Branden Grace aiming high in Qatar

The South African targets the top-10 on the Official World Golf Ranking

Branden Grace defends Qatar Masters
Branden Grace defends Qatar Masters
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This year’s Qatar Masters sees defending champion Branden Grace aiming high as he hopes to break into the top-10 on the Official World Golf Ranking.

Following a tied fifth place finish in Abu Dhabi, Branden Grace is up to 11th on the Official World Golf Ranking. As he heads into the second leg of the 2016 “Gulf Swing” the possibility of moving into the top-10 has 27-year-old Branden Grace aiming high. Prior to victory in this event last year, the South African was 79th on the ranking but a superb year has seen him rocket up the standings.

“It’s definitely the goal,” he said. “I’m so close and hopefully I can put in another good week and get across the line. It’s something you dream about as a young player.”

Grace will face strong opposition in Qatar as an excellent field has assembled. 2014 winner Sergio Garcia makes his first start of 2016 and he is joined on the start sheet by Louis Oosthuizen, Ernie Els, Thongchai Jaidee and Bernd Wiesberger.

Like many of the courses in this part of the world, the layout at Doha GC is a Peter Harradine design. Opened for play in 1994, water comes into play on six holes and natural outcrops of rock are also a feature.

This will be the 19th running of the Qatar Masters, first won by Andrew Coltart back in 1998. Since then the event has produced some notable champions. In 1999 Paul Lawrie was a winner here before going on to claim The Open Championship that summer at Carnoustie. He won again in 2012. Tony Johnstone secured his final European Tour victory here in 2001. Adam Scott has twice been a winner, in 2002 then again in 2008. Swedish players have also enjoyed some success at Doha – Joakim Haegmann won the event in 2004, Henrik Stenson lifted the trophy in 2006 while Robert Karlsson triumphed in 2010. Chris Wood won in 2013 and Sergio Garcia in 2014.

Last year Branden Grace of South Africa held off Scotland’s Marc Warren to win by a single shot. The turning point came at the short par-4 16th where Grace fired a superb drive into within five feet of the cup, setting up an eagle two that would prove decisive.

Branden Grace putting challenge:

Unlike most tournaments on the circuit, this event starts on a Wednesday and will end on Saturday. The weather forecast looks good – dry and not too hot. There could be some tricky gusting winds to contend with though.

Venue: Doha Golf Club, Doha, Qatar Date: Jan 27-30 Course stats: par 72, 7,400 yards Purse: $2,500,000 Defending Champion: Branden Grace (-19)

TV Coverage: Wednesday 27 – Sky Sports 4 from 6.30am Thursday 28 – Sky Sports 4 from 6.30am Friday 29 – Sky Sports 4 from 9.30am Saturday 30 – Sky Sports 4 from 8.30am

Player watch: Thomas Pieters – The young Belgian played some superb golf in Abu Dhabi last week and pushed Rickie Fowler all the way to the line. He’s a powerful hitter and that will stand him in good stead around this course. He had a couple of decent rounds in his debut last year but faded with a closing 74.

Marc Warren – The Scot was runner-up in this event last year so clearly enjoys the course. He may have missed the cut in Abu Dhabi last week but the same thing happened before his runner-up finish in Qatar last year – he’s a good outside shot.

Thomas Bjorn – He won this event in 2011 and has a couple of further top-10 finishes to his name in the tournament. He played well in Abu Dhabi and led the putting stats. He’s another one who could spring a surprise this week.

Key hole: 16th. At just 306 yards it’s eminently driveable for most players in the field. But, it’s a small and awkward target with a large rock guarding the front of the green. Expect to see some unpredictable bounces off that outcrop as players go for the carry and fall just short.

Skills required: Finishing strongly. The last three holes are: A driveable par 4, a short par 3 then a reachable par 5. The 16th generally ranks the easiest hole on the course and the 18th the second easiest.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin (also of Golf Monthly)... Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?