dubai desert classic
dubai desert classic
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February 11-14, 1999

Defending Champion:
José Maria Olazábal
Purse:
UKP 468,000
Host course:
Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club
Where:
Dubai

Faldo in rankings battle in Dubai

Tough setup at Dubai concerns Olazabal

Warren Bennett where he wants to be

Monty starts 1999 campaign

O'Meara sets sights on grand slam of majors

European stars aiming to break tour duck

The 1999 European Tour is a month old - but it really starts in earnest with this week's Dubai Desert Classic.

Colin Montgomerie, number one for the past six seasons, makes his first appearance of the year and among the players the Scot faces are American Mark O'Meara, the current holder of the Open and Masters titles, and the man who used to hold those crowns and is battling to revive his career - Nick Faldo.

The globe-trotting circuit has so far spent two weeks in South Africa, one in Australia and one in the Far East, but Europeans have yet to taste success.

Ernie Els and David Frost won on home soil, so did little-known Jarrod Moseley in Perth and then yesterday American Gerry Norquist lifted the Benson and Hedges Malaysian Open at Saujana near Kuala Lumpur.

It was an eighth victory in Asia for Norquist, but this one made him eligible for the European Tour and the 36-year-old has already signed the necessary form.

He had no hesitation in doing that despite his one horrible memory of conditions in Europe.

Norquist attended the 1991 qualifying school at Montpellier in France, became "deathly ill" in the cold and wet of practice, spent two days in bed and then shot 81 and 80 in the first two rounds.

"I vowed I'd never go back - it was the most miserable week of my life," he said.

"I haven't even been back as a tourist since, but now I've got the chance to advance my career.

"I need, though, to get more rain gear, thermal underwear, ski gloves and woolly hats.

"I heard horror stories about Asia before I came - about the food, the heat, snakes, sickness and the slowness of the greens - but it was the best decision I ever made."

In between seven failures to win a US Tour card, Norquist has had eight victories around the continent, but also discovered that the stories about the snakes were not all fictitious.

"One day in Taiwan I saw two huge cobras," he said. "They may have been only four feet long, but I swear they were 10, and once in Thailand my caddie stopped me under a tree because a venomous green snake had spotted a mouse. It was about 15 feet in front of me."

His second Malaysian Open win came by two strokes from his fellow countryman Bob May - they are now second and third respectively on the European Order of Merit behind Els - and German Alexander Cejka.

Scot Andrew Coltart and Ireland's Padraig Harrington were joint fourth, Harrington missing a two-foot birdie putt on the final green which cost him over £17,500.

He blamed himself even though a fan clicked a camera at precisely the wrong moment. "It's my fault for hearing it," said the 27-year-old Dubliner.

"I'm just disgusted. I lost concentration. It was harder to miss it than hole it. I made only five bogeys all week, but only eight birdies and to win tournaments you have to make more than that."

Coltart, in contrast, finished with two birdies and that helps him in his bid to be among the world's top 64 who qualify at the end of this week for the £3million World Matchplay Championship in California later this month.

Faldo, a former world number one, is not yet certain of his place, having now gone almost two years without a solo victory.

His success for England with David Carter in last November's World Cup in New Zealand raised his comeback hopes, but Gary Player's comments last week that he doubts whether Faldo will ever win again and has suffered "paralysis by analysis" has put the 41-year-old in the spotlight again.

Montgomerie has not played since the start of December but remains top of the European Ryder Cup standings.

By missing the halfway cut in Malaysia last week, however, Lee Westwood has dropped from fifth to seventh, being overtaken by his new brother-in-law Coltart and by Swede Robert Karlsson.

 


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