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A Sunday to forget in Oman with 150/1 pick Matthew Southgate heading out in the penultimate group and with a share of the lead after 54 holes, however after an early birdie he soon derailed and ultimately finished outside of the each-way places. He’d twice worked his way into a 3-stroke lead earlier in the tournament, however such is this game that we choose to play that for all his good work there was absolutely nothing to show for it at the end of the tournament. The Al Mouj track was well received though by players and viewers alike and was undoubtedly a positive addition to the European Tour, even if the result from a punting perspective was frustrating to say the least.
On to this week then and having contested two legs of the Middle East Swing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in January, we move north-east from last week’s venue in Oman to complete the circuit as the Tour heads back to Doha for the final event in the Gulf until much later in the season. An early attendee list that included the likes of Andrew Johnston, Alexander Levy and last week’s winner Joost Luiten has suffered some late changes and it’s left a rather disappointing field in comparison to some years with the erratic Dane Thorbjorn Olesen leading the betting at a general 16/1. Ryder Cup duo Andy Sullivan and Chris Wood follow close behind Olesen in the bookies’ lists with defending champion Jeunghun Wang rating a similar chance at around 22/1 in what looks to be a wide open affair.
Over on the PGA Tour, Steve Bamford previews the Honda Classic – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
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. This week the final 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. At 7,400 yards in length, 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.
The par-72 layout is a conventional pair of 9s with the outward 9 measuring 230 yards longer than the inward 9. The par-5s play amongst the easiest of the holes as you might expect with even the 639 yard 9th playing under par generally, however the driveable par-4 16th is also a birdie and eagle opportunity for most of the field.
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 | Combined Form Stats.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Jeunghun Wang, 33/1; 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 8 years based on the completed 2017 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for the Doha region in Qatar is here. Clear skies and temperatures in the high-70s Fahrenheit will greet the players this week with wind speed of between 10-15 mph forecast in the afternoons which always tends to be exacerbated on this exposed layout. Sunday afternoon could be the breeziest of the 4 days to keep the leaders honest going down the stretch, plus there’s an outside chance of a shower on Sunday too.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 8 winners gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
High GIR and decent enough putting are the common themes in the analysis above with slightly less emphasis on accuracy off the tee. Scrambling isn’t overly difficult here as is reflected by the high percentages, therefore bogey avoidance in general is quite high – indeed last year’s winner Wang dropped just 5 shots on the week which is similar to Grace’s 4 bogeys and a double the year before. 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. This venue is particularly susceptible to the wind so siding with strong ball-strikers or those with a proven wind/coastal pedigree if the forecast suggests anything other than a flat calm week isn’t a bad move either
Incoming Form: It’s worth noting that all winners featured in the analysis below had recorded at least one top-10 finish in their previous 6 starts and all had played the week before, although that may hold less sway this year given the change in scheduling:
Event Form. Prior to last year’s win from Jeunghun Wang, all winners going back to 2010 had recorded multiple top-20 finishes in Qatar prior to their victory here:
A cursory look through the list of winners here screams links golf which makes a level of sense given the often windswept nature of the course here at Doha. This is of course desert golf, however when the breeze picks up it tends to favour a certain type of wind-positive player and with a moderate (up to 15mph generally, 20mph on Sunday) 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 one element to look at, as is a smattering of recent form without the need for anything too spectacular. 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.
My final selections are as follows:
Chris Wood 2pts EW 22/1 with Betfred
A fairly obvious one to start with, however having found his form last week in Oman and returning to the scene of his maiden European Tour triumph from 5 years ago, I see little reason to oppose Chris Wood here this week. Of course, if you backed him last week at a far larger price it would be very easy to dismiss him based on the knife that’s been taken to his odds, however in a relatively thin field there’s more than sufficient scope for the Bristolian to make the frame for a second week running. Ahead of him in the betting is the highly talented yet inconsistent Thorbjorn Olesen, defending champion Jeunghun Wang and the improving Andy Sullivan, however I’d happily take Wood who’s return to former coach Paul Mitchell may well pay instant dividends.
With the links correlation clear to see from the winners’ list here in recent years – plus if you go back further you’ve also got Open Champions Henrik Stenson and Ernie Els who’ve taken this trophy – it should have come as no real surprise to see Chris grab his first win here back in 2013 with two Open Championship top-5 finishes to his name already by that point. Although he’s clearly expanded his repertoire since that point with further success at the Lyoness Open and at Wentworth, one of the 30 year-old’s biggest assets is being able to handle tough and/or windy conditions and although I don’t expect this to be a grind, the breeze will nevertheless keep players honest this week.
