Golf: A whole new Gulf game to Woosie

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The Independent Online
Andy Farrell reports from Doha

LONG gone are the days when Ian Woosnam, a few friends and many cans of baked beans, used to travel round the European Tour in a caravan. "It would need wings these days," Woosnam said.

Woosie can never have imagined celebrating his 40th birthday in Doha as he did on Monday. Whatever form the celebrations took, they would have been discreet; Qatar is a more strictly Islamic state when it comes to things like alcohol than Dubai. The Welshman woke up the following morning with a headache and a walking stick, a present from his caddie, Phil "Wobbly" Morbey.

Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal, whose own celebration on Monday of his Dubai Classic victory included eating his first full meal for five days as his throat infection eased, head the field for the inaugural Qatar Masters. With a prize fund of pounds 600,000, six other Ryder Cup players and the captain, Seve Ballesteros, have also made the short journey up the Gulf.

They have found another course in superb condition, thanks to the huge quantities of water it guzzles each day. Set among limestone rocks, the two dominant features of the lay-out are length, it measures 7,273 yards, and the constant wind.

"I find this course very tricky," Woosnam said. "I will have to drive better than in Dubai last week and the greens are firm with lots of grain. Then there is this strong wind blowing all the time."

These, however, were his personal concerns about not yet having found a "feel for this course". Woosnam is fully appreciative that he is getting to play at all. "The facility and the set-up here is great," he added.

Next year a third Gulf venue may be added at Abu Dhabi, which is in the good news, bad news category for Woosnam. "I don't really enjoy travelling too much any more, but if we can't get good sponsors and good tournaments in Europe, then we have to come to places like Qatar and Dubai.

"I think I have five good years left at the top level," he added. "But if I feel I cannot play up to my full potential I shall consider not playing any more. I don't have the power that I used to have. I have lost my nerve a bit, I lay up instead of going for the big carry, but I probably get more birdies that way. That's where experience is an advantage."