GENTLE giant Chris Wood finally grabbed his first European Tour title yesterday – and he did it in brilliant fashion with a closing eagle at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in Doha.
After no fewer than 19 top-ten finishes, the 25-year-old from Bristol was in danger of missing out again when a nervy start turned a three-stroke overnight lead into a two-shot deficit before the turn.
Wood battled back, but came to the par-five last one behind Spanish star Sergio Garcia and South African George Coetzee.
The tee had been moved forward over 60 yards, and 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 202-yard five-iron over the water and straight at the flag.
It came up just short but he was celebrating the 12-foot putt going in before it dropped and two fist-pumps showed what it meant.
“I knew it was going to be hard no matter how I played,” Wood said after collecting a first prize of just under £260,000.
“Winning on the European Tour is not easy.”
He did take the Thailand Open last August 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 feels good. Blimey, I’ve seen a few mates picking up trophies and I’ve been waiting patiently for my time,” he said.
“I felt like I was due to win for a couple of years, but now there’s an enormous weight off my shoulders and I feel I can go on and win more.”
As for the eagle, Wood added: “Nice way to finish!”
His 69 gave him an 18-under-par total of 270 and should take him from 142nd in the world into the top 64, who will contest the Accenture Match Play in Arizona next month, although the cut-off is not for another two weeks.
Coetzee was left as the nearly man once more – this was his 21st top-ten finish on the circuit – despite a superb 65 containing an eagle and six birdies.
The last of those came courtesy of a pitch to five feet on the 18th. The putt took him one in front, but Garcia birdied the final two holes for a 66 and they then sat and waited to see what Wood could produce.
It was a remarkable effort given a start in which he missed a three-foot birdie chance on the second – he blamed a spike mark for that – and a double bogey on the 223-yard next after he fired his tee shot wide and then hit the rock face in front of him.
Putts of 35 and 18 feet at the eighth and ninth were just the boost he needed, however, and a 15-footer on the 14th kept him in touch as the pressure built.
Garcia would have gone back into the game’s top ten for the first time in over three years if he had won, but he will take a lot of positives from his first tournament of the year.
Swede Alex Noren and England’s Steve Webster tied for fourth, while Justin Rose’s 68 for joint 16th kept him at fourth in the world ahead of Louis Oosthuizen.