Prize Fund – $2.5 million
1st place – €305,232
2nd place – €203,485
After surprise winner Pablo Larrazabal held off Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy last Sunday to win in Abu Dhabi, the European Tour moves to Qatar this week for the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
Although McIlroy and Mickelson have not joined the field, Jason Dufner is appearing for the 2nd year in a row, now a Major champion alongside the usual suspects of Stenson and Garcia.
The course itself is a 7,400-yard par 72 with a whole host of hazards protecting the greens. Whilst the fairways are relatively exposed, the management did tighten it up last year, which didn’t help the bombers who have such a good history in the tournament. Water comes into play on 6 holes, meaning accuracy from tee to green will be vital, but do not discount those longer hitters. If you are striking the ball far and relatively accurately, then shots into the greens will be made a hell of a lot easier.
The wind is forecast to pick up on Saturday which will make the course play longer and that could jettison the lesser hitters. HOWEVER GIR, as it was last year, will separate the winner from the pack.
There are some criminal odds (as always in recent weeks) so we have tried to find some value and whilst Martin Kaymer and Peter Hanson do look interesting, their prices were too low for us but the others are superb value.
Rafael Cabrera-Bello (40/1 StanJames)
Tee Time (Round 1, GMT) – 07:15
Rafa Cabrera-Bello is one of those golfers that thrives off confidence and tends to play well for a sustained period before going off the boil again. At the beginning of last year he had 6 top 23s in 7 starts before struggling to find the top 40 in 3 months. In 2012 he started the year making 12 cuts in a row, including 3 top 10s and a win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He then couldn’t make the top 30 for 7 tournaments barring a T2 at the Irish Open.
Basically, the Spaniard starts the year off brightly and will generally continue that form before a bad round or two seems to send him off the radar.
So, right at this moment in time, it’s a new season and Rafa played supremely well to finish T4 last week, 2 shots off his compatriot Larrazabal. He was leading going into the weekend but shot a 70 on the Saturday, which in the long run lost him the title but his all round tee-to-green game looked as hot as it did in stages last year.
He was hitting the ball far and showed his iron skills consistently (27th driving distance, 25th GIR), but it was his putting that looked particularly impressive – from round 2 onwards he never dropped outside the top 12 for putts per GIR. He has also played here and done well before, finishing T3 in 2011, even with a 77 on the first day. He followed that with two top 35s following, so his form is more than respectable on the course.
If his driving is not hugely wayward and he is having to recover constantly then he really does look like fantastic value and someone that will go on enjoying the beginning of every season.
Just like another of our players he is in a 3-ball with Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and as a superb matchplay golfer, he will want to show what he has in terms of mentality and skill set. This can only aid not hinder the Spaniard.
Thomas Aiken (80/1 various)
Tee Time (Round 1, GMT) – 10:55
We have a lot of faith in Thomas Aiken because of his extraordinary accuracy and tee to green abilities. He is a consistent player who does enjoy finding fairways (16th driving accuracy, 11th GIR) and his win at the Avantha Masters last season was on a course where bunkers dotted the fairways, making it difficult to play.
The South African will rarely find trouble and avoiding the hazards here will be so crucial, plus when you think he has averaged over 290 yards every season on tour, he is no slouch in terms of length.
In 2011 he finished T6 here even with a 73 on the final day, so he has good course knowledge and he has been playing well in recent outings. T19 last week and T8 the week before are positive returns and there is no reason he cannot improve on those finishes come Sunday.
Stephen Gallacher (50/1 various)
Tee Time (Round 1, GMT) – 07:15
Stephen Gallacher is one of those solid all-round players who seems to always find himself at decent value. He has played here most years since his two top 10s in the early noughties, all be it struggling to find consistent finishes. However, last weekend his tee to green abilities were a joy to watch and it instantly made us jump up and think of him for this week.
He was inside the top 10 for both driving distance and GIR on Saturday and Sunday (finishing T8 for the tournament) and considering his accuracy off the tee was wayward at times, it was testament to what a great iron player he really is. The lighter rough is not as punishing here and this could all add up to being in the Scots favour.
He won during this ‘Desert Swing’ last year at the Omega Desert Classic, so he has enjoyed this part of the tour in the past and there is no reason why he cannot make it win number 3.
Plus, as we said with Rafa, he is playing with McGinley, so he will want to show him everything he has!
Hennie Otto (125/1 Betfred)
Tee Time (Round 1, GMT) – 12:15
If you are a stats lover and all you think about is what the number say, then look no further than Hennie Otto.
The South African is currently 33rd for driving distance, 17th for driving accuracy, 23rd for GIR and 12th for putts per GIR. That is beyond eye-watering and obviously this is because his form has been exemplary in recent weeks. T19 in Abu Dhabi, T24 at the Alfred Dunhill and T2 at the South African Open are superb returns and prove what has been a fine start to the season. There is no reason he cannot carry that on here either, because if your all round game is that good, then tee to green will be of no problem and at 125s, why wouldn’t you take a gamble?
Admittedly his best finish is T12 in 2009, but for us that doesn’t matter when you are hitting the ball that well.
We could not resist showing you this video of a younger, more immature Hennie Otto. He has come a long way since…
Andy Sullivan (150/1 various)
Tee Time (Round 1, GMT) – 11:15
The classic English stalwart that is Andy Sullivan. We enjoyed watching him at times last year, before he completely went off the boil and decided that making cuts was not part of his plans.
He recorded 4 top 12s in his first 7 starts last season and one of those was a T9 at this very tournament. So, coming a respectable T19 last week will give him plenty of confidence as he starts the desert swing and with his attributes, he could be a very interesting outsider.
46th in driving distance, 30th in driving accuracy and 36th for GIR in 2012 are all the stats you need when thinking about this course. If he gets in (excuse the pun) full swing then anything is possible for Sullivan.