DOHA // There is never a bad time to prove to your peers that you are the best player of the season but Robert Karlsson could be excused for wishing his cherished honour of winning the European Tour's Order of Merit in 2008 had come 12 months later.
That glittering 2009 prize instead went to Lee Westwood who secured it at the concluding event of last year - the Dubai World Championship which ended the Race to Dubai, the renamed Order of Merit. A brilliant performance around Greg Norman's Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates made Westwood US$2.75million (Dh10.10m) richer and brought with it suggestions that an elusive first major championship is just around the corner for the Englishman. Karlsson received no additional prize money for lifting the Order of Merit a year earlier.
Westwood looked poised to endorse his credentials yesterday when he took early command in the final fluctuating round of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters but this time the new European No 1 had to concede defeat to Karlsson's superior shot-making around what has proved a daunting Doha course. Karlsson, who produced his magnificent 65, the lowest round of the week, at the most opportune time, was prevented from making a solid defence of his Order of Merit title by an eye injury which manifested itself in blurred vision as he tried to address the ball.
The Swede indicated when setting the pace here on Thursday morning that those worrying medical issues are behind him and another profitable campaign undoubtedly awaits him if he can maintain this high standard over the coming months. Karlsson, who began the final day two shots adrift of joint overnight leaders Paul Casey and Bradley Dredge, deserves even greater credit for putting together his flawless closing round of 65 in the daunting company of Westwood.
The Englishman had thrown down the gauntlet immediately to a cluster of title rivals and raced three clear of his playing partner after only two holes. Westwood then looked to have a winner's momentum as he rolled in four birdies in the first five holes of the homeward stretch. The gigantic frame of Karlsson is calmness personified, though, and the resolute Swede refused to buckle under that pressure.
One shot ahead on the 16th tee, he looked on passively as Westwood tried to drive the reachable par four as many have done successfully over the last four days. Driver problems - last week he was bemoaning his new irons - have affected Westwood here, however, and, sensing his chance to add a 32nd career title, he pushed at his shot off the tee. He was fortunate to bounce back off a rock, affording him a generous lie where he could chip on to the green and escape any punishment.
But to his acute annoyance, he left his birdie putt about three feet away and missed the next one to make the costliest of bogeys. Karlsson played conservatively off the tee to make his routine par which, to his surprise, left him with an extended lead of two shots with only two to play. Westwood was convinced he had made a birdie putt to reduce the gap on the 17th but was aghast to see his ball deviate from its route to the middle of the hole by a spike mark. Karlsson then rubbed salt into the Westwood wounds by holing his to take a three stroke lead down the last.
A birdie by Alavaro Quiros in the pairing ahead reduced that advantage to two but it was more than enough for a rock-steady Karlsson who, for good measure, arrowed in his approach to the last to within two feet to clinch his resounding 15-under-par triumph. Westwood was unable to match that closing birdie, leaving Quiros with a welcome runners-up prize to follow his victory of a year ago. A strong finish by Brett Rumford, the Australian who had led after the second round, enabled him to share third place with Westwood.
Casey and Dredge faded badly after their third round surge to the top of the leaderboard. They both finished with two-over par 74s to relegate them into a share of fifth place with Oliver Wilson, the Englishman who was partly consoled for a mid-round loss of direction by birdies on the last three holes. firstname.lastname@example.org