A Sunday to forget in Abu Dhabi with 54-hole leader and headline selection Tyrrell Hatton ultimately finishing outside of the places and 30/1 pick Byeong-Hun An also capitulating having got to within a shot of the lead on the back 9 before racking up a quadruple bogey on the par 3 12th. Frustrating to the extreme, however we have a chance to put that all behind us this week in Doha as we head to the Qatar Masters for what is the traditional middle leg of the 3-event Gulf Swing on the European Tour.
Branden Grace, who's won this event for the past 2 seasons, has returned home to support his wife through a medical procedure which has left Alex Noren, Bernd Wiesberger and Martin Kaymer all fighting for top billing with the bookies just about favouring the Austrian of the trio, however all are available around the 12/1 mark in what looks like a pretty open event.
Over on the PGA Tour, a classy field has assembled at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open - Steve Bamford has previewed that event and you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Event Overview. This week the second leg of our Middle-East adventure takes us to the Harradine-designed Doha Golf Club which has hosted this event since its inauguration in 1998, giving us plenty of course history stats to review. The Gulf Swing then moves to the Emirates GC in Dubai next week to complete the trio of desert-based events that are a regular fixture in the early season European Tour schedule.
Doha GC. Designer: Harradine, 1996; Course Type: Desert; Par: 72; Length: 7,400 yards; Water Hazards: 6; Fairways: Bermuda; Rough: Bermuda; Greens: Bermuda/Poa Trivialis, 11'6" on the stimp.
Course Overview. At 7,400 yards the course has historically favoured longer hitters when conditions are tranquil; wayward drives aren't punished as severely as other courses on the European Tour circuit with relatively thin rough, allowing the bombers to attack more freely. However the exposed layout is particularly susceptible to wind and even the most tranquil of forecasts in the region can still result in a fair breeze blowing over the track at times, which brings the more controlled ball-strikers into the mix.
Tournament Stats. We've published some key player statistics for this week's Qatar Masters that will help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader Stats | Top 20 Finishes.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Winners & Prices. 2016: Branden Grace, 8/1; 2015: Branden Grace, 25/1; 2014: Sergio Garcia, 8/1; 2013: Chris Wood, 100/1; 2012: Paul Lawrie, 50/1; 2011: Thomas Bjorn, 200/1; 2010: Robert Karlsson, 66/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the European Tour for the past 7 years based on the completed 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Doha region in Qatar is here. Clear skies and temperatures in the mid-70s Fahrenheit will greet the players this week with wind speed of between 15-25 km/h forecast which always tend to be exacerbated on this exposed layout.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 7 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Greens in regulation and putting are the common themes in the analysis above with slightly less emphasis on accuracy off the tee. The real premium here in my view tends to be those who favour the grainy Bermuda/Poa Trivialis putting surfaces which aren't to everyone's liking by any stretch of the imagination. The par 3s are the toughest element of the course in my opinion, so picking players with a strong mid-iron game is also a positive. Some players perform consistently well here whilst others tend to struggle year after year - in that respect it's well worth looking at the previous performances of your fancied players to get a balanced view.
Incoming Form/Event Form Of Winner. It's worth noting that all 6 winners (Grace twice) above had recorded at least one top-10 finish in their previous 6 starts and all had played the week before. Going a step further, all 6 had also recorded multiple top-20 finishes in Qatar prior to their victory here - clearly there's something to be said for positive experience of this track.
A cursory look through the list of winners here screams links golf, plus there are clear parallels to results at Gleaneagles over the years too - perhaps the logic for this flows from the firm greens and exposed, often windswept nature of the course here at Doha. Desert golf yes, however when the breeze picks up it tends to favour a certain type of wind-positive player and with a moderate (up to 25 km/h) breeze forecast at various parts of the week, I don't see any reason to overly oppose that train of thought this week.
For me, some positive event form is important, a smattering of current form at least from the back end of last season should also help - as should at least having had a run out in Abu Dhabi last week. Bermudagrass-positive players should also shine on these greens and those players who perform well on par 3s - the toughest part of this track as I've mentioned above - should excel.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below. New customers can also get a free £10 no deposit required bet with Sky Bet - perfect for covering off one of the favourites this week:
My final selections are as follows:
With back-to-back Doha victor Branden Grace a no-show this week, the spotlight has fallen on a trio of talented players at the top of the betting who all have their merits. Alex Noren finished 2016 in exceptional fashion and hit a career-best of 9th in the OWGR for his efforts; Bernd Wiesberger has finished inside the top-7 in 7 of his last 8 starts worldwide; Martin Kaymer is a multiple winner in the Gulf Swing who finished 4th last week in Abu Dhabi. All though are plenty short enough in the betting and in the case of Noren, this stretch of events has never been his most prolific, Wiesberger should really be converting more of his chances and, for Kaymer, another huge opportunity in Abu Dhabi passed him by last weekend - perhaps the mental scars of 2014's capitulation aren't fully healed. Any of that trio could win of course, however at a far more healthy price I'm happy to back the pumped up Pablo Larrazabal as he looks to continue a fine run of form of late.
