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World No. 2 Sergio Garcia leads an array of stars at the Qatar Masters beginning on Thursday but the focus will be on Australian Adam Scott who is hoping to win the title for the third time in as many appearances.

Former champions Ernie Els, Henrik Stenson and Retief Goosen have also joined the 120-man line-up, one of the best assembled for the Doha leg of the “Gulf Swing” which includes tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Garcia, who is hoping to become the World No. 1 before the injured Tiger Woods makes his comeback sometime this year, will be making his third consecutive appearance in Qatar at the 7,374-yard Doha Golf Club course.

The Spaniard has made huge strides over 2008 with victories in Europe as well as the United States, said Qatar Golf Association president Hassan al-Nuami.

“As a result of his phenomenally successful year, he has become the World No. 2 and a win here in Doha will get him even closer to top spot. We are delighted he has chosen to return to Qatar,” he added.

Garcia had an impressive 2008 that saw him win his seventh US PGA Tour title at the prestigious Players Championship at Sawgrass often dubbed the fifth Major.

He also finished runner-up at The European Open, The PGA Championship and The Tour Championship.

“There are always a couple of things that you can improve on,” Garcia said.

“I’ve been improving on my short game quite a lot this year and that is probably what is going to give you the extra edge.

“I’ve got to keep working hard on every single part and on my mental game and see if we can keep moving and taking the right steps towards what we want to achieve.”

The cold and windy weather apart, Garcia will face the challenge of Scott, Els, Stenson and Goosen who have been excellent performers in Doha over the years.

“I’ve been a professional golfer for twenty years now and for me the buzz of a new season never wears off,” Els said.

“I’m coming off the back of a season where my golf was a little mixed and where I made quite a few significant changes both on and off the golf course.

“I feel confident, but at the same time I have the mindset where I simply want to enjoy it all, play a lot of golf, do a lot of practicing and really stay dedicated. That’s the approach.”

Last year Scott romped to a three-shot win over Stenson, shooting a course record 61 on the final day after being three shots off the pace at the end of the third round.

A five-in-a-row birdie blitz was followed by one more on the front nine, while five more on the run home took the 27 year-old to twenty under par, bettering the previous course record of 63 by two shots.

Scott, who finished tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii last week, is nursing an injured knee although he has no complaints with the form he is in.

“All-in-all, I’m pretty happy with how my game is shaping up. It was a good week, a solid week for me,” Scott said.

The Australian will take a month-long break after the Qatar Masters to rehabilitate his right knee which he had twisted at the end of 2008 while coming out of the ocean after body surfing.

AFP


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