The European Tour sees the second instalment of the Peter Harradine test as the Qatar Masters and Doha GC take centre stage. I've been looking through past tournaments here and there's a certain trend sticking out. I'll get onto that later but this is an event where the wind usually plays a major part. Sandstorms are commonplace, and Paul Lawrie - 101.0 - won here when the event was reduced to 54 holes due to strong winds. Essentially, both Doha GC and Abu Dhabi GC share many similarities and the leaderboards at both events often mimic each other, so it could pay to stick to those who did the business in Abu Dhabi.
The Betting Market
Branden Grace - 8.50 - comes here as champion and he's in good form to defend off the back of a top 5 in Abu Dhabi. He is slight favourite over Sergio Garcia - 10.00 - the winner in 2014. Grace's compatriot and Presidents Cup partner Louis Oosthuizen - 21.00 - also looks a fine match for this type of test. It all comes down to how fit Louis will be in terms of his true chances. Those three are a bit ahead of the rest in terms of quality but look out for another former champion, Chris Wood - 29.00 - who catches the attention, while Thomas Pieters will be on most people's shortlist this week.
Course and key features - Doha GC, par 72, 7,400 yards
Doha GC is one of the oldest grass courses in the Middle East and before last year's renewal there were some subtle changes to the track. A new green keeper was brought in and he incorporated a fresh water treatment regime, giving the grass textures a more pristine Abu Dhabi GC-like feel, and the greens are aimed to run around 12' on the stimp.
The Doha GC track plays approximately 7,400 yards. Exposed tee shots with tough angles in crosswinds are the standout feature at Doha - corners can be cut bringing a risk-reward strategy into play but fairways can be hard to find. Many players claim it suits a particular shot shape.
Over the years the rough has been described as both "lengthy" in places, but usually "fair". Last year I have it down as "average" and less punishing than Abu Dhabi was. The par 3s at Doha are testing and water features on six holes including 18. Number 16 is a drivable par 4 which essentially won Branden Grace the championship in 2015 when he stiffed it within 5 feet for eagle, so I'd side with the longer hitters if pushed.
Stats and trends
Two things stand out when researching the Qatar Masters: a theme of strong wind players coming to the fore, and leaderboards that correlate with the Abu Dhabi Championship. If we look at the previous recent winners here they are nearly all wind, and even Open Championship specialists. We've bagged Chris Wood and Paul Lawrie for the Qatar Masters at big odds following this angle of profiling.
The likes of Ernie Els - 126.00 - and Thomas Bjorn - 51.00 - excel in gusty conditions, Open Championship and TPC Sawgrass specialist Sergio Garcia has a standout record in Qatar with a win in 2014, while defending champ Branden Grace was brought up with a low ball flight around the Fancourt Links. Even last year's runner up was Marc Warren - one of the finest links exponents in the game.
Only the GIR stats stand out on past leaderboards but there's a premium here on controlling your ball flight and shape, especially if the wind is up.
Top betting tips
I mentioned Thomas Pieters and even at 17.00 or 4.33 I want him onside in this field. Thomas was second by a solitary shot to Rickie Fowler last week and finished the event second in driving distance. Add that to an average of fourth in the putting stats and you've got a strong concoction. If we have any wind worries, they were put to bed when Pieters won the KLM Open on the short links style Kennemer track. This was on the back of lifting the trophy in the Czech Republic. Pieters got four rounds in here last year and banked a top 40.
"I would definitely expect to play well again in Qatar, as there are more tee shots there that suit my eye compared to last week in Abu Dhabi” were the words last year of Mikko Ilonen - 67.00 or 14.00 - ahead of the 2015 renewal. Mikko wasn't 100% fit then but in 2014 he lost out only in a playoff to Sergio Garcia here. The Finn posted a sneaky top 25 last week in Abu Dhabi and has some strong wind pedigree. He won the 1999 West Of Ireland Amateur, the 2000 British Amateur at Royal Liverpool and of course he's won the Irish Open. I promise you, it blows a hoolie all the time here. Ilonen also has strong course form at the likes of the windy Golf Du Palais Royal in Morocco.
The other two main men I'm interested this week are Joost Luiten - 29.00 or 6.50 - and Lucas Bjerregaard - 91.00 or 18.00. The Dutch birdie machine was working on some issues last year but finished off in decent fashion with a top 5 at the Alfred Dunhill Championship. If I recall correctly a commentator said he hit all greens in regulation in one of last week's rounds in Abu Dhabi en route to another top 5. He couldn't get the putter working on Sunday but finished the week fourth in GIR, while he sat top 12 in both driving accuracy and distance. Joost is also a winner of his home KLM Open.
A quick word on Lucas - we're going to stick with him here as this test should suit more than Abu Dhabi, where the big hitter missed the cut due to multiple double bogeys. What the bare stats don't portray though is that he actually hit eight birdies in a 12 hole stretch in his second round. Lucas gave us a glimpse into the future and his talent, posting 5 top 10s (4 top 5s) at the back end of 2015, and he is overpriced here.
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