World No. 3 Henrik Stenson is looking to quickly rediscover his 2013 form when the popular Swede competes in the US$2.5 million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, which tees off at Doha Golf Club on Wednesday.
Stenson is drawn for the first two rounds with former World No. 1 Luke Donald of England and American star Jason Dufner, winner of the PGA Championship last August, while other top contenders include World No. 10 Sergio Garcia and four-time major winner Ernie Els.
Stenson, 37, won last year’s Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup in his best-ever season, moving up to a career-high ranking of third.
However, the two-time Ryder Cup player had a disappointing start to the year by missing the cut in Abu Dhabi last week, so is looking to bounce back at a course where he has thrived before, winning in 2006 and finishing runner-up three times.
“It has been a happy hunting ground for me and it feels like I’m slowly waking up after the winter break. Last week was not quite what I wanted, but I had limited preparation and it feels like I’m now starting to hit the ball a lot better,” said Stenson, who is competing in his 14th successive Qatar Masters.
“I was a bit rusty last week, but I’d say today was as well as I’ve hit it this side of Christmas. So it feels like the game is heading in the right direction and I’m looking forward to the week.”
The Qatar Masters, which marks the second leg of The European Tour’s three-part ‘Desert Swing’, is also a favourite of World No. 11 Sergio Garcia, making his eighth consecutive appearance in the tournament.
The Spaniard boasts a remarkable record in the event, having finished inside the top 10 in five of his last six visits to Doha, tying for second behind Chris Wood last year.
“I really like the golf course,” he said. “It’s played nice and tough down the years, and it’s a very good tournament to start the year off. So hopefully I can have another good week here and see if I can get a win. That would obviously be great, but at the least I want to have a nice, solid week.”
The towering Wood returns to the scene of his finest hour bidding to become the first player to mount a successful title defence of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
The six-foot, five-inch Englishman claimed his maiden European Tour victory in stunning style 12 months ago, closing with an eagle three to see off Garcia and South African George Coetzee by a single stroke.
Wood even relived his final-hole heroics for TV on Tuesday afternoon but, given the purity of all three shots, understandably struggled to recreate the magic in full.
“I don’t think I’ll hit three better shots than that, under the circumstances. There’s a lot more pressure on winning your first event on The European Tour than winning your second or third, so I was obviously very proud of how I handled that,” said Wood, who last year won with a booming drive, a crisp six-iron from 200 yards and a nerveless putt from 12 feet.
“As soon as I arrived here, it brought back some great memories. Obviously my first win on The European Tour is always going to be special to me, and Qatar is going to always be up there as one of my favourite events.”