England’s Chris Wood will have mixed emotions when he defends his title in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, which gets under way in Doha today.
Wood claimed his first European Tour title 12 months ago in brilliant fashion, making an eagle three on the final hole to beat Sergio Garcia and George Coetzee by a shot. But the 26-year-old from Bristol’s return to Doha Golf Club will also be tinged with sadness following the death of his grandfather. “It’s been pretty tough with my grandfather passing away,” Wood said at the weekend as he competed in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. “I was pretty close to him so it’s been a tough week. He was pretty proud of me.”
After 19 top-ten finishes, Wood looked in danger of missing out again on a European Tour win last year when a nervy start turned a three-stroke overnight lead into a two-shot deficit before the turn. He came to the par-5 18th one behind Garcia and Coetzee, but after a booming drive the 6ft 5in golfer - best remembered for coming fifth in the 2008 Open as an amateur and then third at Turnberry a year later – hit a 6-iron to 12 feet and holed the putt for a winning eagle.
“I can’t wait, it’s amazing how quickly a year goes,” said Wood, who had won the Thailand Open in August 2012 for his first professional success, but still remembered how he lost the 2010 BMW PGA Championship with a closing 77 and the 2011 Majorca Open with a 76 after leading by four.
“It has come round so fast. It’s one of our best events on tour, the course suits me but it’s going to be a new experience for me defending a title. My girlfriend got me a DVD of the television coverage and I’ve watched it a couple of times, although not as often as I thought I might. I don’t have any trouble remembering the last couple of shots I hit.
“I remember a lot of the week actually and I think you always will, you first win on tour. I won in Thailand on the OneAsia tour and that did me the world of good.
“It’s a strong, up-and-coming tour and no matter where you win, it’s a win and you still get the same feeling. I slept on the Saturday night lead out there and managed to post a good final round and won by a couple of shots. I just made it a bit harder for myself in Qatar.
“A lot of good players out here haven’t won. Finally crossing the line took me four years, but I feel my game is getting to the stage where I can perform a lot more consistently and wins give you that confidence.”
Wood has already played twice in 2014, his win in Qatar securing him a place in the 36-man field for the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban – where he was 18th – and also in Abu Dhabi, where he was 65th. “I do a lot of work on my swing in the winter and don’t play a lot, so Durban was great to get four rounds under my belt,” he added. “I struggled but battled through to get another four in Abu Dhabi, so I am probably slightly better prepared than I was going into Qatar last year.”
Wood will partner Miguel Angel Jimenez and Darren Clarke in the first two rounds, with the star trio of Luke Donald, Henrik Stenson and US PGA champion Jason Dufner in the group behind.