Alan Ewens caught up with defending champion Álvaro Quirós, before the big- hitting Spaniard enjoyed a well-earned winter break, to find out what makes the event so special…
When self-confessed James Bond fan Álvaro Quirós wrapped up the third European Tour victory of his career in Doha last year, the world’s golfing media had a headline field day.
Of course, there was ‘Licence to Thrill’. Some opted for ‘Shaken But Not Stirred’, while the champion’s final hole celebrations in the lake warranted the quickly forgotten ‘James Pond’.
This month, the towering Spaniard returns to Doha Golf Club determined to defend his title in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, presented by Dolphin Energy, and rewrite headlines along the way.
“I think everyone knows about my love of the James Bond films,” smiles Quirós at the end of a gruelling season that saw him compete in 26 European Tour events and finish 20th in the rankings.
“That was a very special week for me in Doha. It was without doubt the biggest win of my career and opened doors for me – it took me to 24th in the world and thanks to Qatar I was able to play my first full year of Majors. “Without the other wins I wouldn’t have been in that position, but it’s fair to say Qatar was the last tier, the last push to get to the top level in the world.”
To be staged at Doha Golf Club for the 13th time from January 28-31 – with Qatar Airways as the official airline – the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, presented by Dolphin Energy, is now firmly established as one of the key overseas tournaments on the European Tour.
Such is its standing, last year’s event rating, based on the Official World Golf Ranking of the entire field, was the highest of any regular Tour event excluding the Majors, World Golf Championship events and the flagship BMW PGA Championship since records began.
“To be honest, I didn’t know about that until about the third or fourth round so I was amazed when I heard it for the first time,” says the champion. “Normally, every week is very competitive, but that week there were so many good players.”
As it turned out, even the world’s best could not halt the charge of the swashbuckling Quirós. With an average drive distance of 314.47 yards, he is officially the biggest hitter on the Tour. So is that the key to winning over the 7,388-yard course?
“I think it is a tournament that suits big hitters – Adam Scott has won twice, Henrik Stenson and myself have won recently, and we have the advantage on the par 5s, which is important as they aren’t easy. “But having said that, some of the holes need good short irons – wedge and putts – to get par, so being in control of your short game is also important.”
So how does the champion tackle such a course?
“One of the best is the 470-yard par four fifteenth. Played against the wind, it is easily one of the toughest holes out there. I made a dream putt on the fifteenth green in the final round. It was the key to the tournament for me, no doubt about it – and it was for a bogey!
“I’d play my strongest three wood or punch a drive just to put the ball on the fairway, but at the same time you require distance as a short drive will leave you with a long way to go – it is a key second shot hole. The next aim is to pitch to the middle of the green. The flag position will determine whether I release the ball or try to stop it in the middle of the green, but at this point I’m not thinking of anything else when I play that second shot. It’s always tricky so par is a good score.”
With rounds in 2009 of 69, 67, 64, and 69, there are few better to guide would-be professionals around one of the toughest courses in the Middle East than Álvaro Quirós. With a biting desert wind coming into play, Doha Golf Club is unlike any other test in the region.
“The 224-yard third is a difficult par three”, adds Quirós. “The left to right cross wind makes it uncomfortable – it all depends on your level, but for me I remember hitting five and six irons to that hole.”
For those of us who find 314 yards difficult to walk, never mind drive a golf ball, it’s clear that club choice definitely falls into a ‘them and us’ category. Clearly in his stride, Quirós chooses his favourite holes as easily as he picks his targets.
“The par five ninth is a good par five where par is a normal score – this is a hole as good as any par five on the Tour. You have to find the fairway off the tee and then get a good lay up shot to attack the green if you feel confident.
“As a closing hole, the eighteenth is a very, very nice par five to finish. First up is a very difficult tee shot followed by a lay-up which is also not easy either as the rough is quite heavy. If you want to reach it in two, you need to make an excellent shot just to get there, like Retief Goosen did when he won a few years ago.
“I didn’t even try that on my last hole last year as I knew I just needed a par five to win, so it would have been a stupid thing to take the risk. I also remember my ball was a little bit downhill around the rough, and it was plugged, so a lay up was the shot to play but down the right side.” With a par five safely on the card on the last hole, Quirós – complete with trademark straw hat – was a popular winner. Unfortunately for him, it also meant an appointment with the lake fringing the ninth and eighteenth greens. “It’s a funny tradition we have among the Spanish players. If there is a lake available, then the winning player has to go in it. I had no complaints and as there were five Spanish players waiting for me it would have been stupid to resist.”
What are the chances of a swim in 2010?
“It’s always tough to win anything twice – so many people on the Tour don’t even win once. Adam Scott is the only one to win twice in Qatar and he has been at the top of the world game for a long time so you’re talking about a high class player. But if I win, the Spanish guys will make sure I get wet again and I won’t be complaining…”