Dylan Frittelli proved how previous PGA Tour performers should be regarded as serious dangers when returning to the calmer waters of the DP World Tour, as he recorded a first win in over four years in the Bahrain Championship last week.
Entering the final round with a two-shot lead, Frittelli saw his lead disappear early on but fought back well by birdying three of his closing six holes, to run out a two-stroke winner over compatriot Zander Lombard and the talented Swede, Jesper Svensson; providing us with a huge 150/1 winner in the process.
The South African is back in action this week, as the tour completes its International Swing in the Middle East, with a quick turnaround for the Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club – which was last staged as recently as October last year.
The Qatar Masters was first staged on the DP World Tour in 1998 and has remained on the schedule every year since. Having taken place in October last year, it returns to its common early-season slot in 2024.
The event has been won by a whole host of world golfing stars, but just three have recorded multiple victories: Paul Lawrie (1999, 2012), Adam Scott (2002, 2008) and Branden Grace (2015, 2016).
Other winners include four-time major winner Ernie Els (2005), along with fellow major champions, Henrik Stenson (2006), Retief Goosen (2007) and Sergio Garcia (2014).
Last five winners:
- 2023 – Winner: Sami Valimaki (-18, playoff); runner-up: Jorge Campillo (-18)
- 2022 – Winner: Ewen Ferguson (-7); runner-up: Chase Hanna (-6)
- 2021 – Winner: Antoine Rozner (-8); runners-up: Gaganjeet Bhullar, Darren Fichardt, Guido Migliozzi (-7)
- 2020 – Winner: Jorge Campillo (-13, playoff); runner-up: David Drysdale (-13)
- 2019 – Winner: Justin Harding (-13); runners-up: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Jorge Campillo, Jinho Choi, George Coetzee, Nacho Elvira, Anton Karlsson, Mike Lorenzo-Vera, Erik Van Rooyen, Oliver Wilson (-11)
Sami Valimaki is the current champion after beating Spain’s Jorge Campillo in a playoff last year; overturning a one-stroke deficit going into the final round to win a second DP World Tour title. However, with the Finn now enjoying his rookie season on the PGA Tour in the US, he doesn’t return to defend this week.
Doha Golf Club’s Championship Course was designed in 1995 by Peter Harradine – somewhat of an expert in golf course architecture in the Middle East – and is said to be one of his favourite designs. It has hosted all bar the 2020/2021 editions of the Qatar Masters, which instead took place at Education City Golf Club.
It is a par 72 and measures 7475 yards; containing ten par 4s (307-521 yards), four par 5s (539-639 yards) and four par 3s (155-223 yards). Whilst this is only nine yards shorter than the previous renewal, there are some more significant changes in individual hole lengths; the standout being that the par 4 15th now plays to a brutish 521 yards, as opposed to the 470 yards it played to in October.
As with most exposed courses, the difficulty of Doha GC largely depends on conditions. Last year we saw plenty of birdies with a -18 winning score, which immediately followed Ewen Ferguson shooting -7 to win in 2022 – the toughest renewal of the Qatar Maters to date.
Having said that, it can rarely be described as easy and this is reflected by a -15.4 average winning score in the last ten renewals. Even at its most scorable it is still a solid test of golf.
The subtly undulating course makes good use of rocky limestone formations, which helps to give it a more authentic look in contrast to many of the more artificial courses in the region.
As you’d expect, this desert course has a linksy feel to it and can play firm. Though exposed, there are several patches of greenery in which you can easily come unstuck with wayward ball-striking. This is quite easy to do on fairways that have ranked as some of the hardest to find on tour, and are protected by strategically placed bunkers and sticky rough.
The paspalum greens are huge, speedy and undulating. Though they are generally easy to find, they can be immensely difficult to putt on, especially from above the hole and rank as the third-toughest greens to putt on tour; which can in turn put a premium on high-class approach play. Steep false-fronts and run-offs litter the perimeters for protection, whilst the plethora of deep bunkers can prove penal to play out of.
Water adds a final dimension-of-difficulty to Doha Golf Club. It is in-play on six holes and plays a pivotal part in the exciting risk/reward finish. It sits long and left of the drivable, 307-yard par 4 16th; intimidatingly dominates the eye at the front of the shortest hole on the course, the 155-yard par 3 17th; and protects the entire left-hand side of the fairway on the 589-yard par 5 18th, as well as sitting short-left of the large putting surface.
