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Wang's back to defend Qatar title


Rising star Wang Jeung-hun will be seeking to become only the second back-to-back winner after South Africa's Branden Grace when he tees off in defence of his Commercial Bank Qatar Masters title at the Doha Golf Club on Thursday.

And, yes, he'll be doing it with a plenty of positivity. “It feels really good to be going back to the Qatar Masters as the defending champion," The 22-year-old South Korean told European this week.

"Oman (where he had just played) is close by in the same region and I like being here. There’s always fair weather, nice courses and nice views. I’m very excited to be back."

He added: “I’m hitting the ball really well right now, I’m driving well, my irons are good, but my putting has not been great in the last couple of weeks. If I putt well, maybe I can give myself a chance to win again.”

Last year's triumph in the Qatar Masters which also made the 21-year-old its youngest winner ever, was his third on the European Tour following his victories at the Trophée Hassan II and the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open in 2016. It was also the first by a first-time starter since Ernie Els did the trick in 2005.

Impressive yes, but another rising young star in the field, Shubhankar Sharma, can boast an even better record in the most recent past, the 21-year-old Indian prospect having won the Joburg Open in December and the Maybank Championship earlier this month.

The stunning 62 he shot in the final round at the Maybank singled him out as an especially exciting prospect who will be coming to Qatar chockful of confidence and positive anticipation.

“I watched Jeunghun Wang winning last year on the television and it was really nice to see,” Sharma said in a pre-tournament interview this week. “I know it’s often very windy and the course looks challenging, but I think I will really enjoy it here," he added.

Ironically, neither Wang, the defending champion, nor Sharma, the European Tour's only multiple winner so far this season, are top of the British Bookmakers list of favourites.

And this in a not especially strong field missing the likes of two-time winner Grace, Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, Spain's reigning Masters champion Sergio Gracia and England's 2017 Race To Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood who are all playing in the US this week.

The bookies have preferred Denmark's Thorbjorn Olesen at 14/1 and Englishmen Andy Sullivan at 18/1 to Wang who is listed at 20/1 and Sharma who is only 5th on their list with odds of 28/1.

The 7,348-yard, par-72 Doha Golf Club was built on a 150-hectare site that includes eight artificial lakes doubling both as hazards and as attractive water features. Without a doubt, the course’s greatest defender, however, is the wind which, more often than not, has played a major role in determining who wins and who doesn't.

But not so much this time. If our forecasters have got their sums right the first two rounds and the last will be played in light breezes with occasional spikes that should not exceed 18km/h, but stronger winds gusting up to 27 km/h could prove problematic for some of the less-accomplished wind players on moving Saturday.

A word from Scotland's Paul Lawrie (along with Grace, he is Qatar's only other two-time winner) might be useful to a first-time starter like Sharma.

Lawrie has said: “You have to control your ball flight around here. If you're not in control, then you’re in trouble because of the wind. You have to ride the wind. You can’t fight it because it’s just too strong. I think that’s a big part of what this place is all about.

“It’s always bouncy and quite difficult to keep the ball pin high, so you have to hole out very well from five and six feet all the time because it’s hard to get the ball dead when you’re putting from long distances. To win around here, you’ve got to be deadly from five to six feet.”

Wang's putter worked well for him last year. In view of his current difficulties, however, can he come right again this time or will Sharma, Oleson, Sullivan or Woods be the men to beat?

And then, if they are beaten, will it be a seasoned member of the European Tour like big-hitting Belgium, Nicolas Colsaerts or a waiting-in-the-wings young-gun like Jordan Smith, last year's Challenge Tour champion, or the lanky Belgium Thomas Detry who pulls it off.

(Tuesday a.m Feb 20, 2017)

Thorbjorn Olesen 14/1
Andy Sullivan 18/1
Chris Wood 22/1
Wang Jeung-hun 20/1
George Coetzee 22/1
Julian Suri 25/1
Shubhankar Sharma 28/
Alexander Bjork 40/1
Thomas Detry 28/1
Fabrizio Zanotti/1
Han Seung-Su 33/1
Jordan Smith 45/1
Benjamin Hebert 45/1
Pablo Larrazabal 50/1
Nicolas Colsaerts 45/1
Richie Ramsay 60/1
Erik Van Rooyen 40/1
Haydn Porteous 55/1
Marcus Kinhult 45/1
Matthieu Pavon 50/1.

For betting options, visit BetWay

Neville Leck

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