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Nick Dougherty keeps focus on Europe

Britain's Nick Dougherty hopes to close the gap on compatriots and young rivals Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell with victory at this week's Estoril Portuguese Open.

Dougherty began his professional career bracketed alongside 2001 Walker Cup team mates Donald and McDowell but, while they won early on in their careers, he struggled.

However, a breakthrough victory at the European Tour's Singapore Masters in January brought the 22-year-old Englishman back into the picture and he has set his sights on a second triumph this week.

"I don't feel it's a race, but I firmly believe I can achieve as much, if not more, than Luke and Graeme," Dougherty told reporters on Wednesday at this week's new European Tour venue, the Oitavos course at Quinta da Marinha.

"But I'm doing it my way.

"I might be driven by the achievements of Luke and Graeme but they are of no concern to me until I'm playing against them."

Donald, who won his first PGA Tour title in 2002, and McDowell, whose debut European Tour victory at the 2002 Scandinavian Masters came on his fourth start, have thrived in the U.S. this season.

The pair have broken into the world's top 50 and are playing in next week's U.S. Masters at Augusta.

While Dougherty would love to be there with them, and excelling on the U.S. Tour, he is determined to focus on the European Tour in the future.

"I will never play exclusively in America," he said. "I feel a loyalty here (to the European Tour). Ernie Els is a great example, he's won all over the world.

"Another thing about Ernie is that he sticks to his own thing. He's got a concentration bubble around him, and that's how I want to be."

Dougherty's mentor is six-times major winner Nick Faldo, under whose European captaincy he hopes to be playing at the 2008 Ryder Cup in the U.S.

Before then, though, he is targeting a place in Europe's 2006 team at the K Club in County Kildare, Ireland.

"He'll be a fantastic captain," Dougherty said of Faldo. "He's got qualities people don't appreciate.

"His generation might think he is too distant from them but my generation adore him."

If Dougherty is to clinch his second European Tour title in six starts this week, he will have to hold off the challenge of several recent tour winners and the highest world-ranked player in the field, New Zealand Open champion Niclas Fasth of Sweden.

Fasth has been working on speeding up the pace of his play this year and it seems to have helped, with the Swede climbing to 96th in the world rankings.

Frenchman Jean Van de Velde is making his fourth comeback attempt on the European Tour following knee surgery in 2002.


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