Major winners Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell, World Number 10 Alex Noren and new Race to Dubai Rankings leader Tommy Fleetwood are among the favourites at the 20th Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, which tees off on Thursday.
Ryder Cup rookies Rafa Cabrera Bello, Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan, in-form Bernd Wiesberger and 2016 European Tour Rookie of the Year Wang Jeunghun—the youngest player in last year’s Olympic Men’s Golf Tournament—also feature in a strong field at the Doha Golf Club.
Eight-time European Tour winner Thongchai Jaidee, competing for a 15th time, and Thorbj?rn Olesen are tied with Rory McIlroy and Jason Day for the most consecutive winning years on the European Tour (2014-2016), so both will be looking to extend that sequence in Doha.
Wood, who won in 2013, is among seven returning champions along with two-time winner Paul Lawrie (1999, 2012), 2018 European Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bj?rn (2011), Robert Karlsson (2010), Alvaro Quiros (2009), four-time Major winner Ernie Els (2005) and Darren Fichardt (2003).
Lawrie believes the tournament’s 20th edition has been boosted by the return of his 2012 Ryder Cup teammates McDowell and Kaymer, who are competing in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters for the first time since 2012 and 2014 respectively.
“The more top-class players you have, the better it is for the whole field and for the spectators to come and watch. That’s what it’s all about. When the best players come to play in your tournament, it gives it a lift,” said Lawrie, who would be playing in his 18th Qatar Masters, having only missed the 2000 and 2003 editions.
“I love playing here. My record’s pretty good and I always feel like I’ve got a chance if I play half-decent.
“You have to control your ball flight around here. If you’re not in control, then you’re in trouble because of the wind. You have to ride the wind. You can’t fight it because it’s just too strong. I think that’s a big part of what this place is.
“It’s always bouncy and quite difficult to keep the ball pin high, so you have to hole out very well from five and six feet all the time because it’s hard to get the ball dead when you’re putting from long distance. To win around here, you’ve got to be deadly from five to six feet.”
Kaymer and McDowell, with 11 and 10 European Tour titles respectively, are two of the field’s most high-profile players, although Noren is the field’s highest-ranked player after winning four times on the 2016 European Tour. Fleetwood moved to 53rd in the Official World Golf Ranking after his victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, where Kaymer tied for fourth.
Wiesberger, one of the European Tour’s most in-form players, also tied for fourth to secure his third straight top-four finish on the European Tour.
The Austrian has now finished in the top seven in seven of his last events on the circuit, which include runner-up finishes at the British Masters.