This week’s visit to Doha Golf Club for the Qatar Masters is arguably the most important, as with only the top 60 in the Race to Dubai rankings eligible to compete in the Nedbank Challenge in two weeks’ time, and only the top 50 getting into the season-ending DP World Tour Championship the following week, this event is our final full-field event of the season.
It is not just important for any players hoping to earn their way into those lucrative final two events, but provides one last opportunity for players around the #116 mark on the rankings to secure their full playing privileges on tour ahead of next season.
The Qatar Masters debuted on tour in 1998 and has taken place every year since; each renewal (excluding 2020 & 21) taking place here at Doha Golf Club. However, this will be the first time that it has been staged at this time of year, with each other edition held in January – March.
Andrew Coltart won the inaugural event and was followed by fellow Scot, Paul Lawrie in 1999. Lawrie went on to win the event for a second time in 2012 and along with Adam Scott (2002, 2008) and Branden Grace (2015, 2016), is one of only three players to win multiple Qatar Masters titles.
Other winners, including Ernie Els (2005), Henrik Stenson (2006), Retief Goosen (2007) and Sergio Garcia (2014), add further major-winning pedigree to the tournament’s history.
Following two years at Education City Golf Club in 2020 (won by Jorge Campillo) and 2021 (won by Antoine Rozner), we returned to Doha Golf Club last year.
There, Scotland’s Ewen Ferguson won his first DPWT title – one of two victories for him in 2022 – in the toughest ever renewal of the event, holding off American, Chase Hanna by a shot; winning with a score of -7 in extremely windy conditions. He returns to defend this week.
The Championship Course at Doha Golf Club was designed in 1995 by Peter Harradine and rates as one of the prolific course architect’s favourite designs in the Middle East. It uses a more natural landscape than many of the wholly manufactured courses in the region, with rocky limestone formations framing several holes.
The course is a par 72 and measures a somewhat lengthy 7466 yards; containing ten par 4s (307-484 yards), four par 5s (548-659 yards) and four par 3s (155-235 yards).
It provides a substantial challenge, possessing an average winning score of -13.6 over the last five renewals here. This difficulty was again on show earlier this year as the course hosted the International Series – Qatar on the Asian Tour, with Andy Ogletree posting a score of -7 for the victory. It is the 6th most difficult course on which to make birdies on the DP World Tour.
The gently rolling course has a typically exposed, desert-links style feel to it, though there are plenty of patches of densely planted trees, cacti and shrubbery where you could easily find trouble. The fairways have ranked as some of the toughest to find on tour, protected by strategically placed bunkers and whilst the rough isn’t too long, the ball often sinks to the bottom and can be tough to play out of.
The greens – which switched to paspalum grass in 2021 – are huge, fast and well contoured. They can be brutal to putt on from above the hole, meaning it is ultra-important to be precise in your approach play. Deep and large bunkers protect most and they repel balls at their edges, with some steep false fronts and run-offs sending balls tumbling off the greens; often into the rugged, rocky terrain that is highlighted throughout.
Water is an added defence around the course, particularly the putting surfaces. It is in-play on six holes and contributes towards the hugely exciting risk/reward finish at Doha Golf Club.
The 16th is a drivable 307-yard par 4. It has one of the smaller greens on the course and is protected by the rugged desert landscape on all sides. Further danger lurks in the shape of water long and left, though that won’t be in-play for most.
As a 155-yard par 3, the 17th is the shortest hole on the course and certainly there to be attacked, though isn’t without threat. A lake dominates the view from the elevated tee-box but is far enough short that it shouldn’t really be a factor. The wide but shallow green is tricky and on a plateau, with a severe drop off to the front, a plethora of cactus long and a large bunker short-right. If the wind is blowing, the players will find it difficult if in contention on Sunday.
Doha GC closes out with the 589-yard par 5, again offering a good birdie chance but can throw up a big number if the ball-striking is off. The fairway landing area is generous enough, however miss it and the pressure is on. Water protects the left of the second half of the hole, making a layup nervy and punishing anybody who comes up short and left of the sloping green, which has extra protection in the shape of two large bunkers on the right.
These holes would ordinarily be littered with birdies this week but throw in the combination of pressure and wind – which is set to be a factor throughout the event – and they will equally prove the undoing of many would-be winners.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Putting
I’m taking a simple approach to this event statistically and want to side with players who are particularly strong in approach and have at least decent short-game skills. Something which has paid dividends in recent years.
Ewen Ferguson shone in these areas when winning last year, ranking 6th in putting, 12th in approach and 18th in scrambling. Chase Hanna in 2nd there was the 3rd-best iron player in the field; Marcus Kinhult in T3 was 10th in scrambling and top 20 in approach.
