Justin Rose of England and Ernie Els of South Africa during a press conference at Doha Golf Club on the eve of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters tournament. The $2.5m European Tour event begins today. Paul Lawrie of Scotland is aiming to complete a hat-trick in Qatar. PICTURES BY: QASSIM RAHMATULLAH
Doha: Paul Lawrie will launch his defence of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters alongside ever-popular Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Open Champion Ernie Els when the first round gets under way at Doha Golf Club here today.
Lawrie is looking to become the first player to win the title on three occasions – 14 years after first lifting the Mother of Pearl Trophy in 1999.
The Aberdonian will tee it up with Garcia at 07.35am today,– making his first start of the 2013 season.
The Spaniard retains an excellent record in the event having finished inside the top ten in four of his last five outings on the Championship Course.
The ‘Big Easy’ is looking to win a second title in Doha, where the South African won in 2005 and finished third in 2007.
The South African named compatriot Louis Oosthuizen and Garcia as his picks to lift the Mother of Pearl Trophy on Saturday.
“I think all of the guys in the field are quality players and anybody can win, but of the star players, Louis is bringing great form here. I think Louis is probably the favourite this week, and also Sergio, as the last time he played, he won in Johor,” Els said, referring to the Spaniard’s Asian Tour victory in December.
Later in the morning, world No. 4 Justin Rose and world No. 5 Louis Oosthuizen respectively tee off together at 11.55 in the $2.5m European Tour event.
Rose is motivated by being grouped with Oosthuizen – the man he recently deposed as world No. 4.
Rose, who finished second behind Rory McIlroy in last year’s Race to Dubai, leapfrogged Oosthuizen to fourth spot in the World Ranking after finishing runner-up to Jamie Donaldson in last week’s European Tour event in Abu Dhabi.
The tall Englishman, who played a pivotal role in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory last September, has cited the similarities between himself and Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open Champion who won this year’s first European Tour event in his native South Africa.
Former World Number One Martin Kaymer, a 10-time European Tour winner, completes the high-profile threeball.
“My game is in great shape and I’m hoping that this is another good week to go out and test my game against a good golf course. Myself and Louis are Number Four and Number Five in the world and no matter who wins this week, it’s going to be the guy who puts four steady, good rounds of golf together,” Rose said.
“Louis and I have essentially got the same world ranking, with a similar amount of points. I also feel we have similar games. We drive the ball well, are good iron players and hit the ball the same distance. I feel very comfortable working off his game out on the golf course, so for me it’s a good draw. “It’s the same with Martin, who’s a good friend of mine and we definitely got closer at the Ryder Cup. It’ll be a good group.”
Rose believes American star Jason Dufner, a two-time winner on last year’s PGA Tour, could also be a top contender as the World Number 11 makes his tournament debut in Doha following his breakthrough season.
“I see ‘Duf’ around a lot. He’s a quiet lad and he works hard at his game. I admire him a lot and love the way he goes about his business. He’s so understated, but he’s got a lot of game and doesn’t shout about it,” said Rose, who spends much of the year in the US.
“I think this is the kind of course that will suit him. He’s got a good, solid, low ball flight, so if it gets windy, he’ll be a tough guy to beat. There’s also Ernie Els, who always bring star power to a field. He’s been doing this for a long time and has a big fan base around the world.”
Last week, Rose led for the first three rounds in Abu Dhabi and he lipped out with a birdie putt on 18 on Sunday as he tried to force a playoff with Jamie Donaldson.
The 32-year-old is viewing the result in a positive light as he consolidates his reputation as one of the game’s leading players.
“I think I gained something last week, I certainly didn’t lose anything,” Rose said.
There is also a mouth-watering group directly before the defending champion’s marquee offering, as Sweden’s Peter Hanson – tied second last year as Lawrie romped to victory – plays alongside one of last week’s runners-up in Abu Dhabi, Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen and 2011 Qatar Masters champion Thomas Björn.