Birdies/eagles and bogeys+ are easily achieved over these final three holes, which will make for an exciting finish on Sunday afternoon. Though with conditions looking even kinder than those of the low-scoring October edition in 2023, there will be little excuse for the players.
This week’s conditions aren’t forecast to be all that different to the event in October, with clear, warm and sunny weather predicted throughout.
There is scheduled to be some moderate winds over the first two rounds, but they’re set to die down over the weekend, which should make the course similarly scoreable to last time, if not more so.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Putting (Paspalum)
Without punishingly strong winds, this course becomes a lot simpler; where what you do into and on these large and challenging paspalum surfaces carries most significance.
Last year’s edition provided us with strong evidence of this, as Sami Valimaki, and the man he defeated in the playoff, Jorge Campillo both ranked inside the top 5 in approach and were 13th and 17th on the greens respectively. 3rd and 4th-place finishers, Scott Jamieson and Nacho Elvira also produced competent approach displays, but shone most with the putter; each player ranking inside the top 4 for the week.
It’s maybe not as helpful to compare with stats from the 2022 and 2019 editions, as they both played significantly tougher; though Ewen Ferguson did handle the wind well in 2022 largely due to quality in putting, ranking 6th and in approach, ranking 12th.
2018 saw similarly low-scoring conditions, as Eddie Pepperell won with a score of -18, predominantly down to his classy approach play, ranking 2nd; runner-up, Oliver Fisher franked the need for quality in this area, ranking 1st in the field in approach.
Go back to the pre strokes-gained days on the tour and we find players such as Jeunghun Wang (2017), Branden Grace (2016, 2015) and Sergio Garcia (2014); all of whom have been high-class approach players.
- SG: Off-the-Tee/Driving Distance
Whilst clearly not a necessity with the mixture of players who are often able to contend here, I do think this relatively lengthy course sets up well for good and preferably long drivers of the ball. This may be even more pertinent this year, with the lengthening of a few par 4s, especially that 500+ yard 15th, and barring the 535-yard 10th, the par 5s are not gimmes for all hitters; the 639-yard 9th in particular will favour the longer drivers.
Last year’s winner, Sami Valimaki is definitely a player who ticks this box and going back to 2013 we have the then lengthy Chris Wood taking home the title; Sergio Garcia and Branden Grace are also players who would somewhat fit into this category.
CORRELATING EVENTS (COURSES)
Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
Links form usually travels well in the desert, with most courses in this part of the world similarly exposed and played on firm, sandy turf. The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship is an event which possessed more form-ties with Doha GC than most events I looked at this week.
Notable correlating form:
Qatar (1st, 1st) / Dunhill Links (1st)
Qatar (1st) / Dunhill Links (1st)
Qatar (1st, 1st) / Dunhill Links (1st)
Qatar (1st) / Dunhill Links (4th, 7th, 9th)
Qatar (1st) / Dunhill Links (5th)
Qatar (1st) / Dunhill Links (6th)
Qatar (2nd, 3rd) / Dunhill Links (1st, 2nd)
Qatar (2nd, 5th) / Dunhill Links (1st)
Qatar (2nd) / Dunhill Links (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 4th)
Qatar (2nd) / Dunhill Links (4th, 5th, 5th)
Qatar (5th, 6th) / Dunhill Links (5th)
Portugal Masters (Dom Pedro – Victoria Course)
The open and exposed Victoria Course has also been a happy hunting-ground for good links players and as a result, has strong form-ties with the Qatar Masters. This is no doubt aided by the fact they possess a similar tee-to-green test to one another, with driving accuracy and GIR percentages closely matched.
Notable correlating form:
Qatar (1st) / Portugal (1st)
Qatar (1st, 4th) / Portugal (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th)
Qatar (1st) / Portugal (2nd, 7th)
Qatar (2nd, 2nd, 5th) / Portugal (1st, 3rd, 6th)
Qatar (5th, 6th) / Portugal (1st)
Qatar (2nd) / Portugal (2nd)
Qatar (2nd) / Portugal (3rd)
Qatar (2nd, 2nd) / Portugal (6th, 8th)
Qatar (2nd, 10th) / Portugal (7th, 8th, 10th)
Qatar (2nd, 3rd, 6th) / Portugal (7th, 9th)
Qatar (3rd, 3rd) / Portugal (4th)
Made in HimmerLand (HimmerLand Resort)
HimmerLand is an exposed, undulating course and though typically much shorter than Doha GC, it poses comparable tee-to-green challenges; ranking closely in driving accuracy, GIR and scrambling percentages.
