DOHA // They say nobody remembers those who finish second but that rule of thumb does not apply to England's Oliver Wilson who, much to his irritation, has become known on the European Tour as the perennial runner-up. Wilson, who turned professional seven years ago, is still awaiting his first tournament success after knocking on the door on countless occasions and finishing second nine times, most notably when losing a play-off to Sergio Garcia in the 2008 HSBC Champions.
He was hoping that a new year would bring a change of fortune as he launched his first serious challenge for glory after missing the halfway cut in Abu Dhabi last weekend. Wilson, 29, whose consