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Monday, 31 January 2011

The global strength of The European Tour is once again illustrated by the quality of the field for this week’s Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy with the world’s two highest ranked golfers leading the way.

England’s Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer of Germany, who currently occupy the Number One and Two spots respectively in the Official World Golf Ranking, headline the 132-strong entry for the third tournament out of four on The European Tour International Schedule’s exciting Desert Swing.

Four from the world’s top seven will feature this week with Westwood and Kaymer, the first Europeans to occupy the top two places in the world since Sir Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer in 1993, joined by The European Tour’s newest champion, England’s Paul Casey, who captured the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions in style at The Royal Golf Club in Bahrain last week, and American Steve Stricker.

Furthermore, there are eight players from the world’s top 20 including the defending champion Robert Karlsson of Sweden, along with Ian Poulter of England and the South African pair of Retief Goosen and Louis Oosthuizen, the reigning Open Champion.

The last time two Europeans went head to head as World’s Number One and Two in a regular European Tour event was July 1993, when Sir Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer were under the spotlight in the Carrolls Irish Open at Mount Juliet, a tournament subsequently won by the Englishman, and it would not be surprising to see either of the men who currently head the new world order challenging at Doha Golf Club.

Kaymer showed his game is in fine fettle with his stunning eight shot victory two weeks ago in the tournament which kicked off the Desert Swing, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship; a victory which helped the reigning Race to Dubai champion move to World Number Two.

And the coveted World Number One spot is once again within range for Kaymer. The 26 year old needs to either win with Westwood finishing outside the top two, of finish second and Westwood outside the top 22, if he is to become the 14th World Number One since the Rankings began in 1986.

Westwood showed his credentials as a potential winner in the same event in Qatar 12 months ago when he finished in a tie for third place, four shots adrift of champion Robert Karlsson. Indeed, had the Englishman not suffered the mishap of cracking the face of his driver early in the final round, the outcome might have been different.

“It’s a golf course that suits me down to the ground,” said Westwood. “When you get rough like you do in Doha, it is a good driver's golf course so I would expect it to suit me. It's almost like a Major Championship setup with firm greens and thick rough. With its firm greens, you can get close to the flags – but you need to be mentally strong as it is a thinking man's golf course.”

It was, therefore, no surprise that one of the most cerebral players on Tour – Karlsson – captured the iconic Mother of Pearl trophy 12 months ago, a victory which finally convinced the Swede that the eye problems which had marred his 2009 season were finally behind him.

“It was a fantastic win for me as it felt really good to go there and do well,” said Karlsson. “I definitely think it is one of the best golf courses we play on Tour because there is a good mix of holes. There is everything from testing par fives to drivable par fours and tough par threes, plus there is always wind. It is challenging.”

Meanwhile, World Number Seven Stricker will be getting his first taste of competition in the region as he makes his desert debut. An infrequent traveller outside the United States, Stricker’s participation – alongside Phil Mickelson’s involvement in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago and Tiger Woods’ upcoming appearance in Dubai next week – further illustrates that, at this time of the year, The European Tour’s Desert Swing is the place to be in world golf.

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