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Monday, 19 November, 2018

Thunderbear ready to whip up a storm in Doha desert

Wood also in the running

Thorbjorn Olesen has a great chance in Qatar
1 of 1

Sky Sports 4, 6.30am Thursday
Event starts 3.30am

Palmer's top tip
Thorbjorn Olesen 30-1
Branden Grace is not chasing a Qatar Masters hat-trick this week, leaving the way clear for someone else to claim the Mother of Pearl trophy. The South African is spending time with his wife, who has just had some surgery, so a new champion is guaranteed.

Bookmakers have pinpointed Alex Noren, Bernd Wiesberger, Martin Kaymer, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Sunday's Abu Dhabi champ Tommy Fleetwood as the likely lads – this quintet dominate the betting – but none are on offer at value prices.

Kaymer and Cabrera-Bello are particularly unattractive options. Kaymer, wasteful in contention yet again in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, has not won for 31 months and appears to have lost the confidence which made him a superstar. Cabrera-Bello, carrying an injury over the weekend in Abu Dhabi, remains a weak finisher.

Most appealing of the market leaders by a long way is Wiesberger, who can boast super-consistent form figures of 2-5-7-2-35-4-4-4. A putting weakness has stopped the giant Austrian turning great golf into winning golf of late, though, so a best-price 12-1 is not quite enough to justify an investment. Wiesberger is winless since July, 2015.

A better option than Wiesberger at more than double the odds is Thorbjorn Olesen, a proven Qatar performer who is full of self-belief after a barnstorming finish to last term. Olesen romped to a comfortable Turkish Airlines Open victory in November before winning the World Cup for Denmark alongside Soren Kjeldsen.

Olesen worked the Christmas rust out of his system with a week of practice in Dubai followed by a week in Abu Dhabi, where he shared 29th spot on Sunday. It is reasonable to expect fireworks in Doha, where he was third in 2014 and second last year. Thunderbear, as he is known by his peers, has a fantastic Gulf record.

All 19 Qatar champions had played the Desert Swing event the week before their victory. Olesen's Abu Dhabi warm-up is invaluable and the great Dane should be in the thick of things on Sunday afternoon.

This is a four-time European Tour champion who turned 27 last month and he deserves the utmost respect in an event short of star quality.

Next best
Chris Wood 50-1
Former Qatar champion Chris Wood has been handed a dismissive 50-1 quote by some layers this week, which looks a serious overreaction to his missed cut in Abu Dhabi.

Wood enjoyed an epic 2016 – winning the BMW PGA Championship, getting married, then making a Ryder Cup debut – and the jovial Bristolian was clearly not ready to knuckle down again last week. It is worth noting that new three-wood heads were couriered to him at Heathrow just before he boarded a flight to the Gulf.

Wood was a little under the weather in Abu Dhabi, then he did some media work for the European Tour, as well as a trick-shot clinic. Thorough preparation and focus appeared to be lacking for his seasonal reappearance and an opening 76 resulted, but much better can be expected in Qatar.

Wood carded a second-round 68 in Abu Dhabi, some of the rust falling off, but a poor Abu Dhabi record got worse. Qatar, where he won his maiden European Tour title with a courageous final-hole eagle four years ago, is his favourite Gulf venue.

Wood, a fine all-rounder who is comfortable in the breezes which are typically a feature at Doha, performed manfully on his Ryder Cup bow at hostile Hazeltine and this three-time European Tour champion can approach 2017 with an extra layer of self-belief. Coral are offering alluring each-way terms of a fifth the first seven places.

Other selections
Ricardo Gouveia 66-1
Benjamin Hebert 80-1
Renato Paratore 175-1
Ricardo Gouveia won a low-grade event in his homeland in the first week of the year and made 20 birdies en route to 23rd spot in Abu Dhabi.

The Portuguese youngster, dominant on the Challenge Tour in 2015, was third in the Nedbank Challenge in November and is looking increasingly ready to become a European Tour champion. Gouveia won the Challenge Tour Grand Final in nearby Oman and was seventh on his Doha debut last year.

Benjamin Hebert also appears close to a breakthrough. The 29-year-old Frenchman has been a prolific champion on the Challenge Tour, claiming three titles in 2011 and another hat-trick in 2014, and the last of those victories came across the Persian Gulf in Dubai.

