The European Tour returns after a five-week break with the Qatar Masters and Steve Rawlings is here with his in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start...
"I’ve thrown a few pounds at the hugely promising Dane, Rasmus Hojgaard, whose twin brother, Nicolai, led here after round one last year and I’m also happy to chance three outsiders."
Sky Sports pundit, Andrew Coltart, won the first edition of the Qatar Masters back in 1998 so this will be the 24th 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 in January, and there used to be some fairly strong fields contest the event but since the inception of Saudi International, won last month by Dustin Johnson, and the Oman Open, three years ago, the Qatar Masters has been pushed back in the schedule and the field quality has suffered as a result.
With the cancellation of the Oman Open due to the pandemic, this year's renewal is the first European Tour event since the Saudi International at the start of February but it does at least kick off a three-week stretch of action with Karen Country Club hosting back-to-back tournaments in Kenya before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at the end of the month and the US Masters at the start of April.
The Championship Course, Education City Golf Club, Doha, Qatar
Par 71, 7,307 yards
Stroke index in 2020 - 70.7
After more than 20 years at Doha, a course I really enjoyed, Education City is going to take some time to get to know.
The Jose Maria Olazabal-designed track, which only opened in 2018, is an entirely Platinum Paspalum layout, which is the same grass type used at the recent Saudi International, as well as the Mauritius Open and the Oman Open on the European Tour.
The fairways are generous enough and although the new venue isn't as close to the coast as Doha, and has a slightly more parkland feel about it, it's still wind-affected and that should be a factor this week.
The greens are large and undulating, some of the bunkers are huge, and there are green-side water hazards at more than half the holes.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 8:30 on Thursday
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Jorge Campillo -13 200.0199/1 (playoff)
2019 - Justin Harding -13 60.059/1 (Doha)
2018 - Eddie Pepperell -18 85.084/1 (Doha)
2017 - Jeunghun Wang -16 40.039/1 (playoff-Doha)
2016 - Branden Grace -14 8.415/2 (Doha)
What Will it Take to Win the Qatar Masters?
It's never easy when we have just one renewal to look back on but looking at the stats from 12 months ago, accuracy looks more important than power.
The two playoff protagonists, Jorge Campillo and David Drysdale, ranked only 60th and 48th for Driving Distance but they ranked 19th and 31st for Driving Accuracy and Kalle Samooja, who finished tied for third, ranked 63rd for DD and fifth for DA.
The average Greens In Regulation ranking of the front five was only 26.4 so that can't be construed as a vital stat but three of the top-five ranked inside the top-ten for both Scrambling and Putting Average.
Is There an Angle In?
This isn't going to be easy given how little we have to go on but Matt Cooper appears to be on to something with a link between here and another Olazabal-designed track - Real Club Sevilla - in his each-way column and Ben Coley unearthed a very interesting link with Aphrodite Hills in Cyprus
Qatar Masters is going to be a tricky one to assess. Maybe Aphrodite Hills (both Cyprus events) will help, because everyone in the Qatar Masters top 5 last year went on to play really well there, and it's not like the top 5 was made up of the very best players on the circuit.? Ben Coley (@BenColeyGolf) March 8, 2021
As already stated, the wind is always a factor in this part of the world and it might just be worth keeping an eye on the forecast for a bit of a draw bias. At this early stage, it looks like those drawn PM-AM may enjoy a bit of an advantage over those drawn AM-PM with the wind dropping throughout the day on Thursday before picking up on Friday afternoon.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
In the last edition at Doha, two years ago, Justin Harding became the fifth South African to win the Qatar Masters and three South Africans - George Coetzee, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Erik Van Rooyen - finished tied for second. And South Africa's Branden Grace has won the event twice.
The venue may have changed but the conditions haven't so we can probably expect the South African contingent to continue to thrive at this venue, although Coetzee, who finished tied seventh, was the only one to prosper 12 months ago.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - Jorge Campillo led by a stroke 3.3512/5
2019 - Justin Harding tied 10th - trailing by three 38.037/1
2018 - Eddie Pepperell tied for the lead with Oliver Fisher 3.1511/5
2017 - Jeunghun Wang led by three strokes 1.9310/11
2016 - Branden Grace tied 2nd - trailing by two 3.7511/4
Having sat tied for third and two off the lead, Campillo finished the next three rounds in front or tied but it would be daft to give that single result too much credence and an off the pace winner is perfectly possible given Niklas Lemke was only beaten by a stroke having trailed by eight in a tie for 21st with a round to go.
If you're betting in-running, the par three ninth was the hardest hole on the course last year but the finish is tough. Holes 15, 16, 17 and 18 all averaged over-par for the week with the final two, both par fours, ranking as the second and third toughest on the track. Anyone getting in the house from off the pace on Sunday will probably represent value.
The perennially disappointing Belgian pair of Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry head the market and neither makes any appeal.
Pieters has won just once in the last five years and Detry is yet to close out a European Tour event, despite giving himself umpteen chances.
The aforementioned Coetzee should go well and Andy Sullivan is an interesting contender given he led at halfway 12 months ago after opening the tournament with a pair of 66s but given last year's renewal was decided via a playoff contested by a 200.0199/1 chance and a 1000.0 shot, I'm more than happy to swerve the market leaders.
Given this is the first regular event on the European Tour for five weeks it's a very hard event to gauge so I'm being ultra-cautious before the off.
I've thrown a few pounds at the hugely promising Dane, Rasmus Hojgaard, whose twin brother, Nicolai, led here after round one last year and I'm also happy to chance three outsiders.
Masahiro Kawamura finished second in Cyprus last year and he was woefully out of form when finishing 53rd here last year but his 65 in round two to make the cut was encouraging and I thought he was fractionally big at 130.0129/1.
I'm also happy to chance two-time European Tour winner, Guido Migliozzi, at 130.0129/1 and finally, the 2018 winner, Eddie Pepperell, often talks down his game on Twitter but he's more than capable of finding form out of the blue.
He's top class when he puts his mind to it and he may well be inspired this week given he should be in Florida playing in the Players Championship, where he finished third on debut in 2019.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter