First timers may be worth chancing
Links lovers prosper at Doha
Who's drinking in the last chance Saloon?
Sky Sports pundit, Andrew Coltart, won the first edition of the Qatar Masters way back in 1998 so this will be the 26th edition.
After two years at Education City, the Qatar Masters returned to its original venue last year - Doha Golf Club - where Ewen Ferguson won his first DP World Tour title.
The tournament was staged in March last year, so the Scotsman has waited more than 19 months to defend his title.
Doha Golf Club, Doha, Qatar.
Par 72, 7,466 yards
Stroke Index in 2011 - 72,68
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.
In between the 2019 and 2022 editions the course was revamped and there were two significant changes.
The ninth and 18th greens (both par fives) were combined to form one big green, and all the greens were changed from Bermuda to a strain of paspalum called dynasty grass.
Gary McGlinchey, the General Manager of Doha Golf Club had this to say prior to the changes being made. "The greens were constructed in 1996, grass technology has come a long way since then and the paspalum dynasty grass we have selected doesn't mind the TSE water we are now forced to use."
In addition to the grass type changing, the majority of the greens were expanded back to their original size and reinstated back to their original slopes and elevations.
The new greens were set to run at 11.5 on the Stimpmeter last year- slightly faster than in previous renewals.
Both nines open and close with par fives and water is in-play on six holes (3, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 18).
Although the ninth averaged 5.07 last year, the four par fives usually average below par but the drivable par four 16th, which averaged just 3.4 last year, is the best opportunity to score.
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.
Blustery conditions caused chaos over the weekend last year with as many as five players trading at 2.89/5 or below, although the winner, Ferguson, was the only man to go odds-on.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 9:00 on Thursday UK time.
Last eight winners with pre-event prices
- 2020 - Ewen Ferguson -7 300.0299/1
- 2021 - Antoine Rosner -8 30.029/1 (Education City)
- 2020 - Jorge Campillo -13 200.0199/1 (playoff- Education City)
- 2019 - Justin Harding -13 60.059/1
- 2018 - Eddie Pepperell -18 85.084/1
- 2017 - Jeunghun Wang -16 40.039/1 (playoff)
- 2016 - Branden Grace -14 8.415/2
- 2014 - Branden Grace -19 25.024/1
What will it take to win the Qatar Masters?
Driving Distance used to be a key stat at Doha but the last four course winners, Ferguson, Justin Harding, Eddie Pepperell and Jeunghun Wang, only ranked 46th, 31st, 77th and 37th for DD and that's quite a change given 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 the last two winners have ranked only 17th and 21st.
Finding greens with regularity doesn't appear to be as vital as it once was. The front two ranked tied for 14th for Greens In Regulation last year but the two players tied for third ranked 62nd and 67th and the four course winners before Ferguson only ranked 45th, 16th, 26th and 19th.
Again, that's quite a change given prior to the last five renewals here, nine of the ten winners had ranked inside the top-seven for that stat.
It was a case of just hanging on in here last year and Ferguson ranked reasonably well for all the traditional stats without doing anything spectacularly. He putted well though and 10th for Putting Average was the best he ranked for any of the traditional stats. And he ranked sixth for Strokes Gained: Putting.
Scoring is usually fairly low here in good conditions so a neat and tidy game around the greens has been key. Harding ranked 15th for Scrambling in 2019 and the three winners before him all ranked inside the top-ten for Scrambling.
As many as nine of the last 12 winners have ranked inside the top-ten for Putts per GIR. The odd three out are Ferguson last year, Wang in 2017 and Sergio Garcia in 2014, but they only ranked 16th, 15th, and 18th so a hot putter looks like our best statistical angle-in.
We only have two years' worth of Strokes Gained data at Doha so for what it's worth, Harding ranked third for Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and first for Strokes Gained: Around the Green and Ferguson ranked sixth for SG: Putting and 12th for SG: Approach but as already stated, Ferguson didn't excel at any individual stat in what was a bizarre weather-affected renewal.
Although the forecast doesn't look too bad this week, or anywhere close to as bad as it was last year, Doha is very exposed, so excellent wind exponents tend to fare well here year after year.
Is there an identikit winner?
When Eddie Pepperell won here in 2018, he had previous course form figures reading MC-63-4-MC, so he had plenty of experience and one very good performance in the bag already and but three of the last four winners at Doha had never played here before so I certainly wouldn't put anyone off backing a course debutant.
South Africans have a good record at Doha and when Harding won here in 2019, he 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.
Debutants and South Africans are clearly worth considering and so too are former winners.
When Branden Grace successfully defended in 2016, he became the third to win the title twice in its short history and we could very easily have seen a few more two-time winners...
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 seven years ago before he took the title 12 months later.
Links lovers excel at Doha
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 too and so does the 2016 second, Thorbjorn Olesen, the 2015 runner-up, Marc Warren, and the 2018 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 the 2018 Scottish Open 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.
Consider Portuguese and Mauritian form
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 so that's another angle in to consider and form at the now defunct Mauritius Open around the similarly exposed Heritage Golf Club has also held up well in Qatar.
Who's drinking in the last chance saloon?
