Els and Singh face off at Qatar Masters
BY Bruce Young | European PGA Tour | 2006 Qatar Masters | Preview | 25 Jan 2006
The European Tour stays in the Gulf States this week for the Commercial Bank Qatar Open. The European Tour and Asian Tour join forces for an event, which is growing in status on the European Tour.
The tournament is being held for the ninth year in succession with each of those staged at the Doha Golf Club near Doha on the east coast of the peninsular state of Qatar, less than an hour’s flight from last week’s event in Abu Dhabi. This represents the second leg of three events in this area with the Dubai Classic to follow next week.
The tournament sees the first appearance in 2006 of Ernie Els who, despite a knee injury which kept him out of the game for three months in 2005, managed to win the South African Airways Open late in the year and who will defend his 2005 title here this week. Els arrived in Qatar earlier this week after a five week break from tournament golf but he has had an intensive practice regime over the last week or so in London prior to flying out to Doha. By all accounts his knee is in reasonable shape despite the occasional flare up but it is nothing to be concerned about according to him.
Els adds even further interest to the event this week as he seeks to join Bernhard Langer in making 69 consecutive cuts on the European Tour dating back to 2000.
The Doha Golf Club is yet another Peter Harradine designed facility as was the course last week in Abu Dhabi and further highlights how prolific this Swiss-based golf course design company has been in the Middle East.
The course was opened in the mid 1990’s and its degree of difficulty is often determined by the warm winds that sweep in from the west across the Saudi Arabian desert or from the adjacent broad stretches of the Gulf.
The tournament went to another level in 2005 not only in the quality of its field but in the prizemoney it now offers. It carries a purse of €1.65 million with €270,000 going to the winner. The participation of Els in 2005 gave the event an added dimension and this week not only will Els be here but Vijay Singh adds even further lustre to the growing status of the event.
They will no doubt share the favouritism this week and even though Els is coming off a break and has the concerns of his knee in the back of his mind, he showed in South Africa late last year that he can quickly find form.
Singh comes off a solid week in Abu Dhabi last week when 8th and even though he has not been here previously that should not be an issue for the number two player in the world.
Henrik Stenson is rapidly developing into one of the best players on the European Tour and after a narrow loss last week in Abu Dhabi he will be looking to go one better this week. He also finished runner up to Els here last year. He is destined to win events of greater significance than this in the future and so if he was to beat two of the game’s leading players, it would not surprise those aware of his high class game.
David Howell let many of his followers down last week with a missed cut in Abu Dhabi but surely that can be rectified this week. Like Stenson he has taken his game and his place in golf to another level in 2005.
Darren Clarke is a fresh runner on the scene not having played for some time. He was joint runner up to Jim Furyk at the Nedbank Challenge in early December and just two weeks prior to that won the Visa Taiheyo Masters in Japan. A week after the Sun City event he went close to winning Tiger’s event at the Target Challenge and so his most recent form is good but he comes off a break of five weeks.
Miguel Angel Jimenez played well enough last week in Abu Dhabi when 5th to indicate that he is not far away from his first win since the Celtic Manor Resort event last year. The last time he played here in 2004 he was disqualified in round three but he is a versatile player capable of winning anywhere at anytime.
Nick O’Hern is the sixth highest world ranked player here and arrives after a break of six weeks. He is one of the most improved players in world golf in the last eighteen months but he struggles to get across the line. He had a good season in Australia just prior to Christmas despite letting a winning position slip at the MasterCard Masters and although it might be a little much to expect him to be competitive after such a long break, his return will be of much interest.
Paul McGinley played beautifully towards the end of 2005 and climbed the world rankings late in the year. He, along with Ian Poulter and Niclas Fasth, are further chances amongst the fancied European Tour players.
From the Asian Tour come their stars namely Jyoti Randhawa, Thongchai Jaidee, Thavorn Wiratchant and recent winner Chris Rodgers.
Richard Green, Andrew Buckle, Richard Lee, Marcus Both, Adam Blyth, Adam Le Vesconte, Adam Fraser, Mahal Pearce, Terry Pilkidaris, Eddie Lee, Scott Barr, Adam Groom and Jarrod Lyle make up the balance of the Australasian contingent with many of those gaining starts via the Asian Tour which of course co-sanctions this event.
Photo – Anthony Powter