One could not have asked for a more exciting climax to the 17th edition of the US$2.5-million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
The final day chase—that began with as many as 20 men going neck and neck for the glittering Mother of Pearl trophy in the morning—thinned down to a two-way tussle between a gallant Spaniard and a stubborn Finn as the evening wore on. Both Sergio Garcia and Mikko Ilonen ended tied at 16-under, and even the resulting sudden-death playoffs failed to break the deadlock. Twice.
With neither willing to give an inch, the finale went to a third extra hole where Ilonen’s second shot landed in the bunker, and Garcia made no mistake this time with his birdie tap-in to win his maiden Qatar crown in seven visits.
He is the second Spaniard to win this title after Alvaro Quiros in 2009, and is the 15th different winner in 17 years of the event. Australia’s Adam Scott and Paul Lawrie of Scotland are the only two-time winners of the event.
It was second time lucky for the 34-year-old Garcia, who had missed the title here by a whisker last year when England’s Chris Wood made an eagle on the 72nd hole to beat Garcia and George Coetzee by a shot. Wood failed to replicate that form this time and finished a distant tied-43rd with a five-under-283.
Garcia’s closing 65 yesterday—after beginning the final round three shots behind the leading pair of compatriot Rafa Cabrera-Bello and England’s Steve Webster—should have seen him home had he not missed an eight feet birdie putt on the last hole.
Ilonen, trailing by two shots, calmly birdied the 16th and 18th to end at 66 and force a playoff.
In the sudden-death, both found the green on the shortened par-five 18th in two shots—Ilonen missing his eagle attempt from 30 feet before Garcia did likewise from half the distance. The second visit saw Ilonen missing an eagle attempt from 20 feet after Garcia managed to escape from a greenside bunker.
The third playoff saw the Finn’s second shot find the same bunker, forcing him to putt for par. Garcia saw his long eagle putt stop just short of the pin, and he only had to tap it in to secure his 11th European Tour title.
“It feels good,” said Garcia, who will move from 11th to inside the world’s top 10 when the new rankings are announced tomorrow.
“It’s funny because I started the day thinking if I can shoot six or seven-under maybe I can have a chance, and it turns out I had a very similar putt that I had last year to get it to 17-under on the 18th. I hit a good putt but unfortunately, it didn’t break. The up and down from the bunker in the playoff was key and I’m very happy to be able to win it,” he added.
The 34-year-old Ilonen, whose best finish in Qatar in nine attempts was a tied-ninth finish last year, was still pleased with his week’s work despite tasting defeat in the first playoff of his career.
“I played good golf this week, so I can’t be too disappointed. I gave it my best shot, but Sergio was a bit better this time. There’s no shame in losing to a great player like him,” he said.
Garcia’s compatriot Cabrera-Bello, who led after the second and third rounds, finished in a tie for third on 15-under alongside Thorbjorn Olesen after the pair carded respective closing rounds of 69 and 68.
Olesen had a great chance to join the playoff had the Dane not missed a 15-feet eagle putt on the 18th, while Cabrera-Bello also needed an eagle on the 72nd hole to catch Garcia and Ilonen, but saw his chip from over the green pull up three feet short of the hole.
Garcia goes home richer by US$416,660, while Ilonen will pocket US$277,770 for his second-place finish in what was his 291st European Tour event.