Chris Wood knows what it’s like to blow the lead in the final round of a tournament, and he had no intention of doing it again in the Qatar Masters.
Needing a birdie on 18 to force a playoff with Sergio Garcia and George Coetzee on Saturday, the 25-year-old Englishman went one better. He landed his 200-yard approach shot 12 feet from the hole and sank the eagle putt for the victory. He finished with a 3-under 69 and 18-under 270 for the tournament.
“It feels amazing. It’s a dream come true,”said the 142nd-ranked Wood, who moves into the top 60 with his first European Tour victory in Doha.
“I didn’t know the situation when I was on the 18th fairway, but luckily I’d hit a great drive and I had the perfect yardage for a six iron,” he said. “I knew I had to just let my swing go and trust it. It's up there as one of the best shots I've ever played, because it was to win a tournament.”
Wood said he was thinking of Tiger Woods- someone who has hit a few tournament-winning shots in his day - just before he hit the shot on 18.
“I remember watching Tiger hit a shot at a tournament a few years ago on 18, an eight iron to six feet and that was for his first win in a couple of years after he struggled. I watched quite a bit of that, and although he didn't play his best, his attitude was, I'm going to win this tournament whatever happens,” Wood said. "I had that in the back of my mind, to just let my swing go and no matter how it feels, trust the swing, commit to it and I hit a really good shot there.”
Wood came into the final day with a comfortable three-shot lead over former U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, Simon Khan and Alexander Noren. He had been here before and it had ended badly - in 2011 at the Iberdrola Open in Majorca, he came into the final day with a four-shot lead but scored a 76 to lose by three to Darren Clarke.
Early on, Wood appeared to be faltering once again.
He missed a four-foot birdie putt on No. 2 and then double-bogeyed the par-3 third. He hit his tee shot into a sandy, waste area and then a chip failed to clear a wall. He rebounded with a birdie on No. 5 but then bogeyed the next hole to open the door for Coetzee and later Garcia.
“On the third, I tried to get it up and over the wall but it ricocheted back and it turned out to be a good five," Wood said. “That actually settled me down a bit surprisingly.”
The 48th-ranked Coetzee, also looking for his first European Tour win, had three birdies on the final four holes on the front nine and then eagled the 10th to take a two-shot lead. His approach shot on the 10th bounced on the fringe and rolled to a few feet, setting up the easy eagle putt.
“It's always good if you can hold the lead on the final day because it’s very difficult,” Coetzee said. “I thought to myself, all I have to do is get past 15 and make him shoot a number, and luckily for him he did.”
Garcia got into the hunt with his much improved short game, carding six birdies on his final 11 holes. His tee shot on the par-3 17th rolled to 3-feet and his birdie putt left him one shot behind. On the 18th, the Spaniard hit a long wedge shot for another birdie chance which he converted to tie Coetzee for the lead.
“I gave it my best effort,” said Garcia, who could have moved into the top 10 with a win. “The last 10 or 11 holes were good. The first six holes, I didn’t feel great with my swing and you could see it.”
Wood recovered with some clutch putting, sinking long birdie putts on Nos. 8, 9 and 14. He saved par on the 15th after his approach shot went into the rough and then just missed a 20-footer for birdie on the 16th. He missed another good birdie chance on No. 17, leaving him a shot behind with one hole to play.
The win was Wood’s second overall - after a victory on the Asian Tour in Thailand last year - and gives him a sense that he finally has turned the corner after 116 European Tour events.
“I got to about 65th or something a couple of years ago, but since then I’ve had all the problems with my back and I’ve struggled a little bit,” Wood said. “But I always knew that I would be getting back just in my own time and I’m absolutely desperate for it. It definitely opens the door to a few more things and now I can set a couple of different targets for the next few months.”
Steve Webster (68) and Noren (71) finished four shots back in a tie for fourth, with Webster ending his chances with a double-bogey on 15. Three others including Branden Grace (71) finished a further shot back in a tie for sixth. Grace, a rising South African star who won four tournaments last year, gave himself a chance with an eagle on the 10th but had two bogeys to fall back before he birdied the 18th.