Notable correlating form:
Qatar (1st) / HimmerLand (2nd)
Qatar (1st, 4th) / HimmerLand (4th)
Qatar (2nd) / HimmerLand (1st, 4th)
Qatar (2nd, 5th) / HimmerLand (1st)
Qatar (2nd, 3rd, 6th) / HimmerLand (2nd)
Qatar (2nd) / HimmerLand (4th)
Qatar (2nd) / HimmerLand (5th)
Qatar (4th, 5th) / HimmerLand (2nd, 2nd)
Qatar (5th, 6th) / HimmerLand (3rd)
Qatar (4th, 5th) / HimmerLand (4th)
Ras Al Khaimah Championship (Al Hamra Golf Club)
Form across the Middle East in general is a positive this week but there are a few courses that stood out above the rest; starting with a fellow Peter Harradine design, Al Hamra Golf Club – host of the Ras Al Khaimah Championship.
Open and exposed with narrow fairways and large paspalum greens, this course is there for the taking if the wind doesn’t blow; as we saw with Thorbjorn Olesen’s incredible -27 winning score two weeks ago.
Notable correlating form:
Qatar (2nd, 3rd) / Ras Al Khaimah (1st, 4th)
Qatar (5th, 6th) / Ras Al Khaimah (1st, 2nd)
Qatar (4th, 5th) / Ras Al Khaimah (3rd)
Qatar (1st) / Ras Al Khaimah (9th)
Qatar (3rd) / Ras Al Khaimah (4th, 6th)
Qatar (5th) / Ras Al Khaimah (3rd)
Qatar (6th) / Ras Al Khaimah (9th)
Abu Dhabi Championship (Abu Dhabi Golf Club)
Abu Dhabi Golf Club hosted the Abu Dhabi Championship up to and including 2021, and is another Harradine design. Much like Qatar, the fairways were always tough to find there but the large greens easy, and it played host to many low-scoring events.
Notable correlating form:
Qatar (1st, 1st) / Abu Dhabi (5th, 5th)
Qatar (4th, 5th) / Abu Dhabi (1st, 2nd)
Qatar (2nd, 3rd) / Abu Dhabi (2nd)
Qatar (2nd, 3rd, 3rd) / Abu Dhabi (4th, 4th)
Qatar (2nd, 2nd, 5th) / Abu Dhabi (4th, 6th)
Qatar (2nd) / Abu Dhabi (5th)
Oman Open (Al Mouj Golf Club)
I’ll finish with Al Mouj Golf Club, which hosted the Oman Open from 2018-2020. This vast, strongly-bunkered, open and exposed course would’ve proven a particularly excellent guide to last year’s Qatar Masters.
Notable correlating form:
Qatar (1st) / Oman (1st)
Qatar (2nd, 2nd) / Oman (2nd, 4th)
Qatar (1st) / Oman (2nd)
Qatar (2nd, 2nd, 5th) / Oman (6th)
Qatar (5th, 6th) / Oman (6th)
Rasmus Hojgaard continued his strong start to 2024 in Bahrain and is again the top-ranked player in the field this week, at #68 in the world. He is joined by a further three from the top 100: #81 Thriston Lawrence, #95 Keita Nakajima and #100 Zander Lombard – a career high for the in-form South African.
We have no defending champion due to Sami Valimaki’s absence but there are eight former winners in attendance. This includes 2022 winner, Ewen Ferguson; 2003 champion, Darren Fichardt and 2013 victor, Chris Wood makes his first DP World Tour start since 2022.
Dylan Frittelli will be hoping to keep the ball rolling after his win; fellow South African, the huge-hitting Wilco Nienaber gets a chance to bounce back from a disappointing final-round performance on the Challenge Tour last week; and after a promising showing at Royal Golf Club, Australia’s Harrison Endycott looks to follow Frittelli in taking advantage of the new PGA Tour category on the DP World Tour.
Market leaders: Rasmus Hojgaard 9/1, Yannik Paul 20/1, Zander Lombard 20/1, Thriston Lawrence 25/1
Rasmus Hojgaard’s impressive start to the season has ensured he maintains favouritism this week but is more than easy to take on at single digits, considering the putter was still doing most of the hard work in his 8th-place finish in Bahrain.
