Shiv Kapur admits feeling more than a twinge of disappointment at not being able to get into the Omega Dubai Desert Classic last two years and the Indian golfer is determined to make up for the lost time as he starts his campaign at the USD 2.5 million event here on Wednesday.
Last year, Kapur missed out of the event as he did not have the European Tour card but having earned his card at the same city in November 2013, he is now leading the Indian charge along with veteran Jeev Milkha Singh and rising star Gaganjeet Bhullar.
Kapur, who has played five times before in the event, recalled his best memory. "One of the great memories I have is of the scoreboard showing Tiger and me tied at seven under after three days (in 2008). But he went on to shoot to 65 and I had a 75 and he won in style on the last hole. That excitement, for me, sums up the Dubai Classic," he said.
The 2008 edition was a sizzler where Kapur was tied with Woods for fifth after three rounds. While Woods went on to win beating Ernie Els at the finish line, Kapur dropped to 25th, still his best in the event.
This season Kapur has been tied 12th at Hong Kong, tied 28th at Mandela Championships and was tied 37th and 34th in Abu Dhabi and Qatar. "Now that I am here especially after regaining the card I lost in 2013, I am able to appreciate everything more. The (European) Tour, the Dubai Classic and so much else and I also feel I have matured as a golfer," Kapur said.
Ironically, it was in Dubai that Kapur took his final step towards regaining his Tour card for 2014 when he won the Dubai Festival City Challenge Tour Grand Final at the Al Badia Golf Club. "That win did wonders for me. I was more confident and I was back on the Tour. I have great memories of it because it happened in first week of December. They (Al Badia and Majlis) are similar courses and I like the way they look."
Kapur added: "The Challenge Tour has also taught me to win, which is what you need to do in Tours like Challenge Tour in Europe or Web.com in US. If you don't win or finish in top-3 or so, it is tough it is tough to get your card."
"I have learnt a lot about my game and I see know reason why I can't translate those victories to the European Tour," said Kapur.
"Maturity is also in being able to shut out some bad holes. Previously, if I had a bad stretch I would start going down, but now I feel I can make up," said Kapur, who finished tied 16th at PGA Tour's CIMB Classic in Malaysia last October despite having been four over after his first five holes.
Standing next to Kapur, trying to soak in the atmosphere of the Dubai Desert Classic was Bhullar, in his rookie year on the European Tour and also making his debut in Dubai Desert Classic. Bhullar, too, is confident on the eve of his first appearance at the Dubai Classic.
The 25-year-old with five Asian Tour wins, said, "I would say my results have been decent, and I have played well and had a top-10, too. I have been hitting and putting well, too. Once they come together, I am confident I can contend. And if I contend consistently, the win will come."
He added: "I like the look of this course and feel good about it. I have been playing well and it is all matter of time. I am not going to get impatient, I have just started playing on the Tour and the first few weeks have been decent enough."
Bhullar, who has had at least one international win each year since 2009, missed the cut in Hong Kong, but was tied 10th at Abu Dhabi and tied 22nd at Qatar. In December 2013, he won the Indonesia Open.
Giving both Kapur and Bhullar company and sagely advice at the range today was Jeev, who will tee up at this historic event for the 16th time in his career.
Kapur (twice) and Bhullar (once) have won on the European Challenge Tour, but Jeev, of course, has won four times on the main European Tour.
Jeev, who counts this tournament amongst his favourites, said: "I know I have injury issues, but I have overcome them in the past. I am playing well and the inflammation in the shoulder is much less and I am not feeling the pain much, so who knows what will happen this week."
Away from the Indian challenge, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods will aim to continue their remarkable records in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic when they tee up alongside defending champion Stephen Gallacher during the first two rounds.
The duo boasts of three victories and six top ten finishes in a combined 13 appearances, with Woods having contributed two wins to McIlroy's one.