Our golf scribe previews this week's European Tour event, the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
The second leg of the Desert Swing takes the golfers to Doha Golf Club for the Qatar Masters. There’s been something of a downgrade in terms of quality of field, with the likes of Dustin Johnson and Ricky Fowler gracing the tour with their presence last weekend. Furthermore, the Tiger Woods circus is set to roll into town for next week’s Dubai Desert Classic, leaving this tournament in a slightly unenviable wedged position. Alex Noren - four-time winner last season - slightly edges Wiesberger and Kaymer in terms of the betting favourites.
Your typical desert course, it plays fairly similarly to a links course when the winds inevitably pick up. Driving accuracy is clearly of paramount importance at the 7400-yard course. Players such as Graeme McDowell - whose more traditional game has been surpassed by the brash tidal wave of uber-hitting - could use this tournament as a springboard for the year. Two-time defending champion Branden Grace will not be participating this week, leaving two-time major champion Martin Kaymer has perhaps the biggest draw in the field.
The course was designed by Peter Harradine, the same man responsible for last week’s course. This could indicate a horses for courses approach to picking some wild options, although the greens here are far grainier - which suits the South African golfers as evidenced by Grace’s consecutive victories here. The current weather forecast seems to be fairly mild, with Sunday possibly the most perilous day. Although, to be fair, predicting the weather in the desert is akin to predicting a winner on the European Tour. Fraught with danger.
The Commercial Bank Qatar Masters | Thursday 26 January - Sunday 29 January | Doha Golf Club
2016: Branden Grace (-14) | 2015: Branden Grace (-19) | 2014: Sergio Garcia (-16)*playoff | 2013: Chris Wood (-18) | 2012: Paul Lawrie (-15)
To Win Outright
Alex Noren 10/1 | Bernd Wiesberger 12/1 | Martin Kaymer 12/1 | Rafa Cabrera-Bello 16/1 | Tommy Fleetwood 18/1
Thorbjorn Olesen - To Win 30/1 & To Place 13/2
The Dane is horribly overpriced this week, especially considering the fact that he finished 2nd here last year and third in 2014. He has also picked up wins in Sicily and Perth, both tournaments that are susceptible to the type of wind conditions as this one. Furthermore - like Branden Grace - he is a former winner of the Dunhill Links tournament. He has hit over 80% of greens in regulation on his three starts in this tournament. Seems to me that 30/1 for a win is more than competitive.
Thomas Aiken - To Win 45/1 & To Place 19/2
South Africans tend to perform well on this course, as mentioned earlier. Aiken is generally extremely reliable off the tee - only twice in his last ten starts has he finished outside the top six for driving accuracy. He is also in a run of really good form, with finishes of 4th, 5th and 13th in his last three starts. His tie for 13th last week was his best finish at Abu Dhabi, all the more impressive because he never hit quite as many fairways as normal. This course should suit his low,left-to-right trajectory, especially if the wind picks up.
Graeme Storm - To Win 125/1 - To Place 25/1
This one is purely based on course conditions. Storm is a past master of links golf, having finished in a tie for 4th just as recently as the last Dunhill Links. Additionally, Storm powered to victory at the BMW South African Open, seeing off the considerable late challenge of a certain Rory McIllroy. I just think that 25/1 for a place looks ridiculously broad for a man in form. He may have been cut last week in Abu Dhabi, but this course doesn’t put the same emphasis on driving distance.
The Man to Beat
Bernd Wiesberger - To Win 12/1 & To Place 2.64/1
Wiesberger kicked off his European Tour season with an excellent showing in Abu Dhabi last week. Talk of a rustiness was quickly dispelled by a terrific tie for 4th in a powerhouse field. In his last competitive finish at the DP World Championship, he also finished in a tie for 4th. The last outing before that he finished in solo 4th at the Turkish Airlines Open. More importantly, perhaps, than any of these finishes, is the fact that he finished 2nd at the British Masters, in conditions that were similar to this week’s. Wiesberger often played the role of dependable understudy as Alex Noren got into metronomic mode last year, but this could be his breakthrough year.