We are spoilt once again on the European Tour with another sensational turnout for the Commercialbank Qatar Masters after the excitement in Abu Dhabi.
Seven of the world’s top 14 are on show with last week’s hero Martin Kaymer vying for favouritism alongside Henrik Stenson while Retief Goosen, Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter add to a stellar cast list for the middle section of the Gulf swing.
Kaymer will have no problems believing he can go back-to-back having won the Open de France and then at Loch Lomond last summer.
His course form at Doha Golf Club is nothing out of the ordinary but is keen to point out that could be about to change.
He said: “I have struggled in Qatar over the last two years but this time I am more confident and have more motivation.”
He is a couple of points shorter than last week and although in tremendous form, conditions are quite a bit different in Doha thanks to a gusty wind that blows in off the desert making scoring that little bit tougher.
Stenson is on offer at 12/1 as well and the 2006 winner admits he “knows this course inside out.”
That statement seems fully justified as his form figues since 2005 have been 2-1-7-2-2 and his long, straight-hitting game is ideally adapted to the test.
He posted a solid weekend’s work in Abu Dhabi with rounds of 69-67 and that should have put him close to spot on.
Poulter was unfortunate to bump into a Kaymer on top form and did little wrong.
His efforts got him into the world’s top 10 for the first time in his career and he is on offer at 20/1 to go one better.
I don’t really know what else he could have done and he was pretty gutted that he didn’t take the title – it will be interesting to see how he responds as he admits to being tough on himself if he does not clinch victory.
Westwood returned to a fanfare but struggled in Abu Dhabi and missed the cut by five shots.
He said he got away with things in an opening 69 but it all went pear shaped on Friday with a 78 meaning he made an early arrival in Qatar.
He had a new set of irons in the bag and they were not to his liking in the slightest as he compared them to feeling like fishing rods.
He could well have had them re-shafted by the time he tees it up or a replacement set may have even been flown out to him.
Either way, his preparation will not have been ideal.
Garcia did okay bar the third round as he eases his way back to form from a wrist injury while Schwartzel returns to the fray after a week off to recharge following back to back wins in South Africa.
He could become only the fourth player in European Tour history to win three events on the spin and is sure to be right in the spotlight throughout his quest.
He has a decent record in Doha but this is much tougher than the fields he beat at the start of the month.
So we have gradually whittled the market leaders down and the one that sticks out is Goosen at 14/1.
He perhaps should have won a couple of times in Europe in 2009 but modest final rounds in the BMW International Open and at Loch Lomond saw him come up short.
Putting has been a problem but some work at home on his winter break seems to be paying dividends as he has posted good efforts on the PGA Tour already in the two events staged in Hawaii.
The second of those at the Sony saw him finish with a blistering 62 – the round of the week – on the way to a fourth-place finish.
There has never been any doubt that Goosen has a long game right up with the best around and his new-found confidence on the greens with a long putter could well be the final piece in the puzzle to get him back in the winner’s circle again on a regular basis.
A winner at the course in 2007 – when he also arrived on the back of a couple of very good efforts – with a dramatic eagle on the final hole, he looks ready to make a winning impact.
It is going to be tough to break into the top echelons this week but three other names at decent prices do catch the eye – Alex Noren, Steve Webster and Marc Warren.
Swede Noren made his breakthrough in the European Masters last September and 2010 looks like a year he will kick on and add to that title.
He already has a couple of top-25 finishes in Doha and since his win at Crans Montana, has shown his ability to mix it regularly with excellent efforts in Madrid, Portugal and Dubai.
His effort in Abu Dhabi petered out after an opening 66 but he should be much sharper for that having also been on duty for Europe at the Royal Trophy.
What makes Noren of more interest this week is his close links with Kaymer.
The pair played a lot together on the Challenge Tour and it was Noren who finished ahead of the German in the rankings in 2006 before the latter pipped him to Rookie of the Year in 2007.
Noren admitted at this event a couple of years ago to being inspited by Kaymer’s first win in Abu Dhabi and he now finds himself in a similar situation a week after more heroics from the new world number six.
He will be very keen indeed to put in a performance and that would not be a huge shock in my book at 50/1.
Webster and Warren are both big prices but not without a squeak.
The former is another to get into a good position quite often but can’t quite see things through to the end as he would like.
He played some decent stuff in Abu Dhabi bar the back nine of the third round and having appeared at every event in Doha, should know what is required to get into the firing line.
He has five top 20s at the course and turning that into a podium finish will require a bit more – but we can take a chance with odds of 125/1 quoted.
Warren is a player who deserves a second look with the prospect of blustery conditions and gets the vote at 250/1.
The Scot last won an event in 2007 and his form has been a bit hit-and-miss since but there were signs last year that he could be getting back to somewhere near the level he is capable of achieving.
He last played in Qatar in 2008 where closing rounds of 67-68 hoisted him up inside the top 15 and he has a game which should come into its own around here.
Like many of his rivals, a hit-out last week in Abu Dhabi should bring him along enough for him to outplay those massive odds.
1.5pts e.w. Alex Noren at 50/1 (Coral, Hills 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Rapidly improving and will be inspired by Martin Kaymer’s latest win.
1pt e.w. Steve Webster at 125/1 (Boylesports, Blue Square 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Regular at Doha so knows what is required – eyecatching effort last week.
1pt e.w. Marc Warren at 250/1 (general 1/4 1,2,3,4,5). Worth a glance when windy conditions prevail and getting back to form.
2pts win Retief Goosen at 14/1 (general). Putting improved lately and looks the pick of the market leaders.
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