Pablo the pick on Doha return

justin harding golfer pga.jpg

The DP World Tour takes in the Qatar Masters this week and our man’s back with his in-depth preview ahead of Thursday start here…

Tournament History

Sky Sports pundit Andrew Coltart won the first edition of the Qatar Masters back in 1998 so this will be the 25th edition of the tournament.

After two years at Education City, the Qatar Masters returns to its original venue – Doha Golf Club – which has undergone a revamp since Justin Harding won there in 2019.

Venue

Doha Golf Club, Doha, Qatar

Course Details

Par 72, 7,401 yards
Stroke Index in 2019 – 71.78

Doha was designed by Peter Harradine, the man also responsible for the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, but this is a different sort of test. The fairways are of average width and the rough is usually far less penal than in Abu Dhabi.

There have been two significant changes to the course since 2019. The ninth and 18th greens (both par fives) have been combined to form one big green, and all the greens have been changed from Bermuda to a strain of paspalum called dynasty grass.

Gary McGlinchey, the General Manager of Doha Golf Club had this to say prior to the changes being made:

“The greens were constructed in 1996, grass technology has come a long way since then and the paspalum dynasty grass we have selected doesn’t mind the TSE water we are now forced to use.”

In addition to the grass type changing, the majority of the greens have been expanded back to their original size and reinstated back to their original slopes and elevations.

The new greens are going to be set to run at 11.5 on the Stimpmeter – slightly faster than in previous renewals.

Although there have been changes, the course is fundamentally the same and the yardage has changed by just a yard. Both nines open and close with par fives and water is in-play on six holes (3, 8, 9, 13, 15 and 18).

The four par fives all averaged below par in 2019 – and they were four of the five easiest on the track – but the drivable par four 16th, which averaged 3.51 three years ago, is the best opportunity to score

.

The course is very exposed and high winds can have a big say on the outcome so following the weather forecasts is essential.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 9:00 Thursday morning (UK time)

Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2021 – Antoine Rosner -8 30.029/1 (Education City)
2020 – Jorge Campillo -13 200.0199/1 (playoff- Education City)
2019 – Justin Harding -13 60.059/1 (Doha)
2018 – Eddie Pepperell -18 85.084/1 (Doha)
2017 – Jeunghun Wang -16 40.039/1 (playoff-Doha)
2016 – Branden Grace -14 8.415/2 (Doha)

What Will it Take to Win the Qatar Masters?

Driving Distance used to be a key stat at Doha but the last three course winners, Justin Harding, Eddie Pepperell and Jeunghun Wang, only ranked 31st, 77th and 37th for DD and that’s quite a change given 11 of the 12 winners before Wang ranked inside the top-15 for that stat.

Pepperell ranked third for Driving Accuracy but that’s not a stat to dwell on given the previous four winners had ranked 54th, 61st, 44th and 40th and Harding only 17th. Finding greens with regularity doesn’t appear to be as vital as it once was given the last four winners have only ranked 45th, 16th, 26th and 19th when nine of the previous 10 ranked inside the top-seven for that stat.

Scoring is usually fairly low here in good conditions so a neat and tidy game around the greens has been key. Harding ranked 15th for Scrambling and the three winners before him all ranked inside the top-10 for Scrambling. Nine of the last 11 winners have ranked inside the top-10 for Putts per GIR. The odd two out, Wang in 2017 and Sergio Garcia in 2014, didn’t putt deplorably and they ranked 15th and 18th. So a hot putter looks like our best statistical angle-in but as always, that’s never easy to gauge before the off.

We only have one year’s worth of Strokes Gained data at Doha and for what it’s worth, Harding ranked third for SGT2G and first for SGATG.

The wind is always a factor in this part of the world and that certainly looks like being the case this week.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

In the last edition at Doha, three years ago, Justin Harding became the fifth South African to win the Qatar Masters there and three South Africans – George Coetzee, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Erik Van Rooyen – finished tied for second. And South Africa’s Branden Grace has won the event here twice.

The venue may have changed slightly since 2019 but we can probably expect the South African contingent to continue to thrive at Doha.

Neither Harding nor Wang had played Doha before when he won here in 2019 and 2017 but a previous good performance or two here is a big plus and when Branden Grace successfully defended in 2016 he became the third to win the title twice in its short history.

In addition to Grace’s back-to-back wins, Paul Lawrie won the event in both 1999 and 2012 and Adam Scott has also taken the title twice – in 2002 and 2008. New European Ryder Cup captain Henrik Stenson won the event in 2006 and he’s also been second three times. Quiros is a two-time runner-up as well as a winner here. Robert Karlsson has a first and second to his name and Sergio Garcia finished second six years ago before he took the title 12 months later.

Course form stands up well and so does links form

Doha winners, Henrik Stenson, Ernie Els and Paul Lawrie have all won the Open Championship and Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn and Adam Scott arguably all should have done.

