The Punter

Qatar Masters: Links form the key to success in Doha

Golfer Sami Valimaki
The 2023 Qatar Masters winner - Sami Valimaki

The DP World Tour returns to Qatar just three months after Sami Valimaki claimed the 2023 title in extra time and our man's here with his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start...


Tournament History

Sky Sports pundit, Andrew Coltart, won the first edition of the Qatar Masters way back in 1998 so this will be the 27th edition.

After two years at Education City, the Qatar Masters returned to its original venue- Doha Golf Club - in 2022 where Ewen Ferguson won his first DP World Tour title.

The 2022 edition was staged in March and last year's edition, won by Sami Valimaki, was at the end of October so after a gap of 19 months in-between the 2022 and 2023 renewals, we've had just three months to wait for the latest edition.

The Qatar Masters is the fifth event in-a-row in the Middle East before the DP World Tour takes a week off. The Tour's new International Swing will resume in two weeks' time at the Kenya Open.

Venue

Doha Golf Club, Doha, Qatar.

Course Details

Par 72, 7,466 yards
Stroke Index in 2023 - 70.94

Doha was designed by Peter Harradine, the man also responsible for the Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Al Hamra, the Ras Al Khaimah Championship venue two weeks ago.

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."

DOHA 2023 2.jpg

In addition to the grass type changing, most of the greens were expanded back to their original size and reinstated back to their original slopes and elevations.

Both nines open and close with par fives and water is in-play on six holes (3, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 18).

The four par fives usually average below par but the drivable par four 16th, which averaged just 3.36 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 in 2022 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.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all for days, starting at 5:30 on Thursday.

Last Eight Winners with Pre-event Prices

  • 2023 - Sami Valimaki -18 85.084/1
  • 2022 - 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

What Will it Take to Win the Qatar Masters?

Driving Distance used to be a key stat at Doha, and Sami Valimaki ranked seventh when winning back in October, but the four course winners before him, Ewen Ferguson, Justin Harding, Eddie Pepperell and Jeunghun Wang, only ranked 46th, 31st, 77th and 37th for DD and that was 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 three winners have ranked only 38th, 17th and 21st.

The front two ranked third and eighth for Greens In Regulation in October and the first and second ranked tied for 14th for GIR in 2022 but the four course winners before Ferguson only ranked 45th, 16th, 26th and 19th.

Again, that was quite a change given prior to the last six renewals here, nine of the ten winners had ranked inside the top-seven for that stat.

As many as nine of the last 13 winners have ranked inside the top-ten for Putts per GIR. The odd four out are Valimaki last year, Ferguson in 2022, Wang in 2017 and Sergio Garcia in 2014, but they only ranked 22nd, 16th, 15th, and 18th so a solid week with the putter is fairly key.

ewen ferguson wins Qatar.jpg

We only have three years' worth of Strokes Gained data at Doha but for what it's worth, Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green looks to be the most important stat.

Harding ranked third for Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and the playoff protagonists in October ranked second and fifth. Ferguson only ranked 18th but the next three on the leaderboard ranked fourth, eighth and nineth and Marcus Armitage, who finished tied for fifth, topped the SG: Tee-to-Green rankings.

Doha is very exposed, so excellent wind exponents tend to fare well here year after year.

Is There an Angle In?

A large bank of course form is far from imperative at Doha.

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 five winners at Doha had never played here before and Valimaki had finished only 40th on his only previous visit so I certainly wouldn't put anyone off backing a course debutant or someone with very little course form.

South Africans have a good record at Doha. 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, the 2020 winner, Campillo, hit a low of 1.330/100 in October, and Alvaro 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 eight 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.

Olesen at ras Al khaimah.jpg

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 around the similarly exposed Heritage Golf Club at the Mauritius Open has also held up well in Qatar.

Winner's Position and Price Pre-Round Four

  • 2023 - Sami Valimaki led by a stroke 3.002/1
  • 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

In-Play Tactics

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 24 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 in 2022 but every other winner has been within two strokes with a round to go and 14 of the 24 winners were in front after three rounds.

If you're betting in-running, bear in mind that the 12th, 13th and 15th holes are all tricky 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 has averaged 4.75 in each of the last two editions.

Chris Wood won the event with an eagle at the 72nd hole 11 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-running in 2022, despite never trailing by any more than three strokes in-between rounds, eagled 16 before birdying the last to win by a stroke.

I'm away for a week so apologies, but they'll be no selections from me but do look out for Matt Cooper's each-way column.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


GET £40 IN FREE BETS MULTIPLES WHEN YOU SPEND £10 ON THE BETFAIR SPORTSBOOK

New customers only. Bet £10 on the Betfair Sportsbook at odds of min EVS (2.0) and receive £40 in FREE Bet Builders, Accumulators or Multiples to use on any sport. T&Cs apply.

Prices quoted in copy are correct at time of publication but liable to change.