The Spaniard is the type who splits opinion with both punters and bookmakers alike - indeed quotes ranging from 28/1 to 40/1 at the time of writing suggests there's no consensus on his chances this week - but, for me, this is a great opportunity for the 33 year-old to grab a 5th European Tour title this week. An excellent player in the wind - it's only when it starts raining that Pablo starts to struggle and that's pretty unlikely here in Qatar - and a previous winner in this stretch of events in the Middle East (Abu Dhabi, 2014), Larrazabal has shown progressive form here at Doha over the past 2 seasons with finishes of 33rd and 13th having opened with a sparkling round of 65 to share the lead after day one 12 months ago.
A play-off loser to Doha winner Thomas Bjorn at Gleneagles in 2011, Pablo secured his maiden European Tour title at Le Golf National in 2008 which is invariably described as inland links in style and neither this terrain or course set-up will concern him in the slightest. Ultimately though, what swings it for me is his performance last week on the par 3s in Abu Dhabi. 10 birdies in 16 attempts at the short holes is a phenomenal effort and shows just how well he's striking his irons at the moment - the par 3s are pivotal on this course in my view and Larrazabal, who's the type of player who feeds off of momentum, can approach this week's task with massive confidence having played alongside - and matched - US Open Champion Dustin Johnson on Sunday.
Punt of the week for many will be Thorbjorn Olesen and despite his price tumbling at an alarming rate due to the level of support, I'm happy to jump on board too. The justification for backing the Dane is fairly clear to see - he ended 2016 in fine style by securing his 4th European Tour victory at the Turkish Airlines Open before partnering Soren Kjelsden to victory at the World Cup of Golf and has clearly been playing some excellent stuff of late. 29th last week on his 2017 debut was his best effort in Abu Dhabi for 4 years and the Dane clearly likes this part of the schedule with 7 top-10 finishes spread across the 3 Gulf Swing events over the years which includes 3rd here in 2014 and 2nd last year.
In the short term, the 27 year-old's focus needs to be on gaining a top-50 OWGR berth before the door slams shot on a place at Augusta. Having had a taste of the Masters in 2013 (finished 6th on debut) and 2014, the Dane has missed out for the past couple of years and is motivated to improve on his ranking of 65th over the next couple of months to make that a reality, "I want to be there every year at the Masters. I loved the first time and the second time I played there. It's just so special. All the majors are. I love The Open, as well. And yeah, that's where I need to be. I need to play in all the majors every year to have that chance to win it. So that's definitely a goal.", he said after winning in Turkey.
The main issue with backing Olesen is that he can be more than a little hit-and-miss. It's never overly surprising to see him miss a cut, but then again it's never overly surprising to see him win on Tour either, he's that kind of player. If links golf is to be a decent barometer for success here in Qatar once again this year then 9th at the Open in 2012 and victory at the Dunhill Links in 2015 certainly tick that box. When Thorbjorn starts finding greens he's an extremely dangerous player and after gently easing himself into this year with 72.2% GIR last week, if he can improve on that again this week and get close to the 83.3% of greens he hit here last year then he must go close given his prowess with the putter.
A couple of longshots to complete this week's team. Thomas Bjorn (200/1) and Chris Wood (100/1) have both triumphed here in Qatar since 2011 so there's certainly scope for an outsider or two to make the frame.
First up Marc Warren who's the type of player who tends to perform at his best on the same layouts year-in, year-out and struggles to make an impact elsewhere. Most of the Glaswegian's best form has tended to come in his home country over the years with victory at the 2007 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles his biggest success, however he's not a one trick pony by any stretch of the imagination having picked up silverware in Sweden and Denmark over the years too. 5th at last year's Dunhill Links was something of a turning point for the 35 year-old after a largely disappointing 12 months as a new training aid breathed life into his long game; although he's not pushed on massively since in terms of results, there have a been a number of impressive rounds in isolation since to suggest that he's not far off stringing a few decent days together. 66 to open last week in Abu Dhabi was also eye-catching and although he couldn't maintain that level as the tournament pushed on, I suspect he's playing far better than the tie for 49th suggests. Marc finished a shot behind Branden Grace here in 2015 after a relatively slow start (71 on day one) and if he can combine his customary fast start with some more solid golf then he could reward each-way backers here.
Both of last week's winners Tommy Fleetwood and Hudson Swafford proved that consistent form can eventually reap rewards and one player who's been ticking along nicely of late without really getting into contention is Oliver Fisher and given he's twice finished inside the top-11 here, he could be a surprise package this week. 9 paid weekends from his last 10 starts has included rounds of 63 at Crans and 64 in Portugal, however they both came at the end of the 4 days in those events when his chance was already gone. In contrast, Fisher's two starts in 2017 have both seen final days of 73 to mask what is otherwise some handy form with finishes of 26th and 23rd - for me he's very close to a contending performance when he strings 4 good days of golf together. An excellent ball-striker when on his game, it's interesting to note that his putting average has improved by a good tenth over his last 4 events and that's a green light for me to back him on a track that he's got the measure of from tee-to-green in the past (4th and 9th for GIR in 2007 and 2008) and also greens that he's seemingly not averse to when producing his best result of 10th here 2 years ago with a 1.64 (3rd in the field) putting average. Like Warren, the 28 year-old opened with an impressive 66 last week in Abu Dhabi and could well hit the ground running here in Qatar also.
Our Commercial Bank Qatar Masters Tips for 2018 will be published on this page on the Tuesday before the event.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel