'Cold' comfort for Lowry
BRASS monkeys aren't indigenous to the Arabian desert, but they wouldn't have felt out of place at yesterday's first round of the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
A chill wind gusting to 25 mph made Doha Golf Club feel like Rosses Point on a blustery spring day, but there was little chance of the Irish or anyone else feeling entirely comfortable on a course which played as tough in these conditions as any Major venue.
Unless, that is, their name was Oliver Wilson or Bradley Dredge.
Wilson (29), from Nottingham, is so euphoric at finding new balance in his swing, he'd be able to stand up and strike his ball nicely in a wind tunnel. "It felt quite easy," he enthused after shooting 67.
Dredge, meanwhile, was lucky to still be on the golf course when the wind died in late afternoon, which explained to a large degree why he birdied five of his last seven holes to match Wilson's effort.
For the vast majority, however, this day had been the most demanding ever in Doha, with Qatar Masters debutant Shane Lowry insisting: "It was one of the toughest day's golf I've had in a long time.
"It was the sort of day you'd be used to as an amateur, when you were just trying to make pars, though the course here is much tougher," said Clara's Irish Open champion, proud of his one-under 71.
"To be able to go out there and shoot under par is an achievement," added Lowry, one of just 24 who managed that feat yesterday.
Lowry's round came to a spectacular climax when he ripped a 270-yard 3-wood into the last, going within millimetres of an eagle with a deft chip from the greenside rough.
Gareth Maybin (29) is tied 15th with Lowry. "I quite enjoyed it out there," said the Ballyclare man -- clearly they breed 'em tough in the up north.
"I was plodding along, as I do, trying to pick up the odd birdie here and there and not drop too many shots," added Maybin.
He landed a superlative birdie out of the rough at six, his 15th, hitting a rescue club 180 yards to the front edge of the green, which rolled to six feet.
After his level-par round of 72, Peter Lawrie summed up his day's work by saying: "A lot of mental power was used up. You had to concentrate hard all the way round. Any lapse and it was bogey. All the tee shots were across the breeze; all the iron shots too, while many putts were across the breeze and the grain as well."
Graeme McDowell tried manfully to be upbeat about his 73, but the words "rusty" and "scrappy" figured in his conversation. The Portrush man enjoyed the support of Wilson, no less, with a complaint that "really soft" fairways and green surrounds were out of synch with hard, fast greens.
"I love hard greens and have no complaints at all about the rough," he explained. "I think they nearly got the set-up perfect."
Tournament director David Probyn was puzzled, insisting the course had not been watered since Monday or Tuesday -- "except for hand-watering of specific dry spots on the greens".
Michael Hoey signed for a 74, but insisted: "I felt I played really well."
Yet Damien McGrane, who missed the cut at Abu Dhabi last week (like Maybin, Hoey and McDowell), conceded after his 75: "I'm suffering from a barrage of new things this year. I've new irons, this new groove obviously, and a new ball, so I really have a lot on my plate.
"I'm always reluctant to change, but the equipment has moved on and with the new grooves and everything, I decided to change the lot in one go.
"With our Irish winter, I never got any chance to work over Christmas, so I basically came over here with a new set of clubs and hoped for the best. It's a bit of a funny way of doing it but if you live in Ireland, that's the way it goes."
Ironically, Wilson, a perennial runner-up as he awaits his first Tour victory, also missed the cut last week, as did Lee Westwood and Marcel Siem, who were tied on four-under with Sweden's Alex Noren and Robert Karlsson.
Westwood called for Formula 1-style scrutiny of the top-three finishers at each tournament to check if their equipment conforms with regulations, especially the new v-grooves, saying: "If you're not going to test clubs after play, what's the point in having the rule anyway?"
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