x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Bjorn's Tiger chase

Thomas Bjorn hopes the glory of 2001 will put him in good stead for the 20th Dubai Desert Classic.

Thomas Bjorn, pictured during the Qatar Masters last week, will be back in action in the Dubai Desert Classic this week.
Thomas Bjorn, pictured during the Qatar Masters last week, will be back in action in the Dubai Desert Classic this week.

The Dubai Desert Classic will be awash with nostalgia this week as the region's first professional golf tournament celebrates the 20th anniversary of its membership of the European Tour. When those who have seen the bulk of the previous 19 episodes of one of the most popular events on the calendar are asked to pick their favourite, the year 2001 will be at the top of many lists.

"It certainly was the greatest Classic for me," says Thomas Bjorn, the former Ryder Cup player from Denmark. Bjorn has good reason to make that assertion. He won it in one of the most thrilling fashions imaginable, defeating Tiger Woods in a head-to-head battle over the four days. He was drawn with the world No 1 for the first two rounds and responded to the daunting situation admirably to ensure that he and Woods went out together in the final pairing on the last two days as well.

"We both played unbelievable golf," says Bjorn. "They were four special days and we made it into what was effectively a two-horse race. "All I remember was trying to hang on to his shirt tails and see if I could get to him down the stretch and that's how it worked out. "The memory of beating him will stick with me for the rest of my life. There is a nice freedom in playing in a shoot-out against somebody with Tiger's reputation. You are not really expected to win. And if you don't win you tell yourself that's what happens nine times out of 10."

Bjorn, 37, who is now chairman of the influential European Tour players' committee who will tomorrow nominate the next Ryder Cup captain, regrets not being able to reminisce first hand with Woods on that enthralling showdown this year. Woods has had knee surgery which has kept him out of the opening months of the season "We have been used to having him in Dubai and he will be badly missed," says Bjorn.

"It's a shame to see him out with such a long-term injury and the game of golf suffers through him being out. "But it is still a wonderful tournament. It's a great field even without him. But I wish he was there to make it even better." As the players' chairman Bjorn has also played a leading role in securing sponsorship from Leisurecorp for the Race to Dubai, which will culminate in the $10million (Dh36m) Dubai World Championship in November.

"It was always a question of when Dubai was going to have another tournament," he says. "It certainly has stamped it's mark on the world golf scene and on the world as a whole. "But I don't think the Classic will ever suffer from the Dubai World Championship coming along. It is a regular tour event which has become a special place to visit." As for the Race to Dubai itself, the new name for the Order of Merit, Bjorn is relieved the sponsorship deal with Leisurecorp was agreed before the global financial crisis started to bite in the region.

"We got in at the right time making something special happen," he adds. "It would not happen in this environment that we are in today. We have created something that puts a lot of attention on the European Tour and Dubai." wjohnson@thenational.ae