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23 Jan 2008 11:31
Retief Goosen is hoping to become the first golfer to win the European Tour’s Qatar Masters on two occasions when the 11th edition of the $2,5-million event gets under way on Thursday at the picturesque Doha Golf Club.
The South African responded with a confident “You mean not yet” when told that no player has won the tournament twice since its inception in 1998 when Scotland’s Andrew Coltart took the top prize.
Goosen produced a spectacular finish last year, when he holed a 30-foot eagle on the final green to snatch the title from the grip of Australian Nick O’Hern.
As well as giving him his 14th European Tour title, he also extended his record of consecutive winning years on Tour to nine, dating back to 1999. It is the longest current streak of active European Tour players.
However, Goosen failed to capitalise on his dream start to the 2007 season and finished a disappointing 26th when the year ended, a fact he attributed to poor putting
“Last year it was good to kick-start the new season with a victory in Qatar and although I came quite close to winning the Masters at Augusta, I had difficulties with my game,” said the two-time US Open winner.
“It was a bit difficult to get my game going—I was always thinking about my swing, my putting.”
In a bid to overcome his problems he is taking the help of a swing coach.
“I am working hard on my swing and have hired a swing coach.
The tournament has grown in stature and now forms part of the “Desert Swing”, which includes the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and the Dubai Desert Classic.
Former winners include players like Ernie Els, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson, who have all left their mark on the Gulf circuit with excellent performances in Doha and Dubai over the years.
Although Els has skipped the Doha event this year to include the Indian Masters in his schedule, there are plenty of quality players in the line-up, which will ensure a tough contest on the rain-softened Doha Golf Club course.
Australian Scott, ranked eighth in the world, heads the rankings list in Doha, which includes 10 players from the world’s top 30 making the event the strongest ever in its history.
Although his maiden European Tour success came in the 2001 Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa, it was his stunning six-shot victory in the 2002 Qatar Masters that proved the catalyst for the Australian to begin his climb towards golf’s upper echelons, an ascent that included a further three European Tour titles.
“It has been a long time since I won back in 2002 and a lot has happened to me since then but I am delighted to now be heading back to Qatar,” Scott said.
“The European Tour gave me a chance when I was a young kid turning professional and they extended a lot of invitations to me.
“Luckily I was able to take advantage of them and became a member of the Tour before playing in America—so there is a very strong bond there for me.”
Other players in the top 30 to line up are Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Niclas Fasth, Sergio Garcia, defending champion Retief Goosen, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Scott Verplank and Lee Westwood.
World Number 12 Garcia finished last year’s tournament strongly with a closing 67 and he admitted keenly anticipating a return to the Gulf state.
“I enjoyed the course last year as well as the warmth of the galleries,” said the Spaniard. “It is certainly a region that has shown commitment to the development of our sport so I am more than happy to be returning to Doha.—AFP
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