Dredge sets the pace as Els falters

DUBAI: Tiger Woods was unable to finish while a faltering Ernie Els finished six shots off the lead in the fog-delayed Dubai Desert Classic first round yesterday. 

When fading light halted play for the day, world number one Woods was level with six holes remaining, having run up a double-bogey seven at the 10th where he drove out of bounds. 

South African Els, chasing his third title in Dubai, three-putted for bogey at his final hole, a two-under-par 70 leaving him well adrift of pacesetter Briton Bradley Dredge. 

“I made some mistakes today, especially with my short game,” the 34-year-old Els told reporters. “I missed quite a few putts out there, but all in all I'm happy with it.” 

Dredge reeled off six birdies and an eagle-three on his way to a flawless eight-under-par 64 in bright sunshine at Emirates Golf Club. 

The Welsh World Cup international, playing only his third tournament of the year, said: “I putted fantastic today. That part of my game was a bit of surprise.” 

Compatriot David Howell, the 1999 champion at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club, was three strokes back in second with Australian left-hander Richard Green, the 1997 winner, alone in third after a 68. 

Swedish Ryder Cup player Pierre Fulke was among a group of nine tied for fourth on 69. 

Late starter Woods, fresh from his victory at the WGC-World Match Play Championship in California on Sunday, was never going to complete his round after play was put back by 2½ hours because of thick early morning fog. 

The eight-times major winner began promisingly enough, birdies at the fourth and ninth taking him to two under. 

But Woods, who described his Wednesday meeting with American troops on an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Gulf as “one of the most awe-inspiring afternoons of my life”, promptly came back down to earth. 

He blocked his drive right at the 10th and then hooked his provisional tee shot left before finishing the hole with an ugly seven. 

Pars at 11 and 12 left him at even par with six holes to play.  

South African Els, champion here in 1994 and 2002, got to three under before slipping back with three bogeys and two birdies after the turn. 

The world number three, who teed off at the 10th, birdied the par-three second after hitting his approach to eight feet and picked up further shots at the par-five 13th and 18th for an outward nine of 35. 

He dropped his first shot at the par-five third, where he missed from four feet, but got back to three under with a 25-foot birdie putt at the fifth. 

He then offset a bogey at the sixth with another birdie at the seventh before three-putting at the last. 

“Shooting a two-under-par 70 isn't a bad start,” said Els. “You're always looking for something better but I can build on that 

The smooth-swinging South African added that he was tired of media talk of an Els-Woods showdown whenever the pair played in the same event. 

“Every question I get asked is about that,” he said. “I'm not worried about Tiger. I'm worried about my own game. – Reuters 

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