Zander Lombard is another player who has been flying in this early part of the year, though is short enough in the betting, with compatriot and proven DP World Tour winner, Thriston Lawrence appealing much more at the prices.
However, I’ve decided to start this week’s selections a little further down and it’s the ball-striking dynamo Daniel Hillier who goes in as the headline selection in Qatar.
1.25 pts Daniel Hillier each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 40/1
Hillier turned pro towards the end of 2019 after a quality amateur career that took him to #13 in the world amateur rankings.
Like the majority who released the amateur shackles at a similar time, the beginnings of his professional career were dealt a blow by the pandemic in 2020, with few opportunities to shine but he has been making up for it since.
Hillier spent much of 2021 on the Challenge Tour, winning his first professional title in Costa Brava at the end of the year and impressing when up in grade on the DP World Tour, finishing 3rd at Galgorm Castle in the ISPS Handa World Invitational.
He didn’t quite do enough to earn automatic promotion to the DPWT that year but put that right the following year, finishing inside the top 10 in the Road to Mallorca rankings – thanks to a second pro title in the Swiss Challenge – and with that, a step up to the DPWT last year.
Hillier’s rookie season on the DPWT started off slowly but came alive in the middle of the year. After two top 5 finishes in three starts, coming in the KLM Open and BMW International Open, he achieved a first DPWT win, impressively holding off some proven tour winners to take home the British Masters at The Belfry. He continued to play well throughout the rest of the year, eventually reaching the DP World Tour Championship on his first try, where he finished 38th.
Ball-striking is the key to his success, seeing him rank 30th off-the-tee – where he’s also long – and 41st in approach last season. This is also what has engineered his steady start to this season, recording a first top 25 of the year on his last start in Ras Al Khaimah. He ranks inside the top 15 at this early point of the year with driver and in approach.
Hillier made his debut at Doha GC last year, performing superbly to hold a two-shot lead at the halfway point. He ultimately faded a little over the weekend to eventually finish 16th but there was more than enough encouragement there – along with his 12th-place finish in Portugal in 2022 – to suggest this test suits the New Zealander’s game to a tee.
1.25 pts Sean Crocker each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 40/1
Sean Crocker confirmed his game to be in a good place with a 16th-place finish in Bahrain last week and with a best-yet effort in Qatar on his latest start in 2023 to call on, I’m expecting another strong showing this time around.
Crocker struck the ball with intent in the 2024 opener in Dubai, ranking 5th OTT and 6th in approach to lead him to a hugely encouraging 6th-place finish. He wasn’t able to build on this on his next two starts, missing the cut in the Dubai Desert Classic and finishing 63rd in Ras Al Khaimah, but bounced back in Bahrain; recapturing some quality approach play to finish 16th and bookending his event with rounds of 68.
You know exactly what you’re getting into with the American, for all he is a quality ball-striker, ranking top 30 OTT and in approach last season, he has the potential to frustrate with the short game. Having said that, whilst not overly impressive he has managed these greens solidly on his two latest visits, which may well be good enough to get him into contention if at his best with the long game.
Crocker produced his best performance in Doha last year, entering the final round three shots back in 4th before a level par final round dropped him to 9th. This wasn’t the first time in which he’d entered the final round here in a good position, as he was 3rd with eighteen holes to play on debut in 2018, before a 76 sent him spiralling down the leaderboard to 28th. He clearly has the ability to play this course well and if once again in with a chance come Sunday afternoon, I’m hoping it will be a case of third-time-lucky for the big hitter.
1.25 pts Pablo Larrazabal each way (1/5 - 6 places) - 40/1
Barring an off week in Ras Al Khaimah, Pablo Larrazabal has looked in fine shape at the beginning of 2024 and possessing a good record at Doha GC, I think the nine-time DPWT winner looks great value this week.
Larrazabal kicked off the year with a 20th-place finish in the Dubai Invitational and improved in most areas on his next start in the Dubai Desert Classic, taking him to a 4th-place finish. His game was in complete disarray at Ras Al Khaimah when missing the cut but he looked better last week, closing out the Bahrain Championship with a 4-under 68 to finish 29th.
The Spaniard excelled with his irons there, ranking 4th. This represented a continuation of the quality he’d shown in this area in the latter part of 2023, ranking 40th for the season overall and he compliments it with a top-class short game, regularly ranking among the best around-the-greens and in putting on tour. Though the putter has been a little off for the most part this year, he can get it firing again at a course with which he’s very familiar.
