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Opportunities abound at Qatar Masters

One hundred and fifty players tee off at the Qatar Masters this week believing that after what happened in Dubai on Sunday, anything is possible.

Robert-Jan Derksen beating Ernie Els - world number 593 against world number two, last man in against the defending Desert Classic champion - was such an upset that hope springs eternal more than ever on the European Tour.

The favourites in Doha include Ryder Cup trio Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Phillip Price, plus Belfry vice-captain Ian Woosnam, who seven days after his 45th birthday finished joint third last weekend.

But if ever an event should be considered wide open, this is it in light of the performance of Derksen, who had never previously had a top-10 finish.

The 29-year-old Dutchman is not playing, choosing instead to celebrate his £200,000 bonanza at home, and the threat of war against Iraq has contributed to some 50 players pulling out of the tournament.

That, however, has brought in some golfers whose chances to play the circuit are few and far between - and they will be giving their all to make the most of it with a first prize of £156,000 on offer.

England's John Bickerton has been trying since 1993 to taste victory, finishing second no fewer than five times, and takes real heart from Derksen's achievement.

"It opens your eyes and shows what can be done," said the 33-year-old from Bromsgrove. "If it's your time it's your time and it proves a point.

"But it does not surprise me any more. Guys would not be here unless they really knew how to play - you simply would not last long because the standard is so good now."

Sheffield's Malcolm Mackenzie finally won on tour at the 509th attempt in last season's French Open and during his long wait he saw things that kept him believing he would crack it eventually.

"You've just got to keep battling and be patient," commented the Sheffield 41-year-old.

"Carl Mason was 40 when he won and then came Roger Chapman's win three years ago." Chapman won in Brazil in his 472nd tour start.

"Roger and I used to have banter about who was going to win first. It's hard when you know you're the player who's waited the longest, but I studied Ben Hogan a lot and he had his best year when he was 41."

Devon's Stuart Little lost his tour card by less than £800 last year, but because of the scratchings plays this week and has had his confidence boosted by Derksen.

"Everybody who plays on tour is capable of winning. I think everybody now knows that," stated the left-hander.

"That's why I don't like it when commentators talk about the 'lesser players'. I think they could find better terminology.

"It's just a confidence thing, getting the recipe in place and then pulling it off. Trevor Immelman is an example - we all knew what a good player he is and it came as no surprise to me that when he won at the start of this year he was back in contention straightaway.

"Last year we had Miles Tunnicliff and Adam Mednick winning tour titles when they were down the rankings and you draw on that when you play. You hope it can be you."


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