Impending war makes players nervous about Qatar Masters

EUROPEAN PGA tour players were in a quandary last night over whether or not to play in next week’s Qatar Masters tournament because of the military build-up against Iraq.

The tour's executive director Ken Schofield has said the $1.4 million event will go ahead despite growing fears of war in the region, leaving it up to the players to decide for themselves by Saturday's deadline.

In a terse statement to the players yesterday, Schofield said: "All preparations including golf course, accommodation and transportation are complete and secure. Additional contingencies are in place should eventualities require."

Already, this week's Dubai Desert Classic has been badly hit by the last-minute withdrawal of golf's superstar Tiger Woods and the timing looks even tighter for the tournament in Doha which traditionally follows in its wake to attract the best possible fields.

Neither Woods nor World number two Ernie Els were down to play in Qatar, while defending champion Adam Scott of Australia made his decision not to play early on.

Now with the tension building, others are making public their concerns.

Englishman Greg Owen, who made a promising start to the Desert Classic, said he would like the European Tour to cancel the event.

"I really don't know," he said. "It's obviously a very difficult situation and it's one that nobody wants to be put in to make a decision.

"But the way the Americans talk, they seem to be going in next week."

In a similar vein, Scotsman Alastair Forsyth who shot a pace-setting 65, said that he was on the verge of pulling out.

"Obviously, you hear what the government has said, warning people not to go over," he said.

"I spoke with some guys who have no problem at all and are 100% sure they are going to be playing, and I feel other guys are in the same boat as myself," he said.

A seven under par 65 put him one better than defending champion Els.

Els remains strong favourite for the £200,000 top prize. A 66 maintained his average for what is already a memorable season four wins in six starts and scoring records for both the European and US Tours.

The South African, who unlike Woods chose to play rather than withdraw because of safety fears, is seeking a third Dubai title on the course where in 1994 he fired a 61 which still stands as the Emirates record.

A repeat of that was not out of the question when he covered the longer back nine first in a five under 32.

But Els, 105 under for the year at that point, was to add only one more birdie as the wind picked up.

Darren Clarke, partnering Els, returned a two under 70.

His only birdies were at three par fives and walking off the 18th green halfway through the round he offered his putter and said: "Going cheap."

World number 10 Padraig Harrington produced only a 73, but refused to blame the neck and shoulder trouble he reckons was caused by practising his putting for five hours on Monday.

"It's early season I've just got to grin and bear it," said the Dubliner, aware as he struggled on the greens that he was wearing a badge indicating he is the tour's putting leader.

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