By Kent Gray
Jeunghun Wang, believe it or not, doesn’t “remember much” about his historic Commercial Bank Qatar Masters victory last year. Perhaps even more surprising is that the South Korea’s legendary short game isn’t co-operating fully.
The 22-year-old intends addressing his putting problems this week and will likely feel the positive vibes from last year at Doha Golf Club flood back if he does.
Wang took a three-stroke advantage into the final round last year and ironically watched a lengthy birdie putt that would have claimed the Mother of Pearl Trophy on the 72nd hole brake agonisingly shot, and right in the jaws, of the cup.
But when Jaco Van Zyl three putted the par-5 18th at the first time of asking in sudden death (for a fifth European Tour bridesmaid finish), and Swede Joakim Lagergren left himself too much to do from a greenside trap, Wang didn’t need a second invitation and coolly cupped a shorter birdie attempt.
At 21 years and 144 days old, he became the third youngest player in European Tour history to win three events. The two gentlemen above him on the list? Italian whiz kid Matteo Manassero and a bloke so legendary he needed only one name, Seve.
But Wang was so in the zone it almost, well sort of, passed him by even if he now concedes “it was a really good experience for me, an unforgettable one.”
“It feels really good to be going back as the defending champion but I don’t remember a lot from last year because all I was thinking about was winning,” said Wang who warmed up for his title defence with a T-26 finish at last week’s NBO Oman Open.
Indeed, Wang’s form has been encouraging in 2018: he was T-15 in Abu Dhabi, T-6 in Dubai and T-62 in Kuala Lumpur. His world ranking, which soared to 39 after the Qatar triumph, has slipped to No.123 after he finished 48th in last season’s Race to Dubai standings, a year after a career high 16th finish when he won the Trophée Hassan II – also after a play-off – and the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.
But Wang is a genuine wizard with a wedge around the greens (Golf Digest has seen it first hand after partnering Wang in the 2016 Abu Dhabi pro-am), touch that could equally take some of the heat off that recently and relatively cold putter.
“I’m hitting the ball really well right now, I’m driving well, my irons are good but my putting is not great in the last couple of weeks. If I putt well maybe I can give myself a chance to win again.”
Oman Open champion Joost Luiten and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma, after wins at December’s Joburg Open and the Maybank Championship in Malaysia earlier this month, will give Wang a run for the coveted Pearl trophy.
“I watched Jeunghun Wang last year on the television and that was really nice to see,” said Sharma whose preparation wasn’t ideal after rounds of 73-72 at Al Moj saw him miss just his second European Tour cut and his first since the 2016 AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.
“I know it’s very windy and it looks challenging but I think I will really enjoy it there. Obviously I’m playing well at the moment and I will be hoping for another good week.”
Former Open champions Paul Lawrie (1999), who has twice triumphed in the Qatari capital, and Darren Clarke (2011) are also confirmed starters along Thomas Bjorn.
The European Ryder Cup captain has played the Qatar Masters 13 times, made the cut 10 times and enjoyed three top 10s including victory in 2011. He shared 31st in Muscat and will be buoyed that 10 of this 13 rounds this season have produced red numbers, six of them sub-70 efforts.