The second event of the Middle Eastern trio on the European Tour is the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters from Doha, and a steady field will accumulate on this rather exposed desert course.
There are plenty of betting angles to consider, although the main one – the howling gales which tend to accompany the tournament – is perhaps the most striking.
Branden Grace is the reigning champion and bookmakers’ favourite, and after a decent showing in the HSBC Championship last week he might be the one to beat once again. But given that only one favourite has won here in the last five renewals, we’ll take the 80% chance that the South African doesn’t double up.
With such gusty conditions forecasted, it might be an idea to swerve the outright favourites to instead target those for whom undesirable conditions hold no fear: somebody like Louis Oosthuizen for example.
This is an event that big hitters tend to shine – they can power through the breeze and also make the lengthy holes look like child’s play when the wind is at their back. Grace became the tenth winner in the last eleven years to rank in the top 15 for driving distance, so we’re looking for a biffer here. Thankfully, Oosthuizen fits the bill.
Interestingly, nine of the ten previous winners here have ranked in the top eight for Greens in Regulation too; and this is a stat in which Oosthuizen outperformed Grace during the 2015 campaign.
While this will be his first start of 2016, the South African finished a hair’s breadth away from a top ten finish at the Nedbank Challenge in December, and while a series of recurring injuries prevent him from playing all that many tournaments he finished in both The Open and the US Open in 2015; both played in pretty testing conditions. The rest of his resume last year is spectacular: all cuts made, and a total of ten top 40 finishes from twelve entries.
He has finished in the top ten twice here in the past too, and while we are happy to take the price of 22/1 we have to add an each way kicker given that he hasn’t on Tour for nearly two years.
Louis Oosthuizen 22/1 (each way)
Along with Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters is perhaps the hottest young talent on the European Tour, and but for a hideous second round at the HSBC last week he could have walked away with a winner’s cheque ahead of the likes of Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth (he finished second in the end, one shot back).
He went reasonably well here last year too, eventually finishing 38th, but don’t forget that this is a 24-year-old who improved exponentially throughout the season, notching two victories and a top ten in tournaments hosted in mainland Europe. With eleven cuts made in a row, the South African rarely plays badly.
But he does lack experience in the cut-and-thrust of tournaments where conditions are unsuitable, and so he may just be missing that all-important winner’s edge. A top five finish, at 4/1, looks viable however.
Thomas Pieters 4/1 (Top Five Finish)
Another player that is easy to like around these Middle Eastern tracks is Bernd Wiesberger. The Austrian boasts everything we need to look out for in a challenger: tournament history (he was third here in 2015, two shots off the lead), pedigree in this neck of the woods (six top 20 finishes in nine attempts in Dubai/Qatar) and decent recent form (he finished 25th at the Nedbank Challenge despite a howler of a last round of 81, plus tied for 26 in Abu Dhabi last week).
Can he win here? Potentially. But for security a top ten finish bet at 11/4 looks sensible.
Bernd Wiesberger 11/4 (Top Ten Finish)
And finally, how about a huge 20/1 for Roope Kakko to finish in the top ten? This 300/1 shot fired a sublime round of 68 at the HSBC last week to be in the mix after 36 holes (he eventually faded), and shot -4 at last season’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. The Finn ranked 21st on tour in 2015 for driving distance and 22nd for GIR. He’s a massive long shot here, so small stakes only, but you just never know in this crazy sport.