Branden Grace has stated his intentions to break into the top ten in the Official World Golf Ranking after a tied fifth place finish last week in Abu Dhabi moved him up to 11th.
That results sets the South African up well for the defence of his Commercial Bank Qatar Masters title this week, and he has returned to Doha Golf Club confident that he can become the first player to win back-to-back titles.
Last year’s win – the second of 2015 after claiming the Alfred Dunhill Championship – helped set up a brilliant campaign, with top five finishes in the US Open and the US PGA Championship before he took third place at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Before the one-stroke victory in Qatar, Grace was 79th in the world, but fast forward 12 months and he is on the cusp of becoming one of the top ten players on the planet.
“That’s definitely the goal,” said the 27 year old. “I’m so close now so hopefully I can put in another good week and get over the line. It’s something you dream about as a young player, being in the world’s top ten, so it would be huge for me to achieve that.
“Last year was a big step in the right direction for me. It didn’t just lift me up the World Ranking, it got me into a lot of tournaments and my career has excelled ever since that. It really put me back on the map again and it’s a week I’ll never forget.
“The rest of the year was my best year in terms of the standard of golf I played. It’s going to be hard to follow up those finishes in the Majors, but it’s given me a taste for it and now I know what to expect from being in that position. It’ll help me prepare better.
“It’s great to be back here. I got goose-bumps arriving this morning and remembering some of the moments from last year. Winning in your home country is special but I’ve always wanted to win in the Middle East and it was great to tick that box.”
Only Adam Scott (2002 and 2008) and Paul Lawrie (1999 and 2012) have won multiple Commercial Bank Qatar Masters titles, and Grace would love to join that elite group with another strong showing.
“Obviously I’m going to try to defend the title as well as I can. The form feels good and I’ve had five top tens coming into this week. I’m in a really good frame of mind and I’m pushing for a win. I’m maybe pushing a little too hard at times; I need to be patient.
“But coming back to a place like this and getting those positive vibes and fond memories, hopefully that can be the difference between a top five and getting the win.
“It’s a unique golf course. I think it’s one of those type golf courses that doesn't suit everybody, but if you can get your way around it, you can really start to love it and really start to play some great golf here.”
Sergio Garcia, who won the trophy in 2014, will make his first appearance of the 2016 season, joining a star-studded field that also includes South African Major winner Louis Oosthuizen, rising English star Matthew Fitzpatrick and other past champions in Chris Wood (2013), Lawrie, Thomas Bjørn, Robert Karlsson, Alvaro Quiros and Darren Fichardt.