Calm reigns at Qatar Masters

WITH war seemingly just over the horizon, security has been increased for the European golf tour event being played in Qatar this week.

But the added measures do not even come close to the steps taken for last September's Ryder Cup at The Belfry, where everybody entering the grounds was searched each day and armed officers provided round-the-clock protection.

Doha Golf Club could have been any tour venue yesterday as players practised for the £1million event starting today.

"The authorities here have made it clear they don't think it necessary to change the normal arrangements for the event, but just to reassure the guys we've upped the police and security guard presence at the hotels and around the perimeter of the course," said tournament director David Probyn.

"We've made contingency plans and to me they are whatever they need to be at the time. We have contacts here with the military, the golf association and with Qatar Airlines, who have assured us that even in the event of war they will run their normal schedule. The military use a different airport.

"They've also said we could secure a charter flight if we needed one. Until we know what we are reacting to it's hard to say what exact steps will be taken and we will, of course, do what governments tell us to do, but we've been reassured and certainly have no reason at the moment to think that the tournament will not be played through to its conclusion on Sunday."

More than 50 players decided not to make the trip for one reason or another, including Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Mark James and previous winners Paul Lawrie, Andrew Coltart and Adam Scott.

But they have all been replaced and the 150-strong field can still boast three members of last year's winning Ryder Cup team in Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Phillip Price.

Mansfield's Greg Owen, who spoke out last Thursday and said he would rather see the event cancelled because of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office's advice to visit Qatar only for essential business, had his mind put at rest and plays after all.

Any apprehension felt by those who kept their names on the entry list started to be eased the moment they arrived at Doha Airport most of them from Dubai, where last week's Desert Classic was completed without any problems following Tiger Woods' decision not to travel because of safety fears.

It was possible to think you were arriving in a country called Qatar Masters rather than Qatar because representatives of the tournament were omnipresent to ease the immigration procedure.

Once through that, a large fleet of courtesy cars ensured safe onward passage to the hotels for the players, many of whom have brought families or girlfriends with them.

With the command centre for the American military operation nearby, part of the British government advice is "to maintain a high level of vigilance and to consider whether your presence and that of your dependants is essential.

"We are giving this advice because of the increasing regional tension and of the risk of terrorist action. We believe Qatar to be one of a number of countries whether there is an increased threat to British institutions and organisations from global terrorism.

"You should be vigilant, especially in public places frequented by foreigners, such as hotels, restaurants and shopping malls."

The chance to win £156,000, though, is too good to miss, especially for those lower-ranked players whose opportunities on the main circuit come only occasionally and for whom victory would change their lives as it did for Holland's Robert-Jan Derksen, the world number 593, when he beat world number two Ernie Els to the Dubai title.

Derksen was playing only because of the withdrawal of Woods. Stuart Little, who failed to keep his tour card by less than £800 last year, said: "Once I knew I was in the tournament I was always going to come unless they cancelled it, of course.

"I've every confidence in the tour making the right decision on this. You read what is reported, but if you believed everything you read you'd be a nervous wreck."

Things are quiet for the moment on the war front too. A Canadian television correspondent turned up at the golf yesterday to interview players about the situation.

"My office told me to go and do some sport until things kick off," he said. "We're just waiting for it to happen."

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