Quiros stakes his claim

When Dave McNeilly, the experienced caddie who used to carry for Padraig Harrington and Retief Goosen, was walking past Jean Van de Velde at last week's Abu Dhabi Championship, the Frenchman stopped him to ask for whom he was now working. "Alvaro Quiros," replied McNeilly. "Ah," said Van de Velde, rubbing his thumb against finger. "Money. Lots and lots of lovely money." That was probably exactly what McNeilly was thinking; indeed what all of the envious bagmen were thinking as they eyed up the shrewd Ulsterman's latest capture.

Ever since he won his first event on the European Tour as a fully fledged member – the Alfred Dunhill Championship in 2007 – the word has been that Quiros is the next big thing. And the emphasis is very much on "big". Certainly his 64 yesterday, that took him to the head of the Qatar Masters here, would have surprised nobody in the know, and nor would the display of titanium thuggery that helped take him there.

The 26-year-old has topped the long-driving charts on both of his seasons on tour so far. In 2008, Quiros averaged nearly 310 yards, which was a staggering seven yards further than his nearest rival. In a profession where admiration usually stops and starts with that technique in the mirror, Quiros is one of the few players who his peers unashamedly go and watch on the range.

He may be 6ft 3in but the physique is more scrawn than brawn, and the club speed he generates is as mes-meric as it is seismic. The ball does not always go straight but, strewth, does it still go, and thereafter the boy from Cadiz is blessed with a touch of the Seves as he scrambles from the far-flung corners that very few have ever had the length or the temerity to visit. Little wonder he is already a favourite of the galleries. Quiros is recognisable for two things he wears – a straw hat and an even wider smile.

Yesterday the recovery powers and the huge grin were in joyous evidence on the par-five ninth after his wildly pulled drive ended halfway up a tree on the edge of the desert. He called the referee for a ruling and was stunned when Andy McFee told him that as the eight-foot tree was staked, he was entitled to a free drop. From there he found a cart path, had another free drop and two shots later came withinan inch of making a birdie.

As he walked off the green, Quiros laughed with McNeilly about the madness of it all – the previous day his second shot to the 18th had bounced off a rock and back on to the fairway as water beckoned – and he proceeded to mock the layout further.

Eight birdies, no bogeys, a few 20-footers and a total of 16 under had hauled him above the halfway leader, Louis Oosthuizen. Quiros is but 18 holes away from a third Tour title and a success that would earn him a berth at next month's Accenture World Match Play in Arizona and take him a long way to securing a place at the Masters in April. With 17 of the world's top 50 in attendance this tournament offers many ranking points, far more precious to the pros than the £296,000 first prize on offer.

"I'm very happy," said Quiros. "I worked hard last week and it looks like the scores are starting to come."

It is difficult to see the winner coming from anywhere else but the first two, although Henrik Stenson four strokes back in third may have something to say about that. As might Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, three shots further away on nine under.

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