Qatar Masters Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
THE Desert Swing continues with the Qatar Masters, won 12 months ago by Branden Grace of South Africa, and the spotlight falls on a batch of brilliant rookies looking to make an impression on the European Tour.
Best of the lot looks likely to be Jordan L Smith, who finished top of the Challenge Tour order of merit last season, but there is a world of difference between that and making a living alongside the big boys. Smith played in the South African Open alongside winner Graeme Storm and world number two Rory McIlroy and missed out on the title by a single shot. He looks like he belongs.
Smith is a thoroughly impressive young man. Like so many of the best young players, he has a fantastic temperament allied to a really solid game. He does not hit the ball miles, but he does drive it straight and finds plenty of fairways, is a superb iron player and has a fabulous short game. He will surely enjoy his first victory at some point this season, and it would be a surprise if he doesn't contend in Qatar.
The Qatar Masters was first held back in 1998 and was won by Andrew Coltart. Grace won last year and also in 2015, Sergio Garcia was the 2014 champion, Chris Wood enjoyed his first European Tour success here in 2013, Paul Lawrie won for a second time in 2012 and current Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn was the 2011 champion.
Doha Golf Club has been carved out of desert and is one of the best courses in this part of the world. It measures 7,400 yards and finishes with a spectacular par five measuring 589 yards. It is a classic finishing hole that could see somebody winning with a spectacular eagle. Unsurprisingly, it features a great deal of sand, which makes accuracy of paramount importance.
And when you talk about accuracy you think about Graeme McDowell. The Northern Irishman was devastated to miss out on the Ryder Cup last year but, quite frankly, he did little or nothing to justify selection and never looked likely to gain an automatic place on the team. His world ranking is going the wrong way and he needs to do something to arrest it -and he needs to do it quickly. McDowell is a short hitter and has been left behind by today's power players. In saying that, he was good enough to win the US Open at Pebble Beach. So what has gone wrong?
As Jim Furyk has proved, you don't need to hit the ball a long way to win golf tournaments, as long as you consistently find the middle of the fairway. Sadly, McDowell's driving has let him down badly in the past couple of years and he knows full well that this is an area that has to be addressed. It is also fair to say that fatherhood has perhaps meant that he hasn't been fully focused on his game. But, by all accounts, he has spent the off season working hard on his game. It will be interesting to see if he can get himself into contention on a regular basis.
Alex Noren and Rafa Cabrera Bello will surely start the tournament as favourites, and quite right too. Noren had a stellar season in 2016, with four victories that saw him finish third in the Race to Dubai and climb to ninth in the world rankings. As Justin Thomas has been proving on the PGA Tour, confidence is everything in this game. Noren does not have a textbook swing and his putting stroke is quirky, to say the least. But few players work harder on their game than the Swede, and he will be looking to continue the tremendous progress he made - he is quick to credit fellow Swede Henrik Stenson for inspiring him, and Stenson knows what it is like to go through highs and lows with tournament golf.
Cabrera Bello seemed to contend just about every time he teed the ball up last year, but somehow managed to finished the season without a victory. The Spaniard should have won on both the PGA and European Tours but kept coming up short. Some may see this as a flaw, but he proved to himself that he had the game to compete with the very best. His confidence is at an all-time high and I expect him to put matters right and win a couple of events in the coming events.
If you are looking for somebody to follow this season then you could an awful lot worse than Thorbjorn Olesen, who is surely one of the most underrated golfers on the European Tour. The 27-year-old Dane won the Sicilian Open in 2012 and has added three further victories in 2014, 2015 and 2016. When he gets himself in contention, Olesen wins. Early in his career his biggest problem was inconsistency, caused by a tendency to be wild from the tee, but he has worked hard to overcome this.
Wood will also return to Qatar with good memories and a belief that he could win again.
To Win: Alex Noren. Has the winning habit
Each Way: Jordan L Smith. Looks right at home
Each Way: Rafa Cabrera Bello. Mr Consistency
Alex Noren. Confidence is sky-high
Jordan L Smith. The complete package
Rafa Cabrera Bello. Ready to win
Tommy Fleetwood. On the crest of a wave after winning again
Martin Kaymer. You can never write him off
Chris Wood. Good memories
Soomin Lee. A quality player
Nicolas Colsaerts. Showing signs of a return to his best
Bernd Ritthammer. Looking for solid transformation from Challenge Tour
Bernd Wiesberger. Brilliant ball striker
What do you think? leave your comments below (Comments)
Tags: european tour
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