Given he shot the first 62 in major championship history at the Open at Royal Birkdale in 2017, Grace boosts the links angle-in too and so does the 2016 second, Thorbjorn Olesen, the 2015 runner-up, Marc Warren, and the 2018 winner, Pepperell. Grace has also won at the Fancourt Links in South Africa and like past Qatar Masters winners, Lawrie and Karlsson, Grace and Olesen are both former winners of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

Grace and Warren have also both lost a playoff at the Scottish Open at the Castle Stuart Links and Pepperell was denied only by a ridiculous 60 in round four of the 2018 Scottish Open at the Gullane Links by South Africa’s Brandon Stone.

Many fine links exponents have performed well here and I suspect it’s down to the wide open feel of the course and the fact that the wind often blows – mirroring the sort of conditions encountered on the links.

Is There an Angle In?

Just like in 2019, the wind is going to blow all week long so anyone who can’t remain patient and handle breezy conditions may as well not bother teeing it up. It’s going to be a grind and fine wind exponents should dominate.

An appearance at last week’s Steyn Championship looks like it may prove to be a positive given all 22 winners to date at this venue played the week before they won here. We have to go all the way back to 2003 to find the last winner, Darren Fichardt, who didn’t record at least a top-10 finish in one of their previous seven starts.

Most winners here have been playing well before the tournament. Since the out-of-form Fichardt took the title, 14 of the 16 course winners had recorded a top-10 finish in one of their four previous starts and Harding’s 2019 figures read 51-7-11-4-26-MC.

Although Alvaro Quiros is the only man to win both this event and the Portugal Masters at Dom Pedro Victoria, a significant number of players have played well at both venues so that’s another angle in to consider and form at the now defunct Mauritius Open around the similarly exposed Heritage Golf Club has also held up well in Qatar.

Winner’s Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2021 – Antoine Rozner tied 4th – trailing by three 7.26/1 (Ed’ City)
2020 – Jorge Campillo led by a stroke 3.3512/5 (Ed’ City)
2019 – Justin Harding tied 10th – trailing by three 38.037/1
2018 – Eddie Pepperell tied for the lead with Oliver Fisher 3.1511/5
2017 – Jeunghun Wang led by three strokes 1.9310/11
2016 – Branden Grace tied 2nd – trailing by two 3.7511/4

In-Play Tactics

With the wind so often a factor, a slow start can be overcome at Doha.

The 2017 winner, Wang, trailed by five after round one and four of the 22 course winners to date have been as far as seven off the lead after the opening round. And three winners, Ernie Els in 2005, Adam Scott in 2008 and Sergio Garcia in 2014, were seven back at halfway.

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Els was still five back with a round to go and Scott and Garcia still trailed by three, as did Harding in 2019, but every other winner has been within two strokes with a round to go and 13 of the 22 winners were in front after three rounds.

If you’re betting in-running, bear in mind that the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th holes were the four toughest in 2019. But after that the players face the drivable par four at 16, the 17th, which is the easiest of the four par threes and the 18th, which is a reachable par five which only averaged 4.71 in 2019.

Chris Wood won the event with an eagle at the 72nd hole nine years ago and Grace eagled the 16th on his way to winning seven years ago.

Market Leaders

Dean Burmester heads the market for a third week in-a-row on the DP World Tour and he looks one to oppose this time around.

This is the third time he’s played Doha and he hasn’t exactly shone here, finishing 41st in 2017 before missing the cut in 2019.

Burmester will still be kicking himself about throwing away last week’s Steyn Championship (matched at a low of 1.152/13) and I’m far from convinced he’s mentally strong enough for a week-long grind in blustery conditions (especially over the weekend).

Spain’s Adri Arnaus is still in search of his first DP World Tour event and he’ll be keen to return to Doha after his promising debut in 2019 when he finished 14th having led after the opening round.

It really does look like only a matter of time before the hugely talented 27-year-old gets off the mark but until he does, I’m not tempted to plough in at less than 30.029/1 in a competitive heat like this.

Jordan Smith has been in fine form this year but he’s another that frustrates in-contention and at around the same price, Matt Cooper’s each-way pick, George Coetzee, makes more appeal.

He was my sole selection last week and he was a little disappointing after a decent start but he loves this venue and he’s the only one towards the head of the market that I was tempted by.

Selections

Pablo Larrazabal missed the cut at the Steyn Championship last week but that was understandable after he’d won the week before. His victory in the MyGolfLife Open didn’t come out of the blue, given he’d finished sixth in the competitive Saudi International and third in the Ras al Khaimah Classic in his two previous starts.

Pablo has plenty of course experience that should stand him in good stead, with the highlight being a fourth place finish in 2018.

The in-form pair of Matti Schmid and Thriston Lawrence were on the radar and I may add either or both if they drift before the off but my only other picks at this stage is the last man to win here – Justin Harding.

The experienced South African has been under something of a cloud since he let a two-stroke 54-hole lead slip in the Dubai Desert Classic at the end of January but I was happy to chance him again here at in excess of 40.039/1.

It’s impossible to argue with his course form of one visit, one win, and I suspect this year’s conditions will closely replicate those he experienced in 2019.

Selections:
Pablo Larrazabal @ 40.039/1
Justin Harding @ 44.043/1

I’ll be back shortly with my Corales Puntacana preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Author: Ellen Garcia