There's an earlier than normal start to the golf action this week with the Qatar Masters starting on Wednesday morning. Read Steve's preview here...
This will be the 16th staging of the Qatar Masters, the middle leg of the Race to Dubai's Middle East swing. This year the tournament moves to a Wednesday start so get your bets on early.
Doha Golf Club, Qatar
Par 72, 7412 yards
Stroke Index in 2012 - 72.28
Like last week's venue in Abu Dhabi, Doha was designed by Peter Harradine but this is a different sort of test. Where driving accuracy was key last week, here it's not an issue. The fairways are of average width and the rough is usually far from penal. The average-sized Bermuda greens (over seeded with Poa Trivalis) have some tricky slopes and are running at 12 on the stimpmeter (same as last week). Both nines open and close with par fives, water is in-play on six holes (3, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 18) and the par 3's (holes 3, 8, 13 and 17) are all tough.
Last five winners
2012 - Paul Lawrie -15 (54 holes)
2011 - Thomas Bjorn -14
2010 - Robert Karlsson -15
2009 - Alvaro Quiros -19
2008 - Adam Scott -20
What will it take to win the Qatar Masters?
Length off the tee has always been advantageous but the most important stat over the years has been Greens In Regulation. The plan here is fairly simple really, bang it a long way off the tee, find the green and get hot with the putter.
Is there an identikit winner?
Course form stands up well. Both Adam Scott and defending champ, Paul Lawrie, have both won the event twice and the same players tend to contend year on year. Conversely, some players just don't seem to get it - Martin Kaymer's record is poor and Rory McIlroy hasn't been back after a couple of fruitless visits.
Is there an angle in?
Given that the last two winners of this event, both also won the Johnnie Walker Championship in the same year, and that Adam Scott also did the double in 2002, there's clearly a correlation between here and Gleneagles, and I also fancy there's a strong link between here and the Oceânico Victoria Golf Course - home of the Portugal Masters. Alvaro Quiros is the only man to win both events but a number of players have played well at the two venues.
Making up late ground is hard and up with the pace early is the place to be. Adam Scott and Ernie Els won with a late rattle but they were exceptions to the rule.
When betting in running, bear in mind that the back-nine is easier than the front nine and that the drivable par 4 16th is the easiest hole on the course and the par 5 18th is the second easiest.
Louis Oosthuizen, boasting both current and course form, is the understandable favourite. He's been an almost ever-present at Doha since missing the cut on debut in 2004. His second placed finish to Quiros in 2009 and his 8th placed finish in 2005 are his best efforts from seven attempts and he comes here after a week off following his win in Durban at the Volvo Golf Champions. His chance is obvious but he's short enough at a single-figure price.
Second favourite, Justin Rose, looks a dreadfully short price given that he's missed the cut four times out of four here and that he has to pick himself up after last week's disappointing final round.
Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer are vying for third favouritism and if forced to back one of them it would be Garcia. The Spaniard has a fair record at Doha, whereas Kaymer's is ordinary to say the least but he hasn't been seen since winning the Johor Open a month ago and he could be a bit rusty.
I was quite looking forward to this event but with hardly any wind forecast all four days, my enthusiasm's been tempered somewhat. Most years you can look at the draw bias and concentrate on players capable of handling blustery conditions to get an angle in but that's not the case this time around and I can see a low-scoring event that will in all probability go to whoever gets hottest with the putter. And that's a slight concern with my first pick, Paul Lawrie.
The treble seeking Scot bemoaned his putting in Abu Dhabi and he was right to do so - it was the worst aspect of his otherwise shipshape game. These experienced pros are more than capable of suddenly finding something with their putters though and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him find improvement from somewhere and if he does, the rest could be in trouble.
When he won here way back in 1999, with a total of 20 under-par, a total equalled only by Scott in 2008 and never bettered, he won by the widest margin of any winner to date - seven strokes. And then last year, when the event was reduced to just three rounds, he trounced the field by four. Yes there's concerns over his putting, but 42.041/1 is too big.
If it's going to turn into a low scoring event then Rafael Cabrera-Bello could be the man. Always capable of low scores, he won his first event, the Austrian Open in 2009, with a final round of 60. He clearly has an aptitude for desert golf, having won the Dubai Desert Classic last year and having finished third here in 2011, after an opening round of 77! And with a second placed finish in Portugal in 2011 and a top-ten at Gleneagles last year - he ticks the course correlation box too.
Berndt Wiesberger has played here twice and missed the cut twice but I'm going to overlook that because he's still on an upward curve and I'm pretty sure the venue should suit. He was in pole-position at the Portugal Masters last year before a poor back-nine and he made the playoff at Gleneagles when Bjorn won in 2011. Although the young Austrian bagged two trophies last season, he still seems to be overlooked in the market and at a triple-figure price, on a track that should suit his game, I couldn't possibly leave him out.
And last but not least, I've thrown a few pounds at Garth Mulroy at a huge price. He appeared on the leaderboard last week before sliding back down again but I fancy this place might suit him and both fellow South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen won the event on their debuts, maybe Garth can follow suit.
I'll be back later with a preview of the week's other event, the Farmers Insurance Open.
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