SOUTHAMPTON golfer Richard Bland will feel the heat the desert today as he battles to make the closing stages of the biggest event so far on the European Tour.

The Stoneham tournament professional was hovering dangerously close to the cut mark after a first round 73 in the Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Club.

With a good result already under his belt in the Heineken Classic at Perth, Bland opened up in confident style and birdied the third hole on this magical man-made course which is a green oasis among the desert sands.

He bogeyed the fourth and sixth but bounced back with his second birdie at the tenth. Bland's back nine was a lot steadier although he did give another shot away at the 12th to finish with a one over par total.

Salisbury's Gary Emerson hit the highspot of his career last year when he won the Russian Open, but has yet to make a cut in 2005.

Another early exit looked on the cards when he ran up five straight bogeys to turn in five over, but his back nine was in complete contrast - five birdies coming to bring him back to level par and a tie for 55th place.

Up at the head of the field was the favourite Ernie Els at six under followed by Swindon's David Howell a shot further back alongside Spain's on-form Miguel Angel Jimenez.