Justin Harding excelled most with his short game when winning here in 2019, ranking 1st in strokes-gained around-the-greens and 13th in scrambling; a top 25 in approach was also solid. He was followed home by an incredible nine players in 2nd in that event, many of whom looked particularly good with the short game.
Eddie Pepperell ranked 2nd in approach and 6th in scrambling when winning in 2018. Of the two runners-up to him: Oliver Fisher ranked 1st in approach and Marcus Kinhult ranked 8th in putting, 8th around-the-greens and 25th in scrambling.
Go back to those pre strokes-gained days on the tour and we have 2017 champion, Jeung-hun Wang – a player who was at his best in approach and around the greens. The elite tee-to-green duo of Branden Grace and Sergio Garcia dominated between 2014-2016; 2013 winner, Chris Wood possessed an excellent short game.
Correlating Events (Courses)
Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
As an exposed course with firm, sandy turf, it’s no surprise that many strong links players have transferred form to the desert, Qatar especially. Whilst form in the Scottish Open can also offer up some clues, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship possesses as many strong form-ties as any other event.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Branden Grace: Qatar (1st, 1st) / Dunhill Links (1st)
- Robert Karlsson: Qatar (1st) / Dunhill Links (1st)
- Paul Lawrie: Qatar (1st, 1st) / Dunhill Links (1st)
- Chris Wood: Qatar (1st) / Dunhill Links (4th, 7th, 9th)
- Thorbjorn Olesen: Qatar (2nd, 3rd) / Dunhill Links (1st, 2nd)
- Oliver Wilson: Qatar (2nd, 5th) / Dunhill Links (1st)
- Joakim Lagergren: Qatar (2nd) / Dunhill Links (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 4th)
- Marc Warren: Qatar (2nd) / Dunhill Links (4th, 5th, 5th)
Portugal Masters (Dom Pedro – Victoria Course)
The Dom Pedro Victoria Course is an exposed, watery resort course. Though a generally easier test, it possesses similar averages to Doha GC in driving accuracy and scrambling difficulty.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Alvaro Quiros: Qatar (1st) / Portugal (1st)
- Eddie Pepperell: Qatar (1st, 4th) / Portugal (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th)
- Chris Wood: Qatar (1st) / Portugal (2nd, 7th)
- George Coetzee: Qatar (2nd, 2nd, 5th) / Portugal (1st, 3rd, 6th)
- Marc Warren: Qatar (2nd) / Portugal (2nd)
- Joakim Lagergren: Qatar (2nd) / Portugal (3rd)
- Oliver Fisher: Qatar (2nd, 10th) / Portugal (7th, 8th, 10th)
- Nacho Elvira: Qatar (2nd, 6th) / Portugal (7th, 9th)
- Marcus Kinhult: Qatar (3rd, 3rd) / Portugal (4th)
Open de France (Le Golf National)
The exposed Le Golf National offers up a similarly challenging ball-striking challenge and like Doha GC, is another course where birdies are hard to come by.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Chris Wood: Qatar (1st) / France (2nd)
- George Coetzee: Qatar (2nd, 2nd, 5th) / France (3rd, 3rd)
- Mike Lorenzo-Vera: Qatar (2nd, 4th) / France (3rd, 6th)
- Thorbjorn Olesen: Qatar (2nd, 3rd) / France (2nd, 3rd)
- Jaco Van Zyl: Qatar (2nd) / France (3rd)
- Pablo Larrazabal: Qatar (4th, 5th) / France (1st)
Dubai Desert Classic (Emirates Golf Club)
Taking place at Emirates Golf Club in nearby UAE, the Dubai Desert Classic is another demanding test. It ranks closely to this week’s event in driving accuracy, scrambling and bogey avoidance percentages.
Notable Correlating Form:
- Thomas Bjorn: Qatar (1st) / Dubai (1st)
- Henrik Stenson: Qatar (1st) / Dubai (1st)
- Alvaro Quiros: Qatar (1st) / Dubai (1st)
- Sergio Garcia: Qatar (1st) / Dubai (1st)
- Justin Harding: Qatar (1st, 5th) / Dubai (4th, 7th)
- Rafa Cabrera Bello: Qatar (2nd, 3rd, 3rd) / Dubai (1st, 2nd)
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout: Qatar (2nd) / Dubai (2nd)
- Thorbjorn Olesen: Qatar (2nd, 3rd) / Dubai (3rd, 5th, 7th)
In addition, golf in the Middle East is pretty similar across the board, both in course setup and conditions, therefore any form in this region should be seen as a positive. Peter Harradine has designed another two courses used on the DPWT in this area: Abu Dhabi Golf Club, which hosted the Abu Dhabi Championship up to and including 2021 and Al Hamra Golf Club, host of the Ras Al Khaimah Championship.
