Jan Kruger/Getty Images
By John Huggan
One shot ahead after three rounds and still clear after 14 holes on the final day, Chris Wood for a long time looked the most likely winner of the KLM Open. But, sadly for the 30-year-old Englishman, those last four holes proved to be four too far. As his nearest challenger, China’s Ashun Wu, made birdie 4s on the 15th and 18th to shoot a closing 67 and reach 16 under on The Dutch course just outside Spijk, Wood could manage only regulation figures. Needing a birdie to tie on the 499-yard par-5 18th, Wood agonisingly three-putted from long range—his first effort actually rolled off the green—to hand Wu the title and the €300,000 first prize.
Wu arrived in the Netherlands 90th on the Race to Dubai and a lowly 344th in the World Ranking. The 33-year-old was nearing the end of a season in which he has struggled mightily to hold onto his tour card, and thus understandably delighted at this dramatic turnaround in his fortunes. Following a T-7 finish in the China Open back in April and T-6 just a week earlier in Switzerland, this was only Wu’s third top-10 finish in an otherwise undistinguished campaign.
“I feel fantastic,” he said after completing his third European Tour victory and moving all the way up to 43rd on the money list. “This is unbelievable. I have so many people to thank, my caddie especially. He told me to focus on every shot and do my best. The last few holes were key. And the shot I hit to 18 was unbelievable, definitely my best shot of the week. My coach and I have been working very hard since the start of the year. And I have been getting better and better since Denmark [where he finished T-49]. I am so happy to have my name on this trophy alongside so many great ones.”
Not surprisingly, even after shooting 69, Wood was less enamored with the eventual outcome. Since winning the 2016 BMW PGA Championship and playing in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine later that year (he partnered Justin Rose to a foursome victory over Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson before losing to then-U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson on the final green in the singles), things have not gone quite so well for the amiable 6-foot-6 giant. Where his career path to that point had gone steadily upwards, he has since stalled amidst much tinkering with his full-swing technique.
Indeed, since that famous win at Wentworth in May 2016, Wood has managed only six top-10s in 39 European Tour starts. Still, three of those have come this season, all of them runner-up finishes. So, even amidst this latest disappointment, the signs are once again positive. Still, he will look back with some regret on the wild tee-shots he carved well right of the 12th and 15th fairways on Sunday. The first led to a damaging double bogey (one that followed the two successive birdies that had taken him three shots clear of the field), and the latter to a hard-working par on what was the third-easiest hole on the course.
Slightly lower on the leader board, Belgium’s Thomas Detry, who drove home after Friday mistakenly thinking he had missed the cut, only to return and shoot 63-66 over the weekend, finished T-3 alongside Hideto Tanihara. Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington was alone in fifth place, three shots behind the champion. Mention too must be made of Martin Kaymer. In his first event after splitting with long-time caddie Craig Connelly, the former U.S. Open and PGA champion shot a final round 69 to be T-15. Amazingly, this was the German’s third-highest finish on the European Tour this season. Baby steps.