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Ernie Els set for return to action in Dubai

Twice champion Ernie Els is in upbeat mood for this week's Dubai Desert Classic where he will be bidding for his first title of the year.

South Africa's world number three returns to action at the Emirates Golf Club refreshed from a three-week break after producing top-six finishes in his first five starts of 2005.

"I'm raring to go and really looking forward to teeing it up on Thursday," the three-times major winner said on his official website.

"I made sure that I really enjoyed my time off. It's quite unusual for me to be able to say I have an entire week with no professional commitments but that was the case last week in South Africa.

"Now it's time to get back into the swing of tournament golf again, with one of my favourite events of the year at the excellent Emirates Course.

"Whenever I play here, I feel I can do well," added the 35-year-old Els, Dubai Desert Classic champion in 1994 and 2002.

The easy-swinging South African, popularly known as the 'Big Easy', is determined to make the most of 2005, after contending in all four majors last year without winning any of them.

"Looking back at last year's four majors and how close I was, you could say I was a couple of putts away from having a great year," said Els, who was beaten by American outsider Todd Hamilton in a playoff for the British Open last July.

"As it was, it's what I'd describe as a good year. I won five tournaments around the world, came first in the order of merit in Europe and second in the money list in the States. I want more this year."

One thing in the South African's favour is that each of his previous Dubai victories has led to a major triumph later in the season.

In 1994, he went on to clinch his first U.S. Open at Oakmont and in 2002 he sealed his third career major, winning the British Open at Muirfield in a four-way playoff.

This week, however, Els faces a strong field at the Emirates Golf Club.

Seven-times European number one Colin Montgomerie, champion in 1996, will be there, along with fellow Ryder Cup players Lee Westwood, Miguel Angel Jimenez, David Howell and Paul McGinley.

Also in the hunt are former British Open champions Greg Norman and Ben Curtis, Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who held off Tiger Woods to win the 2001 title, and Sweden's Niclas Fasth and South African Charl Schwartzel, both winners earlier this year.

Twice major champion Mark O'Meara is back to defend the title he won last year by a shot from Irishman McGinley.

Always a popular destination for the players, the Dubai Desert Classic is one of the European Tour's bigger events. The par-72, 7,264-yard Emirates course is also one of the best prepared and most challenging on the tour.

One hole has been changed since American O'Meara's victory last year, with the tee on the par-five 550-yard 13th being re-set slightly left.

However, this hole should still provide a good birdie opportunity. In 2004, it was rated the easiest hole on the course with the field taking, on average, 4.61 shots to negotiate it, according to the official Reuters Stats.

 

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