The DP World Tour takes a week off next week before it heads to South Africa for the limited field Nedbank Challenge, ahead of the DP World Tour Championship the following week, so this is the last counting event of the season.
That makes it a huge event for those chasing a spot in Dubai or one of the ten PGA Tour cards available for the top-ten in the Race to Dubai standings that doesn't already have a PGA Tour card and it's an even bigger deal for those bobbing around the 116 spot in the standings, as that's the provisional cut off point to retain playing privileges for next season.
Winner's position and price pre-round four
- 2022 - Ewen Ferguson - tied 7th - trailing by three 38.037/1
- 2021 - Antoine Rozner tied 4th - trailing by three 7.26/1 (Ed' City)
- 2020 - Jorge Campillo led by a stroke 3.3512/5 (Ed' City)
- 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
With windy weather so often a factor, a slow start can be overcome at Doha.
The 2017 winner, Wang, trailed by five after round one and four of the 23 course 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, as did Harding in 2019 and Ferguson last year but every other winner has been within two strokes with a round to go and 13 of the 23 winners were in front after three rounds.
If you're betting in-running, bear in mind that the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th holes are all tricky (they were the four toughest in 2019) but after that the players face the drivable par four at 16, the 17th, which is by far the easiest of the four par threes, and the 18th, which is a reachable par five which only averaged 4.75 last year.
Chris Wood won the event with an eagle at the 72nd hole ten years ago, Grace eagled the 16th on his way to winning eight years ago and Ferguson, who was matched at a whopping 880.0879/1 in-play last year, despite never trailing by any more than three strokes in-between rounds, eagled 16 before birdying the last to win by a stroke.
Thorbjorn Olesen and Jordan Smith are vying for favouritism in what is an extremely open market.
Olesen has been well backed form a high of 30.029/1 to a low of 21.020/1 (currently trading at 24.023/1) and it's not hard to see why.
The 33-year-old Dane, who won the Thailand Classic back in February, is in decent form at present and he has a wealth of experience at Doha with course form figures reading MC-59-22-3-MC-2-57-MC-12.
Olesen withdrew after two rounds of the weather-affected Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the start of the months, but he still has current form figures reading 11-40-45-33-10-W-17-9 and he ranked first for Greens In Regulation at last week's Andalucia Masters.
Smith has played Doha four times and having sandwiched a tied 63rd between two missed cuts, he's yet to build on his promising sixth place finish on debut back in 2017.
As the winner of the last Portugal Masters at Dom Pedro this time last year, and with a smattering of reasonable links form, this venue really should suit him nicely but as he showed in Paris a month ago when he finished second to Ryo Hisatsune, having been matched at a low of just 1.111/9 when he led by six in round four, he isn't one to go to war with.
The 2020 Scottish Open winner, Aaron Rai, is next up but he's been slightly disappointing since finishing second at Wentworth, finishing 102nd at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and 34th last week in Spain.
The 28-year-old Englishman has played Doha twice previously, finishing 19th on debut in 2018 before missing the cut 12 months later and he makes little appeal at less than 30.029/1 given he hasn't won in more than three years.
Denmark's Rasmus Hojgaard is bidding to become the fourth Doha debutant winner in five renewals and there are plenty of reasons to think he's a fair price to do so at odds in excess of 30.029/1.
Hojgaard's case for a spot on the European Ryder Cup team wasn't as strong as Adrian Meronk's but like the Pole, he will have felt aggrieved to miss out given his twin, Nicolai, made the team, and that he has four DP World Tour titles to Nicolai's two.
That's an extremely simplistic way of looking at it but with four titles to his name at the age of 22, he must be wondering quite what happened for him not to be there ahead of the likes of Robert MacIntyre, the new Swedish sensation, Ludwig Aberg, and his own twin brother, and like Meronk, who won the Andalucia Masters on Sunday, his omission from Luke's team can be used as inspiration.
In addition to him playing here for the first time (seemingly a plus if recent renewals are any sort of gauge), he won his first DP World Tour title at the aforementioned Heritage Golf Club, he has some decent links form in the locker, he needs a good week to secure a PGA Tour card for next season and he arrives in fair form.
He won the Made In HimmerLand in his homeland back in July and having finished fourth at the Open de France last month, he's ticked along nicely since, finishing 25th at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and 26th on Sunday in Spain.
Once again, I find myself in complete agreement with Matt Cooper, who also likes the chances of England's Matt Wallace.
As Matt highlights in his each-way column, Wallace is an exceptional links exponent, and a good week looks likely.
He wasn't at his best when finishing tied for 19th on his one and only appearance at Doha in 2018, coming into the event with form figures for the year reading 38-32-37-MC-44 but it his top-20 here was the catalyst for a stellar year.
He won the Indian Open in his very next start before adding the BMW International and the Made in Denmark so he may well have fond memories from his one and only appearance.
Already a winner on the PGA Tour this year, he did very little wrong when second at the Czech Masters at the end of August and his recent sixth at the Alfred Dunhill Links shows he's ticking over nicely.
He didn't putt in Japan last week when finishing down the field in the ZOZO Championship, but he looks a fair price to bounce back here at a venue that really should suit him nicely.
I'll be back later today or tomorrow with the Find Me a 100 Winner column.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter