Derksen hits new heights

Robert-Jan Derksen, who only crept into the 150 starters when Tiger Woods withdrew, won the Dubai Desert Classic from none other than Ernie Els.

LEWINE MAIR

Robert Jan Derksen of the Netherlands celebrates victory over South African Ernie Els in the Dubai Desert Classic 2003 at Emirates Golf Club. Derksen won the title with an overall 17 under 71. — Pic. REUTERS-

Robert-Jan Derksen, who only crept into the 150 starters when Tiger Woods withdrew, won the Dubai Desert Classic from none other than Ernie Els. Having holed from 25 yards for an eagle at the 13th, he made all the right moves to close with a 65 and 17 under par total of 271.

"The biggest shock of my life,'' said the 29-year-old Dutchman and he would not have been exaggerating. Up until Sunday, when he pocketed a cheque for pounds 200,000, he had never won anything more than the pounds 10,384 he collected for finishing in a share of 16th place at last year's English Open. Again this regular visitor to the tour's annual qualifying school did not even feature among the 3,082 players with a world ranking.

Certainly, his activities at the start of this season did not suggest he was on the point of a breakthrough. In January, when he learned he was first reserve for the Dunhill Championship, he flew all the way to Johannesburg only to fail to get a spot in the tournament. Precisely the same applied with the Caltex Masters in Singapore though, each time, the fact that he used the tournament practice facilities somehow gave him the feeling that he had another week's golf under his belt.

At the end of January he was invited to the Heineken Classic in Melbourne where he missed the cut, while he finished 60th in his only other outing, the Malaysian Open.

The idea of winning the Dubai Desert Classic, one of the premier titles on the PGA European Tour, first entered Derksen's head when he made that eagle. Thereafter, he did not study the leaderboard but concentrated on playing solid golf. When it came to the last two holes, he was not tempted to cut the corner at the 359-yards 17th any more than he considered going for the green in two at the 547-yards last. Yet still he contrived to finish par, birdie as he hit a wedge over the water to four feet.

Having survived the water hazard, Derksen broke into tears. "Something to do with going from major concentration to nothing,'' he suggested cheerfully. As the tears dried, he watched to see what would happen to Els.

On Saturday, Els had driven the penultimate green but, Sunday afternoon, he was just too far left. A good chip followed but he missed the resultant nine footer and, still 16 under par, had to birdie the last to force a play-off.

Though he had made his four at the hole on Thursday, he had notched a couple of sixes on Friday and Saturday through being "too aggressive''. On that Sunday, he hit two shots as good as he could hit, but his second ran through the green leaving him with the most unappetising of chips back towards the water.

"I didn't hit a good chip,'' he said of his miscued attempt. It left him with a 25-footer he failed to make.

The turning point had come at the 12th where, minutes after Derksen had made his three at the par-five 13th, Els had a flier out of the rough with his seven-iron second and amassed a double bogey. "The ball flew and flew,'' said Els, in disbelief.

Colin Montgomerie, in looking back across his career, has always kicked himself for never stopping to enjoy a win. Always, he turned his mind straight to the next tournament on the schedule.

After giving the matter some consideration, Derksen, who has earned himself a two-year European tour exemption, pulled out of Qatar for that very reason. He was not worried by what might happen in the event of war in the Middle East. It was simply that he had always said that if he did bag a tournament, he would go back to Holland and celebrate with the parents whose support had meant so much in his formative golfing years. "If they hadn't taken me to the golf course when I wanted to go, things might not have been the same,'' he said.

Leading final scores (GB & Ireland unless stated): 271 — R. J. Derksen (Holland) 67, 72, 67, 65 (pounds 200,000); 272 — E. Els (S Africa) 66, 68, 69, 69 ( pounds 133,330); 274 — I. Woosnam 69, 66, 70, 69; D. Lynn 68, 66, 69, 71; A. Forsyth 65, 69, 69, 71 ( pounds 62,000 each); 275 — M. Ilonen (Finland) 67, 67, 73, 68; T. Bjorn (Denmark) 69, 66, 71, 69; K. Na (S. Korea) 68, 69, 68, 70; 276 — P. Price 71, 67, 68, 70; T. Jaidee (Thailand) 70, 68, 67, 71; 277 — D. Clarke 70, 69, 72, 66; B. Davis 68, 72, 70, 67; 279 — J. Randhawa (India) 70, 72, 69, 68; J. Donaldson 67, 71, 72, 69; M. Foster 73, 66, 68, 72.

Copyright, Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2003