Other events to consider in the region include the Oman Open at Al Mouj Golf Club, the Saudi International at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club and the Abu Dhabi Championship at Yas Links in the last two years.
Conditions are set to be very hot and dry in Qatar this week, with a potential thunderstorm on Thursday. Winds will constantly blow at between 8-12mph, whilst gusts will hit up to 25mph.
Though there are no players from the world’s top 50 in attendance this week, this is a good-standard, deep DP World Tour field. Robert MacIntyre is the top ranked player at #57 and is one of ten from inside the top 100.
Last year’s winner, Ewen Ferguson is back as our defending champion, joined by a further six former winners: Darren Fichardt (2003), Alvaro Quiros (2009), Jeung-hun Wang (2017), Eddie Pepperell (2018), Jorge Campillo (2020) and Antoine Rozner (2021).
This week’s DPWT event looks typically wide open and we have Thorbjorn Olesen and Jordan Smith as joint 20/1 favourites in Qatar. Olesen has an excellent record here, having twice finished inside the top 3 and was very much in the mix for me this week.
However, just behind these two in the betting is Aaron Rai and with plenty on the line for the Englishman, he was the standout player from the top of the betting.
2 pts Aaron Rai each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 22/1
Sitting at 65th in the Race to Dubai, Rai – who has spent most of the year on the PGA Tour – is in need of a good week to force his way into those season-ending events in South Africa and Dubai. As comfortably the best tee-to-green player in this field by most measured timeframes in the last twelve months, I’m taking him to move his way up the rankings at Doha GC.
He has enjoyed another strong year on the PGA Tour this year and hit a purple patch of form in the two months from the end of May-July, recording five top 25 finishes in seven starts, including two top 10s when 3rd in the Canadian Open and 9th in the Rocket Mortgage Classic. This run of form went a long way to securing his playing rights on the premier tour for next season.
Rai recently had a successful stint back in Europe, finishing a close 2nd to Ryan Fox at Wentworth in the BMW PGA Championship. Whilst back on the PGA Tour over the last two weeks he’s recorded perfectly solid finishes of 28th in the Shriners Open and 21st in the ZOZO Championship.
His tee-to-green game has been excellent this season, ranking 23rd on the PGA Tour and as mentioned, that quality of golf sees him rank as by far the best T2G player in this field, whether that be over the last three/six/twelve months. Approach play has been a particular strength and sees him rank 3rd of the players competing this week over his last fifty rounds.
Rai finished an encouraging 19th here on debut in 2018 and his game wasn’t in the same shape as it is now when he missed the cut the following year. He showed his prowess in tough, windy conditions when taking home the Scottish Open in 2020 and I expect him produce a similar level of performance this week.
1 pt Alex Fitzpatrick each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 50/1
Another week and we’re back on Alex Fitzpatrick for the third event on the spin. He finished outside of the places in Spain in the last two weeks but with finishes of 20th and 26th, he’s retained a good level of form and can make more of an impression nearer the top of the leaderboard here, on this suitably linksy setup.
Fitzpatrick’s performances in the last two weeks have taken him to eight made cuts in a row on the DPWT. His iron play hasn’t been quite as strong as it was when finishing 2nd in the ISPS Handa World Invitational and 5th in the European Masters – though has been far from a real concern – with his short game more than making up for it. Seeing him rank 12th on tour in scrambling and over the last fifty rounds, he’s been the 6th-best putter in this field.
He hasn’t played here before but has a couple of eye catching efforts in correlating events from a very limited amount of starts, finishing 13th in last year’s Open de France and 15th in the Portugal Masters.
Fitzpatrick also performed excellently in his first Open Championship experience this year, with a finish of 17th at Hoylake and with the bounty of links golf correlations we’ve seen in Qatar over the years, I’m expecting him to like what he finds in the Middle East this week.
1 pt Jeff Winther each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 66/1
Denmark’s Jeff Winther has been one of the most in-form players on tour over recent weeks, with three top 10s in his last four starts. Possessing a promising book of form in Qatar – as well as at comp events – and coming into this week off the back of one of his best approach performances of the year last week in the Andalucia Masters, he has much in his favour to tame Doha GC.
Winther started the year well with two top 25s in his first three starts of 2023, though failed to sustain this and missed his next six cuts. He bounced back to form with a top 10 at The Belfry in the British Masters and followed another loss of form when missing three consecutive cuts in the European Masters, Irish Open and BMW PGA Championship, he has responded excellently in the last month.
