x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai Desert Classic: Thorbjorn Olesen is rising like a phoenix

It has been mostly birdies for the 22-year-old Olsen in the Middle East as Dane's career graph soars, writes Steve Elling.

Olesen has enjoyed good form on the Desert Swing tournaments. Marwan Naamani / AFP
Olesen has enjoyed good form on the Desert Swing tournaments. Marwan Naamani / AFP

To suggest that Thorbjorn Olesen has been noticed by his peers is like saying the Burj Khalifa is so tall, staring at it can give you a pain in the neck.

That might be a poor analogy. Olesen, truth be told, will never be confused with the tallest point in the Dubai skyline. He stands 1.75m, though his stature among his peers has grown significantly, especially of late.

"I don't know how these kids my size can hit it so far," the Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley said, laughing.

There is nothing vertically challenged about where Olesen seems headed.

Keeping up an impressive streak during the Desert Swing, the emerging Danish player is again sitting near the top of the leaderboard, at 11 under, one shot behind Richard Sterne at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic after hitting a round of 66 on Friday, which matched the lowest score of the day.

Oleson's given name conjures images of Nordic types swinging big hammers, but it ought to be familiar by now.

Two weeks ago, Olesen, 23, missed a 15-footer on the last hole in Abu Dhabi that would have forced a sudden-death play-off, and he was right back in the mix last week in Qatar before a sloppy final round derailed him.

Already in his third year on the European Tour, he won for the first time last season and his professed objective for 2013 might have been set a bit low, based on his performance to date.

"I'm hungry for more wins, yeah," he said. "I want to win twice this season. That's my main goal. So the quicker I can get the first one, the better."

In a sport where birdies make headlines, it's the other end of the scorecard spectrum where the dirhams and dollars can truly be decided.

Halfway through the week at Emirates Golf Club, Olesen has not made a bogey, which has become something of a habit since he began playing in the Middle East three weeks ago.

In 180 holes of the Desert Swing, he has made 10 bogeys and one double bogey, numbers that underscore his consistency over the past three weeks.

An international broadcast asked the self-confident Dane whether he was playing the best golf of his life, and Olesen did not bat an eye. He believes the best is yet to come, and it seems an inarguable assertion.

"I don't think so," he said. "I think I can improve on a lot of things."

He will have ample opportunity to showcase his wares on the game's biggest stages.

In the waning hours of 2012, when the final world rankings of the year were issued, Olesen learnt that he had hung on to the 50th position, earning him an invitation to the Masters for the first time. "I thought I would definitely slip out of it," he said.

When Olesen received the invitation from Augusta National in the mail a few days later, he was so thrilled, he took a photograph of it and dispatched it via his Twitter account.

As it stands, at No 43 in the rankings, he is expected to play in the two big-money World Golf Championships events over the next six weeks in the States, as well as all four majors.

In short, that is where the big boys play. Not that he has not already had a few brushes with the so-called name players.

His formal introduction to casual fans came last July at the British Open, when he played alongside Tiger Woods in the third round's penultimate group of the day and shot 71, showing remarkable composure playing in his second major championship.

Seven months later, it is still hard to quantify what it did for his sense of belonging or mental well-being.

"A lot," said Olesen, who claimed his first victory, at the Sicilian Open, last spring.

"It was a dream to play with him, then in a major, in one of the last groups. It couldn't have gotten any bigger.

"It was a big confidence boost."

So was starting with four straight birdies yesterday. With two rounds in the books, Olesen has already birdied 10 different holes on the Majlis course.

For a guy raised on the wooded, parkland courses of the north, he is blowing through the desert like a sirocco.

McGinley said he already has spoken to Olesen about the Ryder Cup, albeit briefly, but the kid clearly knows that there are some massive prizes within arm's reach and that he is no longer under anybody's radar.

"I've played really nice, and it's been three great tournaments for me," Olesen said. "Hopefully, I can finish it off this one."

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