World No. 3 Henrik Stenson and former World No. 1 Luke Donald are the latest star players to confirm their participation at next week’s US$2.5 million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, which will be held at Doha Golf Club from 22-25 January.
Both players were announced at a pre-event press conference held on Tuesday (14 Jan) at Doha Golf Club, which has hosted the event since its inauguration in 1998.
Stenson, who lived in Dubai for a decade before moving to the US in early 2012, will compete in his 14th straight Qatar Masters, having played every year since joining The European Tour in 2001.
The popular Swede has enjoyed great success in Doha and famously won the title in 2006 – Commercial Bank’s first year as title sponsor – and also finished runner-up in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
Now, buoyed by the best season of his career during which he was arguably the world’s best player for the second half of 2013, the 37-year-old father-of-two is hoping to become the event’s third two-time winner and again get his hands on the iconic Mother of Pearl Trophy.
“I think it’s a great way to start the season, for me. I’ve played in the desert every year since I came out on Tour and I made the Middle East my home for close to 10 years. I’ve had great success there, winning both in Qatar and Dubai,” said Stenson, an eight-time winner on The European Tour.
“I’ve been second three times and won it once. It would be nice to get my hands on that lovely trophy. I think it’s one of the most beautiful trophies in golf. It’s heavy, I know that much! I held it once and I wouldn’t mind holding it again.”
Ranked as high as World No. 5 in 2007 and No. 4 in 2009, the two-time Ryder Cup player showed he was back to his best last summer by finishing runner-up at The Open Championship and third at the PGA Championship, the year’s third and fourth majors.
The Swede’s game then soared to a new level as two PGA Tour victories in September earned him the FedEx Cup, before he secured the Race to Dubai by winning The European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in November.
As he looks to continue this form in the new season, Stenson says Doha Golf Club remains a favourite hunting ground, especially as his 2006 win provided ‘a double revenge’ after being overtaken by Ernie Els a year earlier and finishing runner-up the previous week.
“It’s always nice to come back to tournaments where you’ve won, especially when you won and played well. You have a nice feeling about the golf course and the whole place, and that normally helps you have further success,” Stenson said.
“In 2005, I was in the lead and it was a tough day – the wind was really up. I played pretty well, battled hard for a 71 and Ernie came flying through with a 65 to take it from me, so being that close and then coming back the next year and winning was nice.
“The previous week, I had just been beaten by Chris DiMarco in the first Abu Dhabi Championship, so it was like a double revenge. To finish second the year before and being close to winning in Abu Dhabi, then to go to Doha and win was great.”
Stenson is a big admirer of the Doha Golf Club’s Championship Course, which he says offers opportunities for low scoring – depending on the wind – as evidenced when he lost out to Adam Scott as the Australian won his second Qatar Masters title in 2008.
“It’s a great golf course. It’s a strong golf course. It’s normally a good test with the wind. I think it has a great variety of holes – some really strong holes, a couple of easy ones and a couple in-between,” he said.
“You can get on a good run with some really low scores. One of the years I finished second, I went out in one of the last groups and shot 65 and Adam shot 61 to take the whole show. There are definitely a lot of scoring opportunities out there and normally that wind is the biggest factor.”
Donald, 36, was the world’s best player in 2011 as he won four tournaments in the US and Europe, as well as both the PGA Tour money list and the Race to Dubai, reaching the top of the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time. The Englishman was ranked World No. 1 for a total of 56 weeks between May 2011 and August 2012.
Less than two months ago, Donald successfully defended his title at the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament on the Japan Tour, so is in confident mood as he prepares to return to Doha for the first time since 2008, when he finished joint 25th as Scott emerged victorious.
“It has been a few years since I competed in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, so I’m really keen to get back there. A lot of my good friends have played in Doha in recent years, so it will be good to return and try to contend for the trophy this time,” said Donald, who has won seven European Tour titles.
“I finished 2013 well, finishing fifth in Dubai and winning in Japan in November, so I want to carry that form into 2014 and get a good result in Doha. It’s shaping up to be a very strong field there, so I think it should be an exciting tournament for the fans.”
Hassan Al Nuaimi, President, Qatar Golf Association, was thrilled to announce the latest two stars to sign up for the tournament, especially with both in winning form.
“Henrik Stenson is arguably the world’s most in-form golfer, while Luke Donald has been one of the world’s best for the past few years, so we’re absolutely delighted that both will be competing in the 2014 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters,” Al Nuaimi said.
“Henrik and Luke join a field already featuring the likes of Ernie Els, John Daly, Miguel Ángel Jiménez and defending champion Chris Wood, so spectators are in for a treat this year, especially as we’re still to confirm a couple more big names.”
Abdulla Al Raisi, Chief Executive Officer, Commercial Bank, was also delighted with the field for the 17th edition of the tournament.
“Commercial Bank has been a proud sponsor of the Qatar Masters since 2006 and we’ve always taken pride in helping produce the best tournament possible for golf fans. This year’s field is sensational and spectators are set for a fantastic four days,” Al Raisi said.
“The chance to see Henrik Stenson in the form of his life, former World No. 1 Luke Donald, multiple major champions Ernie Els and John Daly, 20-time European Tour winner Miguel Angel Jimenez and Chris Wood defend his title after his memorable win last year is a special treat for golf lovers and sports fans.”