Tiger Woods withdrew due to the possible ramifications of a war with Iraq, thus putting off his eagerly anticipated showdown with world No. 2 Ernie Els.
Els will be back to defend the crown he won last year over Niclas Fasth, along with Thomas Bjrn, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley, Phillip Price and Lee Westwood. American Mark OMeara will make the trip without good buddy Woods.
Els has twice won in Dubai, and hopes to regain the form he had before his surprising first round exit at the World Match Play Championship. Phil Tataurangi upset Els after holing a monster putt on the 18th to force extra holes, then slayed the giant on the second extra hole as Els couldnt get up-and-down from a greenside bunker.
'So be it,' said Els of the defeat. 'I'm disappointed, but this is what happens with 18 holes of match play. I knew he was going to make that putt (on 18).'
Els so far has been the player of the year with two victories on the European Tour International Schedule and his two victories on the PGA Tour. But with Woods winning the World Match Play Championship by beating a gutsy David Toms in the final, Els large lead in victories for 2003 has been cut in half by a resurgent Tiger.
In the five times he has played in the event, Els has never finished below eighth and owns the course record with a 11-under-par 61, which he set on route to his first title here in 1994.
Statistical Preview of the Dubai Desert Classic