He recorded his best finish of the year and indeed his best finish since winning the Mallorca Open in 2021, when 2nd in the Open de France; coming through the field with a sparkling 6-under 65 on Sunday. He followed that with a 10th-place finish in the weather-shortened Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and entered the final round of last week’s Andalucia Masters in the lead, though will have to shake off shooting a closing 74, which saw him drop to 6th place on Sunday.
The Dane is one of the strongest putters on tour, ranking 20th for the season and has been particularly good on the greens of late, ranking 6th in this field over the previous three months. He also possesses solid stats in scrambling and approach, ranking 51st in each area this season.
Winther’s skillset translated to a 14th-place finish in Doha in 2019, whilst he also went well in both events at Education City, finishing 3rd in 2020 and 14th in 2021. His 2nd in France this year is another pointer; good efforts in the Dunhill Links, at Yas Links and in Oman offer further clues that this is exactly the type of challenge at which he excels most.
1 pt Pablo Larrazabal each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 70/1
I’m going to go back in on Pablo Larrazabal this week. It didn’t quite work out when missing the cut at RCG Sotogrande but he has some strong form here and if he bounces back, this prolific winner could make his price look pretty big by Sunday.
Larrazabal had looked like a player coming back into form after an uninspiring run, which followed the second of his 2023 wins at the KLM Open at the end of May. He produced his best approach performance of the year when 39th in the Irish Open four starts ago and this area fired again two weeks ago, along with the putter, when 20th in the Open de Espana – his best finish since that win in the KLM.
Though the missed cut last week was disappointing, he only missed by a couple and there were no real warning signs in his play. As a player who ranks 9th in scrambling, 29th in putting and 32nd in approach this season, he is an ideal statistical candidate for the challenge.
Larrazabal had a decent record here but has enhanced it in recent editions, with top 5s in two of the last three renewals at Doha GC, finishing 4th in 2018 and 5th last year. He has finished 1st and 2nd at Abu Dhabi Golf Club and 3rd in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship at Al Hamra GC – both other Harradine designs – and with several top 20 performances in Portugal strengthening his case, he has lots in his favour this week.
1 pt Adri Arnaus each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 80/1
After a fast start to the year, that saw Adri Arnaus record finishes of 2nd, 6th and 13th among his first six starts of 2023, the Spaniard endured a tough time in the six months between the end of March-September; missing eight cuts in thirteen starts and finished no better than 61st in the five made cuts. However, he’s found a little form over prior starts and as someone who usually excels in the Middle East, he can take another step forward this week.
Arnaus has hit the top 20 twice in his last three starts, when finishing 14th in the Dunhill Links and 19th in last week’s Andalucia Masters. An event at which he entered the final round sat inside the top 10 and shot a second-best round of the week of 65 in round three.
He had one of his better ball-striking performances of the year there, driving it better than he had in all but one event this year and looked sharper with his irons – a theme of his recent play. Having said that, it was once again on the greens where he looked at his best, ranking 6th, which is where he ranks for the year as a whole. When matched with his more controlled ball-striking it could prove a dangerous combination here.
Arnaus finished 14th on debut in 2019 and has a bunch of correlating form in this region. He won at Al Hamra in 2018 on the Challenge Tour and has carried that form over to the Harradine designed venue on the DPWT, finishing 6th and 9th in the last two years. 3rd and 9th-place finishes in the Dubai Desert Classic and a top 10 in Portugal give further indication that we can see the best of the talented Spanish golfer in Qatar this week.
1 pt Kazuki Higa each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 150/1
There were a few players who sat outside that top 116 threshold this week that appealed, but none had as statistically strong a case as diminutive Japanese golfer Kazuki Higa. Who I’m taking to go well in Qatar and in turn, secure his return to the DPWT next season.
Higa started the year positively, with finishes of 36th, 13th and 4th in his first three starts on the DPWT this year – his 4th coming in the Indian Open, which remains his best finish of the year. With that, it’s perhaps a surprise to see him struggling to retain playing rights at the back end of the year.
The reason for this is that his form took a real nosedive when he headed over to the US for The Masters. He missed the cut there and then failed to make the weekend a further eight times in his next ten starts across the PGA Tour, DPWT and JGTO.
His form improved when finishing 19th in Japan at the start of August and he’s been solid since, missing just one of his last six cuts back on the DPWT, with a 6th in the Open de France four starts ago rating as his second-best result of the year.
Higa is very tidy around the greens, ranking 17th in scrambling and has shown an improved level of approach play over those latest starts, ranking 28th in this field over the last twenty rounds played. That 6th in France should serve him well here and aid him in ensuring his stay on the DPWT isn’t short-lived.