For the second year in-a-row the Qatar Masters will start a day earlier than the norm, on Wednesday. It's the middle leg of the European Tour's Middle East Swing and it was first staged in 1998 - this will be the 17th edition of the event.
Par 72, 7412 yards
Stroke Index in 2013 - 71.25
Like last week's venue in Abu Dhabi, Doha was designed by Peter Harradine but this is a different sort of test. The rough was brutal in Abu Dhabi, even dangerous according to Sergio Garcia, and driving accuracy was an important stat to consider but it's not usually an issue here. The fairways are of average width and the rough is usually far from penal.
The average-sized Bermuda greens, which are over seeded with Poa Trivalis, have some tricky slopes and will be running at around 12 on the stimpmeter. 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 3s (holes 3, 8, 13 and 17) are all tough.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - 6.30am Wednesday, 6.00am Thursday, 9.30am Friday and 8.30am on Saturday
Last Five Winners
2013 - Chris Wood -18
2012 - Paul Lawrie -15 (54 holes)
2011 - Thomas Bjorn -14
2010 - Robert Karlsson -15
2009 - Alvaro Quiros -19
What will it take to win the Qatar Masters?
Sergio Garcia and George Coetzee finished joint runners up 12 months ago after Chris Wood gazumped the pair with a stunning eagle at the last. Wood ranked 14th for driving distance and Sergio and George ranked 2nd and 3rd respectfully. The first thing you have to do at Doha is hit it long off the tee. And the second thing is hit the greens repeatedly - six of the first eight home ranked inside the top-six for greens in regulation.
It's fairly straightforward - the stats to ponder this week are driving distance and greens in regulation.
Is there an angle in?
The defending champion of this event, Chris Wood, didn't play in the Johnnie Walker Championship last year but he should have done. Both previous winners, Thomas Bjorn and Paul Lawrie, followed up success at Doha with a victory at Gleneagles and other players have fared well at both venues also so there's clearly a correlation there, as I believe, there is with Oceânico Victoria Golf Course - home of the Portugal Masters.
Alvaro Quiros, who now lives at the Oceânico Victoria Golf Course, is the only man to win both events but there are many examples of players doing well at both venues. Big outsider, Ricardo Santos, for example, represents Oceânico Victoria Golf Course and he led here after round one last year.
Is there an identikit winner?
It's a bit leftfield maybe and I'm not really sure why, probably due to the often windy conditions, but fine links exponents play well here. Look at the last four winners for starters. And previous course form is a big plus. The same players figure with regularity and we've already had two two-time winners - Adam Scott and Paul Lawrie.
Top-drawer players, Ernie Els and Adam Scott both rallied to win from seven back at halfway but they're the exception rather than the rule. The other 14 winners were all inside the top-ten at halfway and four of the last five winners were in front after round three. Playing catch-up is hard at Doha.
Henrik Stenson was a standing dish around Doha between 2005 and 2009, with form figures reading 2-1-7-2-2 but his four visits since have been far less impressive. He was 64th in 2010 before missing consecutive cut s and then last year he could only finish 16th.
Of course, he's playing far better golf now than he's been doing for the last four years so the poor figures do need to be put in to context but after his missed cut in Abu Dhabi last week it's hard to get enthusiastic about him at a single figure price.
Sergio Garcia endured a turbulent week in Abu Dhabi but he did at least make the cut - eventually finishing tied for 19th. He injured his shoulder and blamed the rough before the start of the event and then he had to defend himself over a nonsensical claim that he tapped down a spike mark. I suspect he was glad to move on and with five top-ten finishes here in the last six years, he's probably quite happy to be moving on to Doha.
His chance is obvious but I don't like playing Sergio anywhere but Spain. He simply does win as often as his price suggests he does.
If the TV coverage was anything to go by, you'd think that Jason Dufner had been putting like Blind Pugh so far this year but the stats don't really back that up. He seemed to miss short one after short one at Kapalua and I certainly saw a few slip by at Waialae but he actually ranked 8th for putting at the Sony Open. Even if he did have an average week with the flatstick it might not be the end of the world anyway - I don't know what the greens are like this time around but they weren't great 12 months ago and Alex Noren placed, ranking 50th for putting. He was 9th on debut 12 months ago and he has a fine chance - although I do wonder whether his slight lack of length will be a handicap.
Fourth best, Martin Kaymer, has never really taken to Doha, even when he was playing really well and Thomas Bjorn, at around 20.019/1, looks priced up about right for a change. He'd have been of a bit more interest had we been forecast a really tough week with the wind but he was disappointing on Saturday and he may well be best watched from the start this week
I had no hesitation whatsoever in backing Alvaro Quiros here. He absolutely loves the track having won in 2009 and having finished second in each of the next two renewals, despite starting very poorly.
He's a fantastic desert golfer but he's never really clicked at last week's venue in Abu Dhabi, even when at his pre-wrist-injury pomp and that's because it's far less generous off the tee than here, next week's venue The Emirates, where he won in 2010, or the earth Course in Dubai, where he won in 2011. Last week's tied 31st was a decent enough effort and I fancy him to go well.
The only other player I really like this week is Tommy Fleetwood, who looks a good fit for numerous reasons. He's been in good form - led at the Volvo Golf Champions after three rounds two weeks ago. He won the Johnnie Walker Championship last year - see Angle In above. He's a fine links exponent - see Identikit Winner above and he hits it a fairly long way off the tee. Add to that, that he's a start of the future and the 51.050/1 available on the Sportsbook is more than fair.
I've also had a very small bet on 2005 winner, Ernie Els, who looks a very big price at 50.049/1 and I may yet back Bernd Wiesberger...
The Austrian has got very good form at both Gleneagles and Oceânico Victoria so this place should suit, The negatives are the missed cut last week and his as yet uninspiring form here but that could change and if he drifts I'll back him.
Alvaro Quiros @ 46.045/1 (Sportsbook)
Tommy Fleetwood @ 51.050/1 (Sportsbook)
Ernie Els 50.049/1
I'll be back tomorrow with my preview for this week's other event - the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour.
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