Larrazabal has been a regular fixture in the Qatar Masters for well over a decade and has finished inside the top 25 on five occasions. Most of his best efforts have come in recent renewals, recording a best of 4th in 2018, then finishing 5th in 2022 and 16th last year; usually putting these greens well.
A win at the Harradine-designed Abu Dhabi Golf Club in 2014 gives this form a boost, as do top 5s at HimmerLand and Ras Al Khaimah, and if able to build on that final-round display last week he’d have to be one of the main players here.
1 pt Brandon Stone each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 90/1
Brandon Stone was excellent two weeks ago in Ras Al Khaimah and I’m hoping he can take a little bit of that positivity from countryman, Frittelli’s win last week to force his own return to the DPWT winner’s circle in Qatar.
A couple of quiet years for the talented South African saw him plying his trade on the Challenge Tour for the first time since 2015 last year, but he showed he was just a little too good for that level. He earned an instant return to the DPWT by finishing in the top 20 in the season-long rankings, recording thirteen top 25 finishes; six of which were top 10s.
Stone did little in the co-sanctioned events in Africa at the end of 2023 but improved massively on his first start of 2024, finishing 4th in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship. His characteristically excellent driving was the star there, ranking 9th in the field but it was equally encouraging to see him looking in-tune with the often-detrimental putter, ranking just outside the top 10; whilst the irons also looked solid enough.
However he will need to bounce back from a poor missed cut in Bahrain last week, where he simply made too many mistakes.
Stone has played here five times, making three cuts but never really threatening the top of the leaderboard; recording a best of 40th on his latest visit in 2022. Though, as a past winner of the Scottish Open, and possessing runner-up finishes in Oman and Portugal – as well as that 4th-place finish at Al Hamra two weeks ago – he is more than comfortable with this style of golf. Something he can finally show this week.
1 pt Haotong Li each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 100/1
One subdued performance has seen Haotong Li virtually double in price from his last start. However, his ball-striking was pretty solid again there at Ras Al Khaimah and I’m more than happy to give him another run at this price.
After enduring a terrible time of it in 2023, Haotong made a surprise return to form in the opening two events of this year; finishing 14th in the Dubai Invitational and then contending for a long time in the Dubai Desert Classic, before eventually finishing 7th.
Though finishing 63rd at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship on his latest start, his ball-striking and putting was solid; a tough week around the greens ultimately limiting how high he could finish on the leaderboard.
Li has driven it well throughout the three events but it’s his approach play and putting that have been the standout areas of his game, ranking 10th on the greens and 11th in approach so far at this early point of the season.
A repeat of this combination would serve him well this week, at a course where he’s only played once, missing the cut on debut in 2017, but did open with a 3-under 69. A 3rd at Al Hamra and 6th-place finish in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship further highlight his potential to perform in Doha.
1 pt Ricardo Gouveia each way (1/5 - 8 places) - 250/1
I’m going to sign off with Portugal’s Ricardo Gouveia at a huge price. Although he missed the cut last week, he looked good at Ras Al Khaimah on his previous start and with a nice piece of form here, along with several at correlating courses, he definitely has the game to compete at this venue.
Gouveia has flip-flopped between the DPWT and Challenge Tour since turning pro. Often looking too good for that second-tier but struggling to break through at the top level. However seven Challenge Tour wins is no easy feat on that ultra-competitive tour and still only in his early 30s, he has time to make the grade at this level.
Two of those seven Challenge Tour wins came on his latest stint on the tour last year, but it’s the first which really caught the eye.
On his third Challenge Tour start of 2023, Gouveia won the Abu Dhabi Challenge with a superb eagle on the closing hole – at the old Abu Dhabi Championship host, Abu Dhabi Golf Club; which was designed by Doha GC architect, Peter Harradine.
That ability to perform on his courses is not exclusive to Abu Dhabi, as he finished 7th here in Qatar on his debut in 2016; whilst two top 7s in the Portugal Masters and an 8th-place finish at HimmerLand give more reasons for optimism.
Gouveia missed the cut last week but I’m willing to forgive that, as he started the year with a made cut in the strong Dubai Desert Classic field and then followed up with a 23rd-place finish in the Ras Al Khaimah Championship. The putter has been his biggest asset, though he did show positive signs in approach on his first two starts of the year and if able to combine them both this week, he can get himself in the mix at the type of course which seems to suit.
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