Qatar Masters: Wind specialists a must at Doha
The European Tour moves from Oman to Qatar for the 22nd edition of the Qatar Masters and our man has the lowdown here ahead of Thursday's start...
"The wind is going to blow all week long this week so anyone that can’t remain patient and handle breezy conditions may as well not bother teeing it up. It’s going to be a grind, as it was for much of last week in Oman, and that could be a big pointer given a week off before Qatar looks a serious no-no. All 21 winners to date played the week before they won here."
Sky Sports pundit, Andrew Coltart, won the first edition of the Qatar Masters back in 1998, so this will be the 22nd edition.
It used to be the middle leg of the original Middle East Swing, sandwiched between two higher profile events, the Abu Dhabi Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic, staged in January, but since the inception of last weeks event, the Oman Open, 12 months ago, the Qatar Masters has been pushed back in the schedule and the field quality has suffered as a result.
Doha Golf Club, Doha, Qatar
Par 72, 7,400 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 70.58
Doha was designed by Peter Harradine, the man also responsible for the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, but this is a different sort of test. The fairways are of average width and the rough is usually far less penal than it is in Abu Dhabi.
The average-sized Bermuda greens, which are over seeded with Poa Trivalis, have some tricky slopes and they usually run at around 10.5 on the stimpmeter. Both nines open and close with par fives and water is in-play on six holes (3, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 18).
The back nine is quite a bit easier than the front nine and last year it averaged 1.79 strokes less than the front-nine. The par four 15th is a tough hole coming in but the par five 10th and 18th holes are both great birdie holes and the par four 16th is drivable.
Only the 13th and 15th on the back-nine averaged over-par last year and seven of the nine hardest holes were all on the front-nine.
The course is very exposed and high winds can have a big say on the outcome so keeping an eye on the weather forecasts is essential.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 7:30 Thursday morning (UK time)
Last Five Winners
2018 - Eddie Pepperell -18
2017 - Jeunghun Wang -16 (playoff)
2016 - Branden Grace -14
2015 - Branden Grace -19
2014 - Sergio Garcia -16 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Qatar Masters?
There are a number of decent angles in here and I'm not convinced studying the previous stats is one of them.
The last two winners, Jeunghun Wang and Eddie Pepperell, only ranked 37th and 77th for Driving Distance and that's a bit strange given length of the tee has been important here and that 11 of the 12 winners before Wang ranked inside the top-15 for that stat.
Pepperell ranked third for Driving Accuracy but that's not a stat to dwell on given the previous four winners had ranked 54th, 61st, 44th and 40th and finding greens with regularity doesn't appear to be as vital as it once was given the last three winners have only ranked 16th, 26th and 19th when nine of the ten before them ranked inside the top-seven for that stat.
Scorings usually fairly low here in good conditions so a neat and tidy game around the greens has been key. The last three winners have all ranked inside the top-ten for Scrambling and eight of the last ten winners have ranked inside the top-ten for Putts per GIR. The odd two out, Wang in 2017 and Sergio Garcia in 2014, didn't putt deplorably and they ranked 15h and 18th so a hot putter looks like our best statistical angle-in but as always, that's never easy to gauge before the off.
Is There an Angle In?
The wind is going to blow all week long this week so anyone that can't remain patient and handle breezy conditions may as well not bother teeing it up. It's going to be a grind, as it was for much of last week in Oman, and that could be a big pointer given a week off before Qatar looks a serious no-no. All 21 winners to date played the week before they won here and we have to go all the way back to 2003 to find the last winner, Darren Fichardt, not to have recorded at least a top-ten finish in one of their previous seven starts.
Pepperell had poor recent form figures that read MC-MC-MC-44 so that stretches the current form theory to the max but he'd finished sixth in Turkey three months prior to his success and the majority of winners here have ben playing well before the tournament. Since the out-of-form Fichardt took the title, 13 of the 15 winners had recorded a top-ten finish in one of their four previous starts.
It looks like an appearance in Oman last week looks important and the seven players to finish inside the top-five and ties here all played there the week before last year but given three of them missed the cut and three of them (including the winner) finished only tied for 44th, a high finish doesn't appear imperative.
Although Alvaro Quiros is the only man to win both this event and the Portugal Masters at Dom Pedro Victoria, a significant number of players have played well at both venues.
Last year's winner here, Pepperell, went on to finish second in Portugal, Chris Wood, who won here in 2013, was the runner-up in Portugal four years ago and Robert Karlsson and Paul Lawrie have also won here and finished second in Portugal. Portugal Masters winners, Lee Westwood, Steve Webster and Richard Green have all finished inside the top-four here.
