x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Golfers up for toughest part of Desert Swing in Doha's Qatar Masters

Lee Westwood faces a challenge from seven of the world's top 20 players, but the biggest threat could be the country's desert winds.

Lee Westwood faces a challenge from seven of the world's top 20 players at the Qatar Masters, but the biggest threat could be the country's desert winds.

The world No 3 heads a top-class field in the $2.5 million (Dh9.18m) tournament - the second in the region's now established "Desert Swing" - which gets underway tomorrow.

Thomas Bjorn, the defending champion, will be aiming to become the first player to retain the Mother of Pearl trophy but, while the field includes 10 major winners and 91 European Tour winners, the unpredictable winds could prove to be the biggest obstacle over Doha Golf Club's challenging 7,414-yard course.

Sandy gusts of up to 55 kph are expected over the weekend, and will again underline the course's reputation as the most difficult on the Middle East circuit - although KJ Choi, the World No 13, appears calm before the storm.

The TPC Champion is making his first appearance in Doha, and said will use all the experience gained from playing at home in Dallas to take on the desert conditions.

"When I practise at my home course, the Woodlands in Dallas, the wind blows at 20 to 30mph, so I'm able to predict at what speed the wind is blowing just by looking at the pins and how much they stand when the wind blows," Choi said. "For me, I'm able to hit my draws and fade shots depending on how strong the wind is."

The tournament is hosting its customary pre-event Pro-Am today, and among the professionals was Hunter Mahan, the US Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup player, who is another first-timer playing in Doha. "I'm excited at the opportunity of playing in Qatar," he said.

"It's my first trip to the Middle East and I would be so excited to win the Qatar Masters - it's one of the great events in world golf.