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On the Road with Ernie: Qatar Masters Preview

As Ernie prepares to defend his title at this week's Commercialbank Qatar Masters he offers some great insight into what he's been working on at the practice range to ensure he's in contention on Sunday.

I arrived in Qatar from England on Saturday, a pretty quick journey actually, although from the difference in the weather you'd think we'd travelled to another planet! It's going to be nice to have the sun on my back, after the cold snap back home in Wentworth. In fact, it's good to be back here in the Middle East for lots of reasons. This was the scene of a great couple of weeks' golf for me in 2005. The tournaments were the other way round last year. I won in Dubai in the first week of March, and then in Doha a week later, which started my season on a really positive note. This year I start here in Doha and then move to Dubai next week. Maybe being in the Middle East will be good for me again. I always enjoy my time here and, hopefully, I can repeat what I achieved last season.

On the Range

As I was saying in last week's website report, I worked hard on my golf game in the five or six days leading up to making the journey out here. I've been practising the same things I was telling you about in the build-up to the three events I played in South Africa in the back-end of 2005, paying a lot of attention to the fundamentals, especially my posture and my alignment. That's something I'm always watching out for. When you're tall it's easy for your shoulder alignment to get a little bit 'out of whack'. I've been trying to make sure my lines are good and also making sure my back is more upright, the spine angle quite erect, so I feel 'tall' over the ball.

Getting the set-up sorted is often more than half the battle for me; my golf swing kind of slots into the right shape and plane when I do that. The only other thing I've been trying to do is feel like the arms stay more connected to my body on the way back, so it's more of a one-piece takeaway, and that my trunk basically controls the swing. That helps me turn my shoulders and not tilt them too much. Technically, I have to say my swing feels like it's in good shape.

All I'm lacking is what you might call 'match practice'. I was really starting to get back into the swing of tournament golf with those three events in December, especially at the dunhill and the SA Open, but obviously that was five weeks ago, so I need to shake-off a bit of winter rust between now and Thursday and be sharp when the gun goes.

That's mainly why I chose to fly out on Saturday, so I could get here early and buy myself a couple of extra days' preparation time than I would have normally. It will also help me get into the right frame of mind.

Health Update

I'm definitely feeling positive about my health right now. My knee does flare up every now and then, but as I think I've said before, my medical team tell me this is okay. In fact, it's perfectly normal after an ACL reconstruction. They say as long as I don't exert too much pressure on it, there's no problem. Obviously if it gets bad, I'll stop playing, but hopefully that's not going to happen and my knee will hold up, like it has done for the past month or so. I'm getting there, that's the important thing.

Just as well I'm a professional golfer, eh? If I was a footballer and I'd had this kind of knee injury, I'd have been out for a year. Luckily for me, I can carry on playing without exerting too much pressure. If that wasn't the case, trust me I would not have started playing so soon. It's not like I'm taking any risks by being here.

Coming up this week...

We're at the Doha Golf Club for this week's Commercialbank Qatar Masters, where I'll be defending the title I won last year. Obviously, I remember that week very well. As I said in the introduction to this story, I'd just come off the back of a win in Dubai so I was high on confidence. Although I started slowly with a 73, things got better as the week progressed. I shot a pair of steady 69s on Friday and Saturday, and then set myself a target of 65 on Sunday to get to 12-under par, a score which I figured might be good enough. It was; I shot 65 to win by one shot. Having been five shots behind at the start of the day, it was the best comeback of my career.

This is the ninth playing of this event - last year was my debut here - and the field is boosted by the fact that some of the guys have made the trip from last week's Abu Dhabi Championship, including Vijay. It's his first time here, although as I proved last year that's not necessarily a handicap. Playing against Vijay anywhere in the world is always a great challenge. It makes this year's Qatar Masters all the more difficult to win - but there's extra satisfaction if you do, obviously.

If it gets blustery, like it did last year on the final day, this is a really good test of golf. It measures 7,373 yards, par 72, and the front nine alone must be one of the longest we play all year, 3,801 yards, including a 639-yard monster just before you turn for home.

There are birdies to be had here, though, partly because the greens are a joy to putt on. The putting surfaces are smooth and true.

And my putting feels good since I switched to a slightly longer shaft (36 inches) in my putter. That's helped me stand a bit taller and it feels a lot better. The main thing I'm trying to do in my stroke is release the putter through the ball and hit my putts with some authority. That's when I hole the most putts; when I'm positive.

Anyway, that's it for this week's report. I'll write again early next week, to fill you in on this week's tournament and also my preparations for the Dubai Desert Classic.

Bye for now.

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