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Scots lead challenge in Qatar

Bearing in mind that two Scots have triumphed in Doha - Andrew Coltart took the title in 1998 and former Open champion Paul Lawrie followed him a year later - there’s something about the Qatar Masters that brings out the best in players who excel in breezy conditions.

As many Scots are introduced to the game on a seaside links and learn how to keep the ball low in the wind, it’s no great surprise that a succession of professionals from the home of golf have felt at ease on the blustery oasis in the desert.

Last year, Paisley’s Dean Robertson finished fourth behind Tony Johnstone and in 2000 Holland’s Rolf Muntz, who won the Amateur title at Muirfield, demonstrated how the kind of skills needed to succeed in East Lothian could also be useful assets in the Gulf.

The bookmakers installed Darren Clarke as 7-1 favourite yesterday to lift the title on Sunday. The Ulsterman is one of the most astute wind players in the world - he was third behind David Duval in the Open at Lytham last year and runner-up to Justin Leonard at Troon in 1997 - and can make an impact on an event where he took ninth place when Coltart won. Clarke finished in Dubai with a 68 and 69 and believes he’ll recapture his best form once the putts start to drop.

With prize money doubling since last season - the winner will collect £175,722 - the field is stronger than in previous years. Colin Montgomerie has joined fellow Scots Lawrie, Coltart and Andrew Oldcorn in search of a boost before he heads across the Atlantic to Florida next week for the Players Championship at Sawgrass.

Although the Troon man jetted out to Australia, California and the Middle East, Monty has yet to complete a 72-hole stroke-play event this season. He’s more determined than ever after suffering the indignity of missing the cut in Dubai.

With unexpected time on his hands, the Scot put in a lot of time practising pitching and putting after running up a 79, which he blamed on a chronic failure to get up and down. "You were going to miss greens because it was firm [in Dubai]," he recalled.

"I left myself seven opportunities to get up and down and missed them all. The I turned on my TV and watched Joey Sindelar miss 18 greens in America and he didn’t drop a shot. There’s a big difference there."

Apart from refining his short game, Monty has a point to prove to himself this week as much as anyone. "Your pride hurts, very much so, especially when you haven’t missed a cut [in Dubai] since 1990," he said.

Plagued by back trouble in Perth and harangued by spectators at the World Match Play in Carlsbad, Montgomerie would prefer to make headlines for his golf in Qatar.

After a long absence from competitive golf, Oldcorn caught the eye with his seventh place in Dubai while Sam Torrance could have finished higher than 12th if he hadn’t thrown in a third-round 75.

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