Golf: Grand Els strikes it rich in the desert

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The Independent Online
ERNIE ELS (as if it would be anybody else) won the Desert Classic over the Emirates course yesterday. Two years ago Seve Ballesteros won here with a record aggregate of 272, 16 under par, and Els left that for dead. The 24-year-old South African established enough records for his own version of desert island discs.

Els, who led by eight strokes from Greg Norman going into the final round, won by six from the Australian following a 71. Els led from the first round, when he established a course record of 61, and if his performance yesterday displayed signs of human frailty (nerves, pressure, pounds 75,000 on the line and his first victory on the European Tour) he won handsomely enough.

Els had three bogeys over the front nine but when he looked at the leaderboard he was still in splendid isolation. Els composed himself and compiled three birdies in what amounted to a leisurely ride home. At the 15th hole Norman effectively threw in the towel when he remarked to Els, his playing partner, 'now you can enjoy it'.

Norman, who shot 69, was full of praise for Els but he admitted: 'Ernie gave us all a chance and we didn't capitalise on it. He was a little edgy but I just couldn't make a putt. I never got any rhythm going and there was no balance in my swing.' Norman was suffering from an allergy and had a blinding headache. He could not wait to board his private jet, Gulfstream 3, and point it in the direction of Thailand where this week he and Els will compete in the Johnnie Walker Classic.

Wayne Westner, a compatriot of Els's who won this championship last year, was third, one stroke behind Norman, seven behind the winner. A stroke further back was Jonathan Lomas.

In some respects the performance of Lomas was as impressive as that of Els. Lomas, 25, from the Hill Valley club in Shropshire but born in Derbyshire, is cutting his teeth on the European Tour and milk teeth they are not. Lomas turned professional in 1988, failed on a couple of occasions to get his Tour card at the Qualifying School and graduated in style last season by finishing third on the Challenge Tour.

The top 10, on a circuit that could be described as being in the second division, gain membership to the main Volvo showroom. Lomas won two events on the Challenge Tour, the last being the Perugia Open in Italy last October. He won pounds 8,300 but is still waiting for the cheque.

He played in the Madeira Open two weeks ago, missing the cut, and was 17th in the Moroccan Open last week. He came to the Gulf at late notice - no hotel, no caddie. No problem. He stayed in a house owned by a former Miss Trinidad and Tobago and as for the caddie, take a bow Ms Maggie Hunt. A South African, she is a member at the Emirates course here and when she bumped into Lomas and discovered he had nobody to carry his bag she volunteered her services. 'She never got nervous,' Lomas said. 'She helped to calm me down.' Miss South Africa in his eyes. 'The key,' he said, 'is to relax and block out the pressure.' Professional caddies receive a salary and a percentage of the employer's prize-money. Would Ms Hunt get paid? 'I should think about that shouldn't I?' Lomas said.

He won pounds 19,103 after trading 67s with Isao Aoki, the 51-year-old Japanese player who also finished at 12 under par. Lomas made a move in the final round, picking up strokes at the second and third holes with a birdie and an eagle. Since changing his putter to a club called a Zebra after the second round he did not take more than two putts on any hole. The Zebra, however, was no match for Els's ship of the desert.

DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC Leading final scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 268 E Els (SA) 61 69 67 71. 274 G Norman (Aus) 68 69 68 69. 275 W Westner (SA) 70 68 69 68. 276 J Lomas 66 73 70 67; I Aoki (Japan) 67 72 70 67; T Watanabe (Japan) 70 70 67 69. 277 P-U Johansson (Swe) 70 71 69 67; G Evans 67 69 71 70. 278 K Eriksson (Swe) 69 69 70 70. 279 J Payne 68 73 71 67; S Torrance 69 67 75 68; M Roe 66 71 74 68; C Cassells 68 69 69 73.

European Order of Merit,

Sporting Digest, page 31