DOHA, Qatar -- No prizes for guessing what Graeme McDowell's mind will flash back to just before he starts the Commercialbank Qatar Masters on Thursday.
Hunter Mahan is one of his two playing partners, and he was the American who ended the last Ryder Cup in tears after losing to McDowell in the match that decided the contest.
This year is the 15th staging of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters, and all have been played at Doha Golf Club.
While the Ulsterman has made the short trip from Abu Dhabi for the tournament, Mahan has flown in from California -- and will be back there next week playing again.
"I feel as good as to be expected," Mahan said about the 11-hour time change. "It's something I wanted to do. I was just looking for the right opportunity and this came about.
"I do feel like golf is global now, especially with the European Tour having the top four players in the world," he explained. "I really enjoy the opportunity to travel and see different parts of the world. It is out of your comfort zone, but I feel like that's going to make you a better player in the long run."
In the short term, though, Mahan does concede that all his globe-trotting might affect his golf.
"It may -- I don't know -- but I'd rather experience it than wonder about it," he said. "My job is to figure out the best way to handle it, how to get the right amount of rest and the right amount of practice, too."
As for playing with McDowell, it is not the first time since Celtic Manor. They also were paired together to start the 2011 season at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and again last September at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
"We got it out of the way real quick," he said. "I've known Graeme since college basically. I don't really have any ill feelings toward the guy or anything like that.
"The Ryder Cup is a lot of fun. It really brings out the competitive nature in everybody that you don't really see most weeks," he added. "It won't really add any spice. Hopefully we'll have an opportunity to rekindle that later this year."
There is no Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy or Luke Donald this week -- and no Abu Dhabi winner Robert Rock, either -- but Lee Westwood has a chance to grab the world No. 2 spot back off McIlroy and fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer can make up for last week's missed cut.
Sergio Garcia, Jason Day and K.J. Choi are the other world top-20 men in the field, while Mahan is joined by four fellow Americans who are all major winners -- Ben Curtis, Todd Hamilton, Shaun Micheel and John Daly, currently 543rd on the rankings.
McDowell is out to improve on his third-place finish on Sunday.
That looked highly unlikely with seven holes to play, but he aced the 12th, chipped in on the next and finished with two more birdies. The last of them came when his thinned bunker shot hit the grandstand over the green and rebounded to within six feet of the flag.
"Sometimes the Golf Gods giveth and sometimes they taketh away," he said.
After forgettable performances in Abu Dhabi, Westwood and Martin Kaymer are looking to get their 2012 seasons back on track with strong showings. They have chosen one of the most challenging courses on the European Tour’s desert swing to do it, however.
The Doha Golf Club just outside Doha is infamous for its windy conditions and this year will be no different. Forecasts are for winds to reach upward of 20 mph for much of the tournament.
Westwood struggled in Abu Dhabi last week and finished in a tie for 17th. Nursing a sore shoulder and unable to master the greens, the Englishman was even par after two rounds. By the time he started playing better, including a 4-under 68 in the third round, he was effectively out of contention and finished seven shots behind eventual winner Robert Rock.
“I had a few sort of issues to negotiate,” Westwood said. “We’ve been working a lot on my fitness just recently, and I haven’t played a lot coming into Abu Dhabi. Didn’t hole as many putts or find the greens there, a little difficult to read.”
Still, Westwood said his showing was “a decent start” and he was feeling good about his game after closing out the 2011 season strong. He won the Thailand Golf Championship in December and the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa a few weeks earlier. He had a third-round score of 62 at Nedbank, and opened Thailand with a 60 -- the lowest round of his career -- and then a 64 to beat Charl Schwartzel by seven strokes.
“The ball is starting on line where I’m aiming, and my pace control was good. I only made one bogey over the weekend. Unfortunately, that was a three-putt from long range,” Westwood said of his putting. “I think I was second in greens in regulation, so my game is fairly sharp. Like I said, I’m a notoriously slow starter and it always takes me a bit to get going.”
Westwood said his shoulder is feeling better and he was eager to tackle the Doha course -- a place he has had mixed success. His best finish is third in 2010 but he missed the cut last year and finished several times outside the top 30.
“Looking forward to this week and playing a golf course I’ve done well in the past,” Westwood said. “Apparently the rough’s not as long as it was last year, but the weather man says it’s going to be fairly windy. And when it’s like that around here, it’s a really tough test.”
Kaymer had an even worse showing in Abu Dhabi, where he was the defending champion and had won the tournament three times. The 2010 PGA Championship winner opened with a 77, which he blamed on bad putting, and missed the cut after shooting a 1-over 73 on Friday. The poor performance comes in the wake of a disappointing 2011 season in which he only won twice (disappointment being a relative term).