The 2012 Commercialbank Qatar Masters presented bv Dolphin Energy gets underway in Doha tomorrow (Thursday) with the 132-man field facing a potential battle against the elements as well as the 7,414-yard course.
Today's (Wednesday) pre-event Pro-Am was played in a swirling wind and frequent sand storms and left many of the biggest names in golf plotting their own particular strategies on how to win the $2.5 million tournament.
“It's normally fairly windy here,” said World Number Three Lee Westwood. “You get a 20-25mph wind but this week I think we're expecting gusts of up to 40mph so keeping the ball down and staying patient is the key.
“Sometimes you come to a golf course and think ahead that it's a 20‑under‑par- winning golf course. But if the wind really pumps this week, it could quite easily be an eight or nine‑under‑par winning course. You just have to play every hole and every shot on its merits and not get really too preoccupied with scored from previous years.”
Westwood, who admitted he believed the hosting Doha Golf Club to be the toughest challenge on the Middle East’s Desert Swing, has been joined by six other world top twenty players in Qatar, including US PGA stars KJ Choi and Hunter Mahan (pictured) who are both making their first appearances in the event.
“I saw the forecast looks pretty windy but I expected that coming in here after watching a little bit of the Abu Dhabi tournament last week,” said Mahan, after a 12 hour trip from San Diego.
“I feel like ball striking is a strength of mine and I feel like I can kind of play in any conditions with the way I hit it. The conditions here are comparable to the Doral in Miami, and I faired pretty well there so I'm looking forward to the chance to play because I do feel like my game can travel over here.”
Organised by the Qatar Golf Association (QGA) in collaboration with the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC) and title sponsor The Commercial Bank of Qatar, the tournament will get underway at 6.30am today (Thursday) with Westwood playing alongside World Number Ten Jason Day of Australia – another newcomer to Qatar – and defending champion Thomas Bjorn.
No-one in the 14-year history of the tournament has successfully managed to defend the Mother of Pearl trophy but Bjorn doesn’t feel under any pressure to rewrite the record books.
“We play week in, week out and when you get to golf tournaments you only have one thing on your mind and that's to try and win,” said Bjorn. “We also realise that a lot of things have to go your way and certainly when you get a forecast like this one you can be a little bit lucky or unlucky in the draw.
“The whole focus on this week is to work hard and if the putts drop, I have a chance to win on Sunday. Is there pressure of being defending champion and trying to win two in a row? Well, we play tournaments all the time, you prepare the best you can and the result will be what will be. As long as you try your best, then you've done everything you can. You can never predict what's going to happen in a golf tournament.”
Other key three-balls in tomorrow's opening round include Choi playing with 2009 champion Alvaro Quiros and former World Number One Martin Kaymer, while Mahan will revive his 2010 Ryder Cup clash with Graeme McDowell alongside current Race to Dubai leader Branden Grace.
Spectators looking to enjoy the action can buy tickets now at Doha Golf Club and the Marriott Courtyard with daily tickets priced at QR50, while a season ticket costs QR175, including live nightly entertainment from Billy Ocean, The Beat and Arrested Development in the Tournament Public Village.