A new venue awaits the 23rd edition of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters this week, a tournament that boasts an impressive list of European Tour records and accomplished past champions. Here’s what you need to know...
A New Era
Designed by two-time Masters Champion Jose Maria Olazábal, the venue comprises 33 holes split into three courses; 18 holes, nine holes and six holes.
The Championship Course, which plays 7,307 yards, opened in 2018 and is set up to be a terrific test for the players with sizeable bunkers and green-side water hazards on more than half of the holes.
According to defending champion Justin Harding, wind will be a big factor this week.
"It's a good golf course, I've played nine holes and I think the wind's going to blow,” said Harding. “It's going to make it challenging for scoring.”
The facility at Education City includes a state-of-the-art learning and practice facility housed in the Centre of Excellence and is at the heart of Qatar’s vision to grow the game in the Middle Eastern country.
The golf club also sits in the noticeable shadow of Education City Stadium, one of the host venues of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
A Record-Breaking Tournament
The Qatar Masters has a history of record making that began in 2000, when Rolf Muntz became the first Dutch Player to win a European Tour title.
As an event, the 2004 Qatar Masters holds the European Tour record for the fewest number of shots between the halfway leaders and the cut mark – just five. The 36-hole leaders were on 138 (-6), while the cut fell at 143 (-1)
Two years after that tournament, Ernie Els became the next man to play his way in to the record books in Qatar by tying Bernhard Langer’s total of most consecutive cuts in European Tour history at 69. Els would go on to set the record at 82 consecutive cuts, which still stands.
Steve Webster then made European Tour history in 2014 by becoming the first player to begin a tournament with an albatross, holing out for a two on the par five tenth hole at Doha GC.
Last year, a total of nine players shared the lead after two rounds of the event - a first on the European Tour.
Defending champion Harding relishing new test
Justin Harding joined a prestigious list of former champions when he lifted the famous Mother of Pearl Trophy last season.
The South African birdied his final two holes to set the clubhouse target at 13 under par during a dramatic final day at Doha GC, ultimately finishing two strokes clear of a group of nine players that tied for second place.
"It was cool to have finally crossed the line and got a W,” Harding said as he reflected on last year’s victory.
“It is just a matter of trying to feed on the same sort of memories this week and see if we can defend it."
Harding won't have the defending champion's advantage of returning to the same course, but the 34-year-old is relishing the opportunity.
"It's a nice little challenge,” he said. “It means everyone is pretty much in the same boat. It's not like you're playing against a bunch of guys that have a world of good memories and good things to bring out on their play.”
A lengthy list of Major champions
The Qatar Masters has a long-standing list of accomplished winners, including Major Champions Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Paul Lawrie, Sergio Garcia, Retief Goosen, Henrik Stenson and 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn.
Both Lawrie and Scott have multiple victories in Qatar, but none were more impressive than Scott’s 2008 triumph, when he broke the course record at Doha GC with a final round 11 under par 61.
Only four players have gone lower than 61 in the final round of a European Tour tournament – Ian Woosnam (60 at the 1990 Torras Monte Carlo Open), Jamie Spence (60 at the 1992 Canon European Masters), Rafa Cabrera Bello (60 at the 2009 Austrian Golf Open) and Brandon Stone (60 at the 2018 Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open).
One to watch: Martin Kaymer
Martin Kaymer continued an impressive run in the desert with a top ten at last week’s Oman Open, and returns to Qatar for the first time since 2014.
The 35-year-old is still without a victory worldwide since his triumph at the 2014 U.S. Open Championship, but he has now finished inside the top 20 in all four events in 2020 and has high expectations for this year.
"I was just going with the flow the last two or three years and took my game for granted a little bit," he said in Oman last week.
"I worked a lot on the short game over the winter and I also wanted to drive the ball further without screwing up my natural shot and that takes some planning and communicating with the coach.
“I know I’m doing the right thing but I’ve just got be patient and let it happen. The expectations are quite high because you're doing everything right and hitting 63 in a practice round but you still need to do that in a tournament so it’s just a matter of time."
Kaymer recorded a hole-in-one on the 13th hole during the second round at Al Mouj Golf, and ranked third in Strokes Gained: Approach for the week.