament. 

That dropped the big-hitting South African back into a four-way tie for the lead at 10-under 134, alongside Finland's Mikko Ilonen, Englishman David Lynn and first-round leader Alastair Forsyth of Scotland. 

“I was one ahead and, if I pulled the shot off, I might have made a three,” world number two Els said of his strategy on the final hole. 

“It was 215 yards to the hole and normally that's a good four-iron for me.  

“It didn't work out this time but we'll have to see what happens over the weekend. 

“I felt I was hitting the ball really well today, almost better than yesterday. The only loose shot I hit all day was my second shot at the last,” added Els, who has won four times in six starts this year, plus one second place.  

He also won his final event of last year, the Sun City Challenge. 

Ilonen, British amateur champion in 2000, had been clear of the field at 11 under but dropped a shot at the last and had to settle for a 67 at the Emirates Golf Club. 

The Finn was caught by the fast-finishing Lynn, who eagled the 10th and 18th on his way to a six-under-par 66, and later by Forsyth, who battled on the front nine before carding a 69. 

“I missed a lot of fairways on the first eight holes and was really happy with the way that I scrambled,” said Forsyth, who set the pace on day one with a flawless 65. 

“But I made a good putt on nine, from around 20 feet, and that set me up. My back nine was pretty solid.” 

One stroke back in a share of fifth at nine under were former winner Thomas Bjorn and 1991 U.S. Masters champion Ian Woosnam. 

Bjorn, who carded an opening 69, reeled off six birdies for a 66, a score matched by playing partner Woosnam after a birdie-birdie finish. 

The 32-year-old Bjorn was delighted with his performance, having linked up this week with Belgian sports psychologist Jos Vanstiphout in a bid to develop greater mental strength. 

“I want to get back to where I was in 2000 and the early part of 2001 and sometimes just thinking and saying it makes the world of difference,” said the Dane, who tied for second at the British Open and placed third in the U.S. PGA championship three years ago. 

“Obviously it's just two rounds, so it's not a question of turning a corner but it's definitely two big steps for me in the right direction.         

“I've just gone out and played my own game and not really bothered too much about anyone else,” said Bjorn, who clinched his sixth European Tour title at 2001 Dubai Desert Classic. 

The Dane, who held off the challenge of world number one Tiger Woods that year, played with Woosnam yesterday and helped the Welshman generate greater driving distance. – Reuters  

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