World number three Lee Westwood has recovered from the shoulder problem that troubled him at the Abu Dhabi Championship and is ready to challenge for the first prize of 316,020 euros ($413,700) at this week’s Qatar Masters.
“I had a few issues to negotiate last week,” said the 38-year-old Briton on the eve of his second tournament appearance of the season.
“We’ve been working a lot on my fitness recently and I hadn’t played a lot going into Abu Dhabi."
“I had a bit of a shoulder injury the first couple of days there which is now gone. It just needed to loosen up a little bit.”
The Qatar Masters is the second event on the tour’s so-called Desert Swing, sandwiched between Abu Dhabi and next week’s Dubai Desert Classic.
Westwood, who finished tied 17th last Sunday, said the Doha Golf Club was the most difficult of the three courses being used in the Middle East.
“Apparently the rough is not as long as it was last year but the weather man says it’s going to be fairly windy,” the Englishman added.
“When it’s like that around here it is a really tough test. If the wind really pumps this week it could quite easily be an eight or nine-under-par winning score.”
Westwood partners defending champion Thomas Bjorn and world number 10 Jason Day of Australia in the first two rounds.
“I was asked at the end of last week who will have a big year and the only one I picked out was Jason Day,” said the world number three.
“I think he’s a talented player. He gets overlooked quite a bit and obviously by saying that I put the curse on him and he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi,” joked Westwood.
Bjorn’s victory in Qatar last year spurred him on to achieve two more wins at the Johnnie Walker Championship in Scotland and the European Masters in Switzerland.
“I made a decision two years ago,” said the 40-year-old Dane. “I went through a spell of not finding golf all that much fun and I maybe fell out of love with the game and the travelling.
“I made a decision that if I was going to play this game I wanted to be able to be competitive and play with the best players in the world and to do that I had to totally refocus on golf.
“Where a lot of people see the results last year as a return to form, it was probably something that started quite a bit sooner than that for me, total recommitment to the game,” added Bjorn.
“I am now comfortable on the golf course, I enjoy my travels, I enjoy being out there and I have promised myself I am going to have a good finish to my career.”
This year's Qatar Masters boasts seven of the world's top 20 players, including Major winners John Daly, Paul Lawrie and Graeme McDowell, South Korea's K.J. Choi and U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup star Hunter Mahan, who has sandwiched in a trip to the Middle East between PGA events at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach.
“This is what golf is at the moment - worldwide," said Mahan, who arrived in Doha after finishing joint sixth at the Farmers Insurance Open in California on Sunday.
“It’s difficult for me to be a global player as my roots are in the U.S. and it’s not like I am going to join the European Tour any time soon but in saying that I do feel as though I am becoming a better player playing a little more around the world.
“It’s good to learn to play off different grasses, compete on different golf courses, experience windy conditions, and it helps to keep your mind sharp,” said the world number 19.
“In the U.S. we play too much on the same golf courses every year so to play a new golf course like this one in Doha, my mind is going to have to be sharp. You have to think more and be more a complete golfer.”
Mahan has been paired with McDowell for the opening two rounds in a reprise of their thrilling 2010 Ryder Cup singles encounter. McDowell secured a 3 & 1 win for the European team with a conceded par while Mahan was in tears after succumbing to nerves and fluffing his chip at the 17th.
“Graeme and I get on very well so I’m sure we’ll have a good couple of days,” Mahan said.
“The Ryder Cup was a good time ago and I am now focused more on making this year’s team. It was disappointing to be on that losing side so I really want to get myself on (captain) Davis Love’s team to be on a winning team.”