THE Commercial Bank Qatar Masters has produced 16 champions in its 19 editions and to pick a favourite for the title is as tricky as predicting Doha’s fickle winter weather.
The event, second of the three-leg Desert Swing sandwiched between the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship and Dubai Desert Classic, has always attracted the creme de la creme of European Tour players. It will not be different this time either as the landmark 20th edition tees off at the Doha Golf Club’s (DGC) 7,374-yard greens, designed by leading golf course architect Peter Harradine.
Two-time defending champion Branden Grace is not in the fray this time, yet the field has big names like Major winners Martin Kaymer, Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell and in-form Alex Noren.
Recently-appointed Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn, the dashing duo of Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Thorbjorn Olesen, who both were tied second last year, Middle East regular Bernd Wiesberger and Asian trio of Thongchai Jaidee, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and
S S P Chawrasia are the other names to watch out for.
Chris Wood, who won the title in 2013, is among the seven champions who are returning to the competition along with two-time winner Paul Lawrie (1999, 2012), Bjorn (2011), Robert Karlsson (2010), Alvaro Quiros (2009), Els (2005) and Darren Fichardt (2003).
Lawrie was in title contention last year before blowing it away with a wayward 78.
“The more top-class players you’ve, the better it’s for the whole field, and the spectators to come and watch. That’s what it’s all about,” said Lawrie, who will play his 18th Qatar Masters, having missed only its 2000 and 2003 editions.
The DGC has generally favoured long hitters and Wood’s triumph four years ago, when he scored an eagle from 202 yards, remains part of history.
“My win at the 2013 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters is still one of my career highlights. I like the course and I feel like I’m ready to challenge for the title again,” said Wood, the only Englishman to triumph in Doha.
Cabrera-Bello is hopeful of becoming the third Spaniard after Quiros and Garcia to lift the Mother of Pearl Trophy.
“I’ve finished high up the leaderboard many times. I’m playing well and as long as I remain consistent, I think I’ve a good chance,” said Cabrera-Bello.
Noren’s confidence stems from the fact that he has won four European Tour titles in five months.
“It’s fair to say I’ve been playing well over the past few months and I’ll certainly look to continue this form in the new season. I’ve done well in Doha before and I like the course, so I hope to be in contention again,” said Noren.
The Swede can draw confidence from the success his compatriots Joakim Haeggmann (2004), Henrik Stenson (2006) and Karlsson (2010) achieved in Doha.
Dutch teenager Pierre Verlaar Jr, who qualified for the tournament by winning the Qatar Open Amateur Championship will also be keen to do well.
It’s tee time folks!