“One winner; lots of losers” is typically the most succinct summary of just about any golf tournament. But not this Qatar Masters, the final counting event for those outside the top-60 places on the DP World Tour’s Race to Dubai. And certainly not for those who began their week in the Middle East hovering around the vital 116 cut-off point. Finish on that mark or higher on the season-long points table and your card for the 2024 season is safe; lower than 117 and you are potentially (there are exceptions) looking for somewhere else to play next year.
As ever, the final day was a contrasting mixture of heartwarming and heartbreaking stories within that stark narrative, quite apart from Sami Valimaki’s second tour win. For the record, his 18-under-par 270 tied former champion Jorge Campillo, before the Finn’s birdie on the first playoff hole was enough to secure the victory and lift him to seventh in the Race to Dubai.
“It’s been a long journey,” said an emotional Valimaki, who arrived in Qatar ranked 177th in the world. “It’s hard to talk. But it feels great. I’ve worked so hard. I’ve been close a couple of times, but things have not gone my way. That’s why it feels so good.”
Elsewhere, the toing and froing and ups and downs of those lurking either side of the magic 116 number was a case study in the effects of pressure on golfers playing—in some cases at least—for their immediate competitive future.
Within that cauldron, Scott Jamieson surely deserves most credit. The 13-year tour veteran began the week in 119th place on the points/money list, three spots from salvation. Rounds of 65 and 66 sandwiched a second day 72 and had the Florida-based Scot 13 under par and seemingly in good shape. But an outward half of 38 in the final round all but outdid his previous good work. Still, that pressure-inducing knowledge actually had a positive effect. Jamieson played the back-nine in five-under 31 and ended up rising 37 spots on the Race to Dubai. For him, all was well.
The same can also be said for former Ryder Cup player Ross Fisher. Just. But, like Jamieson, the 42-year-old Englishman deserves much applause for his play this week. Fisher broke par in each of his four rounds, his T-36 finish just enough to squeak into the 116th and last exempt spot.
“What an end to an extraordinary season,” said the five-time tour winner, the most recent back in 2014. “Only myself to blame putting myself in this position. Plenty of opportunities this year but just didn’t take them. So pleased with how I played this week under the pressure.”
Also safe, albeit by a different route, are veterans Stephen Gallacher, Soren Kjeldsen and Jamie Donaldson. All three finished well below Fisher on the Race to Dubai, but all three will play next year courtesy of their ability to claim a one-time exemption from their positions on the DP World Tour career money list.
Others breathing sizeable sighs of relief surely included Jeong Weon Ko (115th) and Mike Lorenzo-Vera (113th). Both missed the halfway cut in Qatar and had to endure 48-hour waits before knowing their (happy) fates. Less stressed, but not by much, were Lucas Nemecz, Angel Hidalgo and Daan Huizing. All three moved up slightly from initially precarious positions.
Alexander Knappe of Germany was playing in the same group as Hidalgo, a close friend of his on tour. Knappe, 34, was 114th entering tournament and admitted to being in tears in his hotel room ahead of the final round and the pressure he anticipated feeling. A closing 69 left him safe in 114th place—but still in tears.
Inevitably, of course, there were near misses and ultimate disappointments. Heading that list is Daniel Van Tonder. The South African claimed 117th place—the least-wanted spot on the Race to Dubai—despite making the cut in Qatar and finishing T-47 at five under par. Not too far behind in that depressing category is John Axelsen. Starting the week where Fisher finished, the Dane missed the cut and slipped two agonizing places and out of the coveted list of exempt players.
Equally, Marc Warren had started the week where Van Tonder ended up, but a missed cut signaled the end for the Scot, who fell to 121st. That was five places ahead of one of the highest-profile casualties of the week. Frenchman Alex Levy’s missed cut eventually left the four-time tour winner in 126th place, which was 25 spots higher than another multiple tour winner, American John Catlin.
Still, amidst all of the above, other less significant but potentially lucrative “victories” were being claimed. Places in next week’s Nedbank Challenge in South Africa fall into that category. Open to the leading 60 available players on the Race to Dubai, “Africa’s major” provides the final open route into the following week’s DP World Tour Championship. The season-ending event is open to the top-50 available players on the points list.
Amongst those availing themselves of that potential stepping-stone were Matt Wallace (now 55th), Aaron Rai (61st), Jason Scrivener (66th), Sean Crocker (67th) and Nacho Elvira (46th). All will leave with positive feelings for what was a stressful week for many of those who teed up at the Doha Golf Club. But none will be happier than Valimaki, the biggest winner of all.