There may be a conflagration to come but Ernie Els and Ian Woosnam both provided signs that the golf in the Gulf is so far proceeding normally. Els, who has yet to finish below second in a strokeplay tournament this year, took the lead in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic with a 10-foot putt at the 14th hole at the Emirates.
That the South African went into the water at the 18th and finished with his first bogey in two days meant he merely shared the lead with England's David Lynn, Scotland's Alastair Forsyth and Mikko Ilonen, from Finland, at 10 under par. Woosnam and Thomas Bjorn were one stroke adrift.
While Lynn picked up three shots on the closing two holes with a birdie and an eagle, Ilonen also went in the water at the 18th. Els faced a four-iron shot from 215 yards for his second at the last but it just came up short.
"I just didn't quite get it," Els said. "It was not a good swing." But until the Open champion was informed this was his first dropped shot of the week he had no idea, which says much for his stress-free state of mind.
It was a particularly good morning, in glorious weather, for Woosnam, who bounced off a hospitality tent on the way to getting a birdie on the 18th (his ninth) and then ended his round of 66 with birdies at the eighth and ninth. If this gives the impression there was little margin for the 45-year-old Welshman to have a moan then it is erroneous. By the time he had built up a head of steam yesterday, he had a good point about the direction the game is taking under the influence of modern equipment.
"The whole game is changing," he said. "There doesn't seem to be any finesse any more, cutting or hooking one against the wind, hitting one in low. It's just hit it as hard as you can, then hit the next one as hard as you can, even if it's a seven-iron from 180 yards.
"The game to me is gone. I don't like it any more. It's not fun. These new balls are great and go a long way but there doesn't seem to be any shape to them. It's not enjoyable. It's just hit and blast."
Woosnam reckons the balls used by the pros have become too hard. Ironically, his round was helped by using a driver pinched from Bjorn's bag the previous afternoon. He was looking for a bit of extra length to help him at Augusta, which was lengthened last year.
Several players have spoken out in a similar way, as Els has, too. But Bjorn said: "The longer hitters have benefited most but you still need to have the whole package." Woods and Els both have that.
Dubai Desert Classic (Emirates Club, Dubai, UAE) Leading second-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 134 M Ilonen (Fin) 67 67; D Lynn 68 66; E Els (SA) 66 68; A Forsyth 65 69. 135 T Bjorn (Den) 69 66; I Woosnam 69 66. 136 S Struver (Ger) 67 69; I Garbutt 73 63; G Owen 67 69; N Dougherty 67 69. 137 M A Jimenez (Sp) 68 69; Kevin Na (S Kor) 68 68. 138 T Jaidee (Thai) 70 68; P Price 71 67; I Poulter 68 70; J Donaldson 67 71; T Dier (Ger) 69 69; M Lundberg (Swe) 69 69; S Katayama (Japan) 70 68. Selected: 139 D Clarke 70 69; T Immelman (SA) 71 68; R Bland 72 67. 141 P McGinley 72 69; P Broadhurst 71 70. 142 Paul Lawrie 70 72.
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