After Robert Rock’s dramatic victory at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship last week, another strong field has made the short trip west to the Qatari capital city of Doha for the 2012 Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented by Dolphin Energy. Ahead of Thursday’s start, europeantour.com puts the spotlight on five men to watch out for in Part Two of The European Tour’s annual Desert Swing.
The Great Dane returns to Doha Golf Club this week as defending champion, having stormed to a four shot victory over Alvaro Quiros last year in what was the 14th edition of the event. The triumph in Qatar proved a catalyst for Björn’s most lucrative season since the year 2000, going on to secure back-to-back titles in late summer at the Johnnie Walker Championship and Omega European Masters, en route to a ninth place finish in the 2011 Race to Dubai with €1,814,115 in season earnings.
After struggling somewhat in the latter stages of last season, Björn marked a welcome return to form in Abu Dhabi last week, shooting rounds of seven under par and four under par over the weekend to finish in a tie for third place with Tiger Woods and Graeme McDowell, and the 13-time European Tour winner will be looking to go two better this week in Doha and retain his 2011 crown.
The World Number Three put together a superb conclusion to his 2011 season by winning the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa and the Thailand Golf Championship in December, and the 21-time European Tour winner kicked his 2012 season off with a tied 17th place finish in Abu Dhabi, shooting six under par over the course of the week despite struggling with a neck injury.
Westwood has previous form in the Qatar Masters, having finished tied for third place in 2010 and fifth in the 2008 staging, so the Championship Course at Doha Golf Club clearly suit the Englishman’s eye.
The Spaniard is renowned as something of a desert specialist, having previously won three events in the Middle East including the 2009 Qatar Masters in a three shot victory over South African Louis Oosthuizen and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson that featured a stunning eight under par 64 in the third round. As well as the Qatari success three years ago, the powerful Quiros triumphed twice in the gulf last season, at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the season-ending Dubai World Championship presented by DP World, while also narrowly missing out in Doha with a second place finish in the second segment of last year’s Desert Swing.
After a disappointing tournament in Abu Dhabi, though, missing the cut after shooting six over par on the first two days, Quiros will be looking to get back on track this week, as will another man who has also had considerable success in the desert. Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who also missed the cut last week, had previously won three Abu Dhabi titles in the last four years, so the 2010 US PGA Champion is another to keep an eye on this week.
American Ryder Cup star Hunter Mahan will be making his first appearance at the Qatar Masters this week, and the 29 year old will be looking to add to the one European Tour title he already has to his name in the 2010 WGC – Bridgestone Invitational. Mahan, also the winner of two US PGA Tour events, is one of a contingent of six Americans in the field here in Qatar, including Major Champions Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel and John Daly.
The current World Number 19, Mahan has played in two Ryder Cups and on three Presidents Cup teams, and is well remembered as the man Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell defeated to claim The Ryder Cup at The Celtic Manor Resort in 2010.
Mahan’s conqueror that day is also in Doha this week after an extraordinary back nine on the final day in Abu Dhabi that included a hole in one at the 12th hole and a bizarre birdie at the 18th took the 2010 US Open Champion to a tied third place in the United Arab Emirates.
Australia’s Jason Day, at present the World Number Ten, is also making his debut at this year’s Qatar Masters hoping to add to the success he has already achieved in his young career across the Atlantic.
The 24 year old has won twice on the US PGA Tour and sprang to prominence after superb performances in the 2011 Masters Tournament and US Open Championship where he managed second place finishes in both.
As well as being an incredibly talented golfer, Day is an interesting character, known for travelling to events in the United States by camper van with his wife Ellie.