Muscat: Joost Luiten came out on top of a captivating battle with his good friend Chris Wood over the final round at Almouj Golf Club to be crowned champion of the inaugural NBO Oman Open.
The Dutchman fired a solid closing round of 68 to beat Englishman Wood by two strokes with a 16 under par winning total of 272 in the $1.75 million dollar event to give his bid to make Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team the perfect early-season boost with a sixth European Tour title safely under lock and key.
“It feels great,” said the 32 year old. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came here but to play a course like this which is in great condition and is a great technical golf course as well was beyond my expectation. To hold the trophy is even better.
“I need to win another couple I think to get in (the European Ryder Cup team), but it’s a great start to the year for me, this is what I was hoping for. This is what gets you right in there. I just need to play good golf and then we’ll see what happens come September.”
Luiten, who entered the final day in a three-way tie for the lead with France’s Juilen Guerrier and England’s Matthew Southgate, couldn’t have hoped for a better start to his round as he separated himself from the pack with three birdies in the first four holes.
“I had a great start, that’s what I was hoping for,” he said. “I hit some nice ones in close and rolled in a couple of nice putts and that gets you in the right position, where you want to be. Unfortunately, I had a couple of bogeys as well on the front nine but I recovered from that with a couple of nice birdies on the back nine and it was a good battle with Woody. To battle it out with one of my best friends on Tour was just great.”
Following his electrifying start, Luiten gave away a couple of shots with bogeys on seven and eight but he regained the momentum with a beautiful five iron approach into the par five 12th hole to set up a tap-in birdie.
The former Dutch Boys Champion had revealed the previous day that when he’s in the ‘zone’ his iron play comes to the fore and he struck a beautiful nine iron tee shot into the par three 13th to set up another birdie.
The key moment came on the par five 16th when Luiten used all of his experience with some wise course management to decide against attacking the flag, opting instead to lay up before sinking a 20-foot putt for his final birdie of the day.
“I was right on the edge of going for the green or not and we decided to lay up,” he said. “I hit it a little bit further from the flag than I wanted but the putt went in nicely and that’s the little bonuses that you need sometimes in order to win golf tournaments out here.”
Wood, meanwhile, was philosophical after signing for a 69 that saw him come up short in his quest to add a fourth European Tour title to his collection and a first since the 2016 BMW PGA Championship.
“It’s golf isn’t it? You are never happy,” he said. “I played poorly for six or eight months and would have never have thought I would have put myself into contention this week. Then when you do, you feel gutted when you don’t win. I’m pretty down really, but in the grand scheme of things, when I reflect after a couple of days, I will think it is a big step in the right direction”.
Wood, who had missed the cut in his first three events of the season prior to arriving in Oman, can take heart from the fact that his return to form has come on the eve of this week’s Commercial Bank Qatar Masters where he won his first title in 2013.
“On to Qatar where I have won before,” he said. “So, given that I have turned up at most events with no confidence, I feel like I can go to an event next with some confidence now.”
France’s Julien Guerrier, closed with 71 to take third place at 13 under par – his best result so far on the European Tour – while fellow countryman Alexander Levy, Spaniard Jorge Campillo and America’s Seungsu Han shared fourth place at 11 under.