Having found his form last week after a string of missed cuts, Wood can approach this event with a renewed level of confidence once the inevitable disappointment of not converting such a strong position has passed. Ryder Cup qualification may seem a long way off for Chris at present, however having formed part of the 2016 team he’ll undoubtedly be motivated to maintain his form now that he’s found it and it’s clear to see him from his history that who can produce a string of contending performances when he gets going. With positive vibes on his return to a winning venue for him, I can see another big week coming for Wood. RESULT: T13
Pablo Larrazabal 1pt EW 50/1 with Coral
A couple of mid-priced fancies to back up Chris Wood. First up Spaniard Pablo Larrazabal who’s already a winner on another Peter Harradine track over in nearby Abu Dhabi back in 2014 and, similarly to my headline pick, he’s found some form after a couple of disappointing missed cuts to start his 2018 campaign. Weekends off in Abu Dhabi and Dubai seemed to spur the amiable 34 year-old on and a bogey-free 14-under weekend in Malaysia catapulted him to a third place finish and his best European Tour result for over 10 months. A GIR performance of 86.1% – his best effort in that respect since 2011 – was the catalyst and it was a shame then that he’d already opted to miss the World Super 6 the week after so couldn’t keep up the momentum. Nevertheless, a week’s R&R back at home in Barcelona and an under-the-radar warm-up last week in Oman where he finished 44th have kept his price under control for this week and he could well pick up his form again here on a track that he knows well. This will be the 4-time European Tour winner’s 10th start at Doha and he’s been steadily improving over the years, recording his best effort around these parts in 2016 when he finished 13th. He seems to get on well with the greens here as he’s finished 9th and 11th for putting average on his last two starts in Qatar and is a handy wind player when the inevitable breeze picks up. RESULT: T4
Jordan Smith 1.25pt EW 40/1 with Coral
Despite 2017 being a breakthrough year for Jordan Smith, it ended quietly with the Wiltshire man contracting Glandular Fever which rather knocked the stuffing out of the end of his season and meant he had to down tools for longer period than hoped for over the festive period. With that enforced rest came an inevitable period of rustiness and readjustment which was evident with a form line of MC/61/MC/69 up to the Maybank Championship earlier this month, however last week’s 26th place finish in Oman – whilst clearly an improvement – contained a lot of promise. 1st for Driving Accuracy, 6th for GIR and 8th for Scrambling for the week all bode well ahead of this week’s test where the ball-striking prowess of the likes of Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott has seen them triumph in the past, and rankings of 1st for both Total Driving and Ball-Striking last week equal his efforts in Germany last year when he secured his maiden title. The 25 year-old, whose been quite vocal about his immediate goal of making this year’s Ryder Cup team, was 6th here last year on Doha debut and has the game to improve on that now that he’s seemingly back to full health and firing on all cylinders. RESULT: MC
Sean Crocker 1pt EW 80/1 with Stan James
A couple of longer-priced players to finish. First up Sean Crocker who continues to impress as he plots his way through these events and courses that he’s seeing for the first time each week. Born in Zimbabwe and mentored by 3-time Major champion Nick Price throughout a sparkling amateur career, the University of Southern California standout player has impressed on his early professional starts with 16th at the Hong Kong Open, 7th at the Australian PGA Championship, 6th in Singapore behind Sergio Garcia and 5th on his penultimate start at the World Super 6 where he finished 2nd in windy conditions at the end of the 54-hole strokeplay element. A missed cut last week in Oman after the demands of a very busy Matchplay Sunday and travel back from Australia is no massive shock and the price on offer is too tempting to ignore given that I’d bracket him in a similar category to the likes of Julian Suri who didn’t take long at all to secure his first title at this level. From the little we’ve seen of Sean, it’s clear that high GIR is his game (4th, 6th, 5th and 4th for GIR for his last 4 weekends made) which isn’t a bad asset at all around Doha, plus he clearly can handle a bit of breeze as was evident in Perth. RESULT: T28
Sam Brazel 0.75pt EW 100/1 with Coral
Finally I’ll take a punt on Australian journeyman Sam Brazel who won the UBS Hong Kong Open on Bermudagrass greens at the back end of 2016 to capture his first title as a professional at the age of 37 at the time. 15 months on and as he ticks towards 40 years of age, perhaps Sam will prove to be one of these players who doesn’t reach his peak until later in his career, however with his European Tour card tucked away courtesy of that victory he can approach these types of low-key event with the pressure off and much to gain. Hailing from Lismore on the New South Wales coast, Brazel will be more than happy with a bit of breeze as many of the Australian players are and although he missed the cut here 12 months ago on debut, a later slot in the calendar for this event in 2018 has given him far more time to get into the groove – progressive form in the Middle East of 32nd (Abu Dhabi), 22nd (Dubai) and 16th last week in Oman can’t be overlooked. In fact his overall form line of 23/37/32/22/MC/16 is remarkably similar to the 15/MC/28/22/47/15 that he produced prior to that aforementioned victory at Fanling. 2nd for putting last week in Oman is also a good sign for Sam and he could well work his way into an each way place, so taking the 100/1 option here with 7 places rather than 125/1 with 5 places elsewhere seems a prudent play. RESULT: MC