DOHA - The Qatar Masters begins on Wednesday with a star-studded cast that promises thrilling action but offers few clues about who will grab the Mother of Pearl trophy on Saturday at the lengthy and punishing Doha Golf Club course.
With Doha in the grip of some unusually cold and windy weather and with a slight possibility of rain during the later stages of the tournament, consistency will be the key to success on the Peter Harradine designed facility which is hosting the European Tour event for the 17th straight year since its inception in 1998.
Part of the "Desert Swing", the Qatar Masters has grown in stature over the years with some of the world's best players confirmed for this week's event - including world number three Henrik Stenson, the 11th-ranked Sergio Garcia, and multiple major winners Ernie Els and John Daly.
Also joining the fray are former world number one Luke Donald, 2013 PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner and a host of former champions, including Chris Wood who dramatically clinched the title last year with an eagle on the 18th.
It was Wood's first and so far only title since turning pro in 2008, but the six foot six Englishman left Garcia cursing his luck after the Spaniard fell short in his quest for his first title in Qatar.
Garcia, however, is always counted among the favourites in Doha where he will be making his eighth consecutive appearance.
The fact that he has some excellent early-season form under his belt - he won the Thailand Golf Championship, was runner-up at the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa and finished fourth at November's WGC-HSBC Champions in China - has added to the European Ryder Cup star's confidence.
"I've always loved competing at the Qatar Masters and I feel like I'm getting closer and closer to winning it. The tournament is a fixture at the start of the year for me and I know the course really well, so I will give it my best to win it this year," said Garcia, who has won 10 times on the European Tour .
"It's a great line-up again featuring many top players and I know the crowds in Doha always appreciate good golf. I came very close last year, but Chris was a deserving winner after his eagle on the final hole, so hopefully this will be my time. I'm in good form and always looking to win."
Garcia tied for ninth in 2011 and fifth in 2012 and the Spaniard looked like nailing it last year when he shot a closing 66 to match George Coetzee's 17-under clubhouse total of 271.
However, overnight leader Wood overtook the pair with a spectacular eagle on the 18th to secure his maiden European Tour title.
Meanwhile, Swede Stenson will be aiming to make amends in Doha after missing the cut in Abu Dhabi last week.
The 2006 champion will be making his 14th
consecutive appearance in Doha having played every year since joining The European Tour in 2001.
Stenson, who made more than 20 million dollars last season, has been a consistent performer at the Qatar Masters, winning the 2006 title as well as finishing runner-up in 2005, 2008 and 2009.
"I've been second three times and won it once. It would be nice to get my hands on that lovely trophy," he said.
The Swede took his game to a new level last season as two PGA Tour victories in September earned him the FedEx Cup, before he secured the Race to Dubai by winning The European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship in November.
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