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Oosthuizen, Rose or Mr X?

By Neville Leck Last updated: 22nd January 2013

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Louis Oosthuizen with his Volvo Champions trophy

Louis Oosthuizen with his Volvo Champions trophy

Justin Rose at number four is the highest-ranked player in this week's Commercial Bank Qatar Masters field, but Louis Oosthuizen might be the most ambitious.

Oosthuizen, who will tee off from Doha Golf Club's first tee alongside Rose and fellow 2010 major winner Martin Kaymer in the afternoon field on Wednesday, has made no secret here of the fact that his long-term target is Rory McIlroy's world number one crown.

And after his 2013 flying start with a victory at the Volvo Champions at Durban Country Club two weeks ago, the sweet-swinging South African believes he has enough form right now to take a step closer to that target.

"I want to climb up the world ranking to number one if I can," he told the media on Monday, "but I'll take it slowly and see how my game is.

"I never try to set goals that I know are too tough to achieve or out of my reach. But I do feel like I've got a good shot at getting to No 2 at least by the end of the year. I'll need to work hard on my game to get there and stay there, and then reduce the gap with me and Rory."

The 2010 Open Champion, who will be further buoyed this week by his liking for the Gulf region and his impressive record in Qatar where he has a best finish of second place in 2009, added, "Any win early in the season gets your confidence really high.

"I feel like I'm swinging it really well at the moment and making the (important) odd long putt. This week the greens are really big and I think we'll have a lot of birdie opportunities, so those longer putts will be crucial."

Oosthuizen, however, is not underestimating Rose, whose ranking points haul at Abu Dhabi last week, where Oosthuizen did not play, enabled the lanky Englishman to oust his South African rival as the world number four.

Oosthuizen said: "Justin is a great player. His Ryder Cup win against (Phil) Mickelson (in the singles) was very special. You know he's going to be up there on the leaderboard."

Rose is certainly not lacking in early season form. Unlike McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who both missed the cut, he showed plenty of it in Abu Dhabi last week where he tied for second behind the strong-finishing Welshman, Jamie Donaldson.

He might well have some reservations about the way he allowed the lead he had held for the first three rounds to slip away with a lackluster closing 71, however, so there is a good possibility that he will take out his frustration with a driven performance at Doha - and that would certainly make him a major threat to Oosthuizen and this week's other contenders.

Danish upstart Thorbjørn Olesen, the man who tied with Rose at Abu Dhabi, and who, like Rose, missed a gettable putt at the 18th that would have forced a play-off, could be another confidence-boosted, vengeance-driven threat.

The 23-year-old, regarded as one of mainland Europe's most exciting young guns, has both the talent and the background to add more glory to the three runner-up finishes he bagged in his impressive rookie year on the European Tour in 2011 and to his maiden victory in the Sicilian Open last year.

'Two's company, but three's a crowd' they say, but Kaymer, the third member of the Oosthuizen-Rose three-ball come Wednesday, can hardly be seen as just one of the crowd.

Germany's 2010 PGA Champion and former world number one was plunged into an unexpected slump by an injury a year or so ago, but ever since sinking the winning putt in Europe's sensational Ryder Cup fightback last September, he has been looking more and more like the dynamic old Kaymer who had won 10 European Tour titles prior to his injury.

Another on-the-mend from injury big gun in this week's field with prospects of getting up among the front runners is Englishman Paul Casey.

His enterprising career took a big knock when he broke his collar bone in a snow-boarding accident in December 2011, but the form of the 11-time European Tour winner finally seems to be on the up and up again.

He has almost exclusively had a string of the top 20 finishes in his last six Tour starts which includes an 18th place finish at the Volvo Champions earlier this month

His good memories of his fifth-place finish here in Qatar in 2010 could help make him even more dangerous in Qatar.

Another three-ball with a lethal look this week includes 2012 Ryder Cup stars, Sergia Garcia of Spain, and 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie, a two-time Qatar Masters winner and this year's defending champion, and South Africa's 2012 Open champion Ernie Els.

These three hot-shots, like Kaymer and Casey, are all in a resurgent mood after spending some frustrating times in the doldrums, but each has enough game to win again this week.

Big names - and this week's field also includes those of US star Jason Dufner, Italian teen sensation Matteo Manassero and South Africa's four-time tour winner last year, Branden Grace - do not always guarantee a big-name victory, however.

We've already seen evidence of this in the four European Tour events played this season.

Two, the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the Volvo Champions, were won by seasoned major winners Charl Schwartzel (The Masters) and Louis Oosthuizen (The Open), but the other two, the season-opening, inaugural Nelson Mandela Championship and last weeks Abu Dhabi Championship were won by the Scottish and Welsh outsiders, Scott Jamieson and Jamie Donaldson.

Does this mean there is a 50% chance of an outsider, a Mr X, winning again here at Qatar?

It might, but then golf being golf, it might not. This time one the favourites could prevail.

Neville Leck



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