European top dog Henrik Stenson ready to strike again
If the Commercialbank Qatar Masters turns out to be as exciting this weekend as it was last year then we are in for a real treat. Chris Wood stood on the final tee at Doha needing an eagle to beat George Coetzee and Sergio Garcia and he made it to secure his first victory on the European Tour.
The lanky Bristolian took much longer than expected to break his duck after top five finishes in both the 2008 and 2009 Opens and that maiden win hasn’t opened the floodgates either, hence Coral’s odds of 50/1 that he follows up this week..
But we know Wood has the talent and maybe a return to a venue with so many good memories will at least provide him with the boost he needs to end the tournament as leading Englishman (8/1).
This second leg of the Middle East Swing brings together several former European Tour number ones – Ernie Els (now 50/1), Robert Karlsson (28/1), Martin Kaymer (18/1) and Luke Donald (25/1) – as well as the reigning top dog Henrik Stenson (8/1).
The Swede enjoyed such a fantastic 2013 that you wonder whether he will suffer a hangover this year and the signs weren’t great when he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week.
But I think we can put that down to rustiness. Stenson has developed into a magnificent player and is again the one to beat this week at a course where he has also excelled in the past, including when victorious in 2006.
Compatriot Karlsson might well be in the mix, too. Another former winner, the big-hitting Scandinavian was one of the best in the world at his peak, but won the last of his 11 European Tour events back in November 2010, since when a depressing bout of the yips has taken its inevitable toll.
But there were distinct signs of a revival last year and a top ten finish in Abu Dhabi last week suggests that he might well be ready to start winning again, if not here then very soon.
That Abu Dhabi event was dominated by the on course brilliance and blunders of Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, but through it all Pablo Larrazabal kept a cool head to birdie the last and win his third European Tour event.
It might be asking a lot of Larrazabal (33/1) to follow up here, but fellow Spaniards Garcia (7/1 favourite), Rafa Cabrero-Bello (33/1) and the evergreen Miguel Angel Jimenez (50/1) could all make their presence felt, especially the in-form Garcia, who recovered well after an opening day 76 in Abu Dhabi.
A word, too, for the popular USPGA champion American Jason Dufner (16/1), a welcome addition to the field and not just over for a holiday either following his promising start on the US Tour.