An explosive start and a sensational finish proved the keys to success for Tony Johnstone at Doha Golf Club as the 44 year old beat the swirling Shamal wind and an eager chasing pack to win the Qatar Masters and claim his sixth European Tour title.
The 1992 Volvo PGA Champion carded a final round 70 for a 14 under par total of 274 to pick up the 133,832 euro first prize, relegating Robert Karlsson into second place after the Swede, who had held the lead or a share of the lead over the first three rounds, finished with a 73 for 276.
New Zealander Elliot Boult capped an impressive week’s display with a final round 71 to take third place on his own while Scotland’s Dean Robertson and Olivier Edmond shared fourth on 279, nine under par.
With the testing Shamal wind blowing the hardest it had during the entire week, it was always going to take something special to succeed and Johnstone provided that at the opening hole, pitching in for an eagle three from the back of the green.
It propelled the Zimbabwean into the lead and into a position he did not relinquish for the rest of the afternoon. Steady golf in the middle of the round saw him surrender shots to the course only twice, into the wind at the testing 446 yard fifth and also at the 404 yard 14th.
The latter dropped shot left Johnstone in a tie with Karlsson but the Zimbabwean got his nose in front again at the 306 yard 16th where he drove the ball through the back of the putting surface and pitched and putted for a vital birdie three.
When Karlsson, playing in the final group behind, failed to match the feat, Johnstone sensed the title could be his and kept alive his dream with a vital bunker shot at the 17th, splashing out to a mere six inches from where an easy tap-in saved par.
Then, with the Swede watching from the fairway, Johnstone virtually ensured himself the glittering Mother of Pearl trophy with a curling 12 foot birdie putt in front of the galleries around the final green.
It meant Karlsson had to make an eagle to force a play-off and although he had a pitch from the side of the green to do just that, the ball spun past the hole and the tournament was over, the fact the Swede missed his return birdie putt meaning little in the overall analysis.
The win moved Johnstone to the fringes of the Top Ten on the Volvo Order of Merit and represented quite a reverse for the man who had given serious consideration to quitting the game altogether if he could not find a cure to end the putting woes that had dogged his career.
“A month ago out in South Africa I said to my wife I wasn’t going to play another golf tournament until I found a way to putt and it was probably a good thing,” he said. “It probably galvanised me into action and made me try a couple of radical changes. With the help of my friend Dr Ken West and my coach Simon Holmes it has all come good.
“To be honest at the beginning of the week I did think I could win. I played really well last week in Dubai and I knew the putting had come right. I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of weeks on my putting and my short game in general and Neil Smithers, my caddie, and I really felt we had a seriously good chance.
“With the exception of my win in 1998 (in the Alfred Dunhill South African PGA Championship), I’ve had terrible times with the putter and it’s only my love of the game which has kept me going. It is just an absolute blessing to know what I’m doing again on the greens.”
Second placed Karlsson at last recovered some of the form which saw him finish 11th on the Volvo Order of Merit in 1999, but which was missing last year in a poor season which saw him slip down the rankings to a lowly 114th.
The Swede began the week with a course record 63, a score matched by Mark Pilkington of Wales, and went into the final round in a share of the lead with Argentina’s Angel Cabrera. While Cabrera’s fall from grace was dramatic, shooting 78 to slip back into a tie for sixth, Karlsson held his own until the telling final furlong.
He three-putted the 14th to drop a vital shot and could not repeat Johnstone’s feat of making birdie at the 16th. With that his chance was effectively gone, but he admitted he was not too disappointed at the way the tournament had ended. He said: “I was pretty happy with the way I played and to be honest I don’t think I could have done much better.
“Tony shot 70 which was a fantastic score in these conditions. He definitely won the tournament, I didn’t feel like I lost it.”
Third placed Boult admitted he was delighted that his improved form of late had eventually borne fruit in terms of results. “I’m very happy to get through today because of the conditions,” he said. “After about eight holes I said to my caddie I’m not even thinking about making birdies, my main objective was to keep it on the fairway, be patient and try to make pars, and that’s the way it turned out.”