Twelve days away from his 40th birthday, Denmark's Thomas Bjorn is a winner again on the European Tour -- and back in the big league now.
Ranked only 134th in the world, Bjorn captured the Commercialbank Qatar Masters by a commanding four strokes over Spaniard Alvaro Quiros on Sunday.
2011 COMMERCIALBANK QATAR MASTERS
The Qatar Masters marks the first time since 1993 that the world's top two golfers have gone head-to-head in a European Tour event.
The 11th European Tour victory of his career should put the former Ryder Cup star, who was as high as 10th in the rankings a decade ago, into the elite 64-man field for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona later this month. And it is a huge boost to his hopes of earning a place in this July's British Open at Royal St. George’s , the same course where he blew a three-shot lead over the closing stretch in 2003.
Bjorn, twice a Ryder Cup vice-captain and current chairman of the Tour's powerful Tournament Committee, was thrilled to show he still has what it takes on the course.
"It's a big win and hopefully it can push me onto bigger things," he said after signing for a closing 69 and 14-under-par total of 274. "When I play like this, I know I can play against the best."
While world No. 1 Lee Westwood missed the cut and No. 2 Martin Kaymer came in only 28th -- he needed a top-two finish to dethrone Westwood -- Bjorn didn’t have a single bogey in his last 47 holes.
Big-hitting Quiros, first and second in Qatar over the past two years, made a back-nine charge and closed the gap to one as Bjorn reeled off 14 pars in a row in the windy conditions.
But after Quiros three-putted the 470-yard 15th, Bjorn, armed with a new driver that gave him an extra 10 yards, hit a brilliant approach there to within four feet of the flag and then added further birdies on the driveable 16th and par-5 18th.
"I knew if I stuck to my game plan, I would be all right. Once I hit my tee shot on 18, I knew nothing could go wrong from there,” said Bjorn. "We're fortunate as golfers that we can keep going at the highest level at this age. I've worked hard. I'm seeing the benefits of it and this changes my travel plans a little bit -- for the good."
Quiros dropped another shot on the 155-yard 17th -- television commentator Ewen Murray described his choice of a wedge on the tee as "madness" -- but a closing birdie took him ahead of third-placed Markus Brier and Rafael Cabrera-Bello.
England's former world No. 9 David Howell, who came into the week ranked only 352nd, returned to something like his old form with a fifth-place finish, while Sergio Garcia, who had slumped from second to 80th, tied for ninth, his best performance for almost a year.
Bjorn led overnight and earned his first win since the Estoril Open in Portugal last year. The Dane had three birdies in the final round, including the one on No. 18.
The 134th-ranked Bjorn led Brier by one shot entering the final round and said it was a question of “hanging in there” on the final day.
“I played solid golf. I think I made one bogey in the last 54 holes. On this golf course and in these conditions, that’s good going,” Bjorn said, referring to the high winds on Thursday that made the course almost unplayable.
The 39-year-old Dane added that the win was made all the more special because the field included players such as Westwood and seventh-ranked Steve Stricker, who finished 1 over in a tie for 45th.
“Well, the field this week was unbelievably strong, and you know, that shows where European Tour golf is at the moment,” Bjorn said. “We have got a lot of players up there in the top 10 and a lot of them played this week. You know, that gives you a few extra points.”