Qatar Masters Preview, Picks & Anaysis
WHEN Jeunghun Wang defeated Joakim Lagergren and Jaco Van Zyl in a play-off to win the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters it was his third win on the European Tour at the age of 21 years and 144 days, the third youngest golfer to do so after Matteo Manassero and Seve Ballesteros, and it came in just his 29th start. It also took him comfortably into the top 50 in the world rankings and into the field at Augusta for The Masters.
It all represented a dream come true for the South Korean, who said: "When I was young, I really wanted to play The Masters. I always imagined that I would play there. That's my dream, dream tournament. This feels really fantastic for me. It's really, really great. I'm so happy. I just don't want to get any pressure this year. I just want to learn from the other players. I just want to keep winning, I hope. I've really got a lot of confidence right now.”
There was to be no fairytale ending to his Masters debut. Like so many before him, Wang found that Augusta represented a challenge he wasn’t quite ready for. He is not the first and will not be the last. Two rounds of 78 proved to be a tough learning experience for him. He also missed the cut at the US Open, where he had rounds of 76 and 73, The Open and the US PGA Championship. He had spoken early in the year about playing with confidence but it is all too easy to see that slip away, and that is exactly what has happened to Wang. After his victory in Qatar, he managed just one further top-10 finish all season, at the Nordea Masters.
But then, from nowhere, he has come storming back, with two great weeks in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It really is a funny old game.
He was always too talented to continue struggling for much longer, but he would do well to learn some lessons from what has happened to Manassero since those early heady days. He made the cut at The Masters when he was 16, won his first tournament on the European Tour at the age of 17 and added a second while he was still only 17. In November 2012, the Italian became the first golfer to win three times while still a teenager and in 2013 he won the BMW PGA Championship and entered the top 30 in the world rankings at the age of 20. It all seemed like too much too soon, and that is precisely how it has turned out. Manassero decided to abandon the swing that had given him so much success in an attempt to find more length from the tee. He lost his game and, most worrying, he also lost the magical short game that had given him all that success, no doubt because he put more pressure on his putting to keep his scores together.
Some notable players have won the Qatar Masters. The champion in 2011 was Thomas Bjorn, in 2012 it was won by Thomas Bjorn, in 2013 by Chris Wood, in 2014 by Sergio Garcia, and in 2015 and 2016 by Branden Grace. Doha Golf Club, which hosts the event, was designed by Peter Harradine and measures 7,374 yards.
Grace has become one of the most consistent performers in the world. Every week he seems to be there or thereabouts. He uses the claw grip on the greens and, as a result, it is all too easy to dismiss him as a poor putter. He is anything but. When he won the NedBank Challenge last year, Grace was holing putts for fun. The South African is still only 29 years old and has already won eight times on the European Tour. Like so many of his contemporaries, he tries to balance life between both the European and PGA Tours and will be spending much of 2018 playing in America, where he has also enjoyed considerable success, winning the RBC Heritage in 2016 to earn himself a two-year exemption.
He has now reached the point in his career where he will feel that he needs to win a major, and he is definitely good enough to do so. This, remember, is a man who reduced Royal Birkdale to 62 shots during The Open Championship in 2017. I was fortunate enough to have witnessed most of that round and it was a magnificent display for 18 holes. He produced some stunning iron shots and looked like holing every putt he stood over.
Keep an eye on Shubranker Sharma. The 22-year-old Indian has now won twice on the European Tour, landing the Maybank Championship with a sensational final round of 62 to add his Joburg Open title. Those successes took him to the top of the Race to Dubai and make no mistake about the fact that he will still be there or thereabouts later in the season. The best club in his bag would seem to be the one that occupies the space between his ears. This young man has a fabulous temperament, and he is also blessed with a wondrous putting stroke.
Shubranker Sharma. Full of confidence
Shubranker Sharma. Brilliant temperament
Thomas Detry. Fantastic Belgian prospect
Jeunghun Wang. Ready to kick on again
George Coetzee. Looking for his best
Aaron Rai. Had a brilliant season on Challenge Tour in 2017
Matteo Manassero. Looking to get career back on track
Eddie Pepperell. Now working hard on his game
Pablo Larrazabal. In the right mood, can win anywhere
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