He was fourth in last month's Alfred Dunhill Championship, warmed up nicely for this with 29th place in Abu Dhabi, and has finished tenth and 20th in the last two Qatar Masters.

Complete your staking plan with a third promising maiden – Renato Paratore turned 20 last month with his future looking extremely bright.

Paratore impressed in the second half of last year and a missed cut on the mark on his seasonal reappearance in Abu Dhabi is easy to forgive. Expect progressive Qatar form figures of 38-29 to be improved upon by a maturing talent.

Others to note
Ryan Fox
The Kiwi turned 30 at the weekend with more confidence than ever. Twice a winner on the Oz Tour and twice on the Challenge Tour, a solid Abu Dhabi effort suggests European Tour success is close.

Alexander Bjork
The Challenge Tour graduate has made an impressive start to life in the higher grade, finishing 17th in the Alfred Dunhill, seventh in the SA Open and 13th in Abu Dhabi. Swede to keep an eye on.

Stephen Gallacher
The dual Dubai Desert Classic champion finished last term strongly to suggest further victories were coming, but a New Year club-switch (TaylorMade to Titleist) may stall revival.

Dean Burmester
Power-packed South African finished seventh in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to secure a berth in the Qatar field. Growing in belief, but, like Fox and Bjork, making Doha debut.

Marc Warren
A final-round 76 probably knocked the stuffing out of the Scot after a bright start in Abu Dhabi. Was Qatar runner-up in 2015 and is comfortable in a breeze.

Ricardo Gonzalez
The Argentinian 47-year-old is worth a second glance at 600-1 with bet365. Played brilliantly to finish second at Q-School in November and boasts an excellent Doha record.

Staking plan
T Olesen
2.5pts each-way 30-1 BetBright, bet365, Betway
C Wood
1pt each-way 50-1 Coral
R Gouveia
1pt each-way 66-1 Coral
B Hebert
1pt each-way 80-1 Coral
R Paratore
0.5pt each-way 175-1 bet365


Qatar Masters lowdown

Course Doha Golf Club, Qatar
Prize money €2.33m (€381,458 to the winner)
Length 7,400 yards
Par 72 Field 126
Course records – 72 holes 268 Paul Lawrie (1999), Adam Scott (2008) 18 holes 61 Adam Scott (2008)
Course winners taking part Paul Lawrie (twice), Darren Fichardt, Ernie Els, Alvaro Quiros, Robert Karlsson, Thomas Bjorn, Chris Wood
When to bet By 3.35am tomorrow
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 6.30am tomorrow
Time difference Qatar is three hours ahead of the UK and Ireland
Last week – Abu Dhabi Championship 1 T Fleetwood (60-1), T2 D Johnson (6-1), P Larrazabal (125-1), T4 K Aphibarnrat (150-1), M Kaymer (30-1), B Wiesberger (28-1)

Course overview Doha GC has staged this event every year since 1998. It has been slain by powerhouses, with Adam Scott (twice), Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Alvaro Quiros, Robert Karlsson, Chris Wood, Sergio Garcia and Branden Grace all employing aggressive driving to succeed on the exposed desert layout.

The track is no pussycat, though, when a strong breeze is whipping across it, which is often the case in this part of the world, and more cautious, controlled players like Andrew Coltart, Paul Lawrie (twice), Tony Johnstone, Joakim Haeggman and Thomas Bjorn, have been victorious in this championship in testing conditions.

Three of the par-fives are lengthy (the 591-yard first, the 639-yard ninth and the 589-yard 18th) and the greenkeepers typically try to get their dancefloors firm and fast.

Story of last year Branden Grace successfully defended his title by fending off Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Thorbjorn Olesen, the South African winning by two shots

Weather forecast Hot and sunny with moderate breezes for most of the week. Winds set to peak on Friday afternoon.

Type of player suited to challenge Doha is a course which is vulnerable to big-hitters in calm conditions, but breeze checks scoring. A combination of power and accuracy is desired this year.

The late tomorrow, early Friday tee-times could be slightly favoured if the wind forecast is accurate.

Key attribute Power

This is a four-time European Tour champion who turned 27 last month and he deserves the utmost respect in an event short of star quality
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