The 2017 Portugal Masters winner, Lucas Bjerregaard, fared well here two years ago, finishing 11th and the runner-up to him in Portugal, Marc Warren, was also second here in 2015 so form at Dom Pedro Victoria is definitely a plus.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Wang had never played Doha before when he won here in 2017 but a previous good performance or two here is a big plus and when Branden Grace successfully defended in 2016 he became the third to win the title twice in its short history.
In addition to Grace's back-to-back wins, Paul Lawrie won the event in both 1999 and 2012 and Adam Scott has also taken the title twice - in 2002 and 2008. Henrik Stenson won the event in 2006 and he's also been second three times and Quiros is a two-time runner-up as well as a winner here. Robert Karlsson has a first and second to his name and Sergio Garcia finished second six years ago before he took the title 12 months later. Last year's winner had finished fourth in 2015 so course form stands up really well and so does links form...
Doha winners, Henrik Stenson, Ernie Els and Paul Lawrie have all won the Open Championship and Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn and Adam Scott arguably all should have done.
Given he shot the first 62 in major championship history at the Open at Royal Birkdale in 2017, Grace boosts the links angle-in and so does the 2016 second, Thorbjorn Olesen, the 2015 runner-up, Marc Warren, and last year's winner, Pepperell. Grace has also won at the Fancourt Links in South Africa and like past Qatar Masters winners, Lawrie and Karlsson, Grace and Olesen are both former winners of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Grace and Warren have also both lost a playoff at the Scottish Open at the Castle Stuart Links and Pepperell was denied only by a ridiculous 60 in round four of last year's Scottish at the Gullane Links by South Africa's Brandon Stone.
Many fine links exponents have performed well here and I suspect it's the wide open feel of the course and the fact that the wind often blows - mirroring the sort of conditions encountered on the links.
Eddie Pep was never outside the top-two places last year but a slow start can be overcome at Doha.
The 2017 winner, Wang, trailed by five after round one and four of the 21 winners to date have been as far as seven off the lead after the opening round. And three winners, Ernie Els in 2005, Adam Scott in 2008 and Sergio Garcia in 2014, were seven back at halfway.
Els was still five back with a round to go and Scott and Garcia still trailed by three but every other winner has been within two strokes with a round to go and 13 of the 21 winners were in front after three rounds.
If you're betting in-running, do bear in mind that the back-nine is much easier than the front (see above course details) and the finish here is fairly easy and a number of shots can be picked up late on. The 15th is a tricky hole (ranked third toughest last year) but after that the players face a drivable par four at 16 which rankled as the second easiest last year, averaging just 3.43, the 17th is the easiest of the four par threes and the 18th is a reachable par five which last year averaged 4.72 and ranked as the third easiest hole. Chris Wood won the event with an eagle at the 72nd hole six years ago and Grace eagled the 16th on his way to winning four years ago.
Thomas Pieters is playing better than he has in a long while and he's definitely threatening to get his hands on another trophy but I can happily swerve him this week given his course form isn't brilliant (38th and 52nd in two previous visits). He was on the fringes of contention last week in Oman but made mistakes just when he needed to push on and others are preferred.
Jordan Smith finished sixth here on debut two years ago (MC last year) and his 12th last week in Oman was a fair effort but he looks short enough given he doesn't have an abundance of links form and that he's only won once on the European Tour so far.
The two-time Portugal Masters winner, Tom Lewis, is a very obvious candidate and a fair price at over 20/1 but history tells us he should have ted it up last week instead of taking a week off following a poor effort Down Under in the World Super 6 Perth and a 65th placed finish in Mexico a fortnight ago so I'm happy to swerve him too.
Ernie Els won this a week after winning the Dubai Desert Classic when it was staged in March back in 2005 and at [55.0], I was happy to throw a few pounds at last week's winner, Kurt Kitayama, given he's a proven wind exponent with two European Tour wins in 11 starts. He could very easily blow out after his victory in Oman but that's more than factored in at that price.
The lack of an outing last week is a big negative for Erik Van Rooyen but there's plenty to like about the 29-year-old South African who sat second at halfway here on debut 12 months ago. He led the Irish Open by four strokes through 54 holes last year before falling to fourth so he's clear a great links exponent and his 26th last time out at the WGC - Mexico Championship, where he putted superbly, reads well in the context of this field. He looks ready to breakthrough on the European Tour and this event looks ideal.
Brandon Stone is my each-way fancy and I've also backed three big outsiders - Gaganjeet Bhullar, David Horsey and Oliver Fisher.
Bhullar fared well enough last week before losing his way on Sunday, David Horsey is refocused having nearly lost his card last season. He has decent form here (20-76-37-13) and was he 12th last week, and I've also thrown a few pounds at Mr 59 - Oliver Fisher. He's missed all four cuts this year but his record-breaking round came at the aforementioned Dom Pedro Victoria and he was the runner-up to Pepperell 12 months ago. If there's to be a big shock, Fisher might just provide it.
I'll be back later with my Arnold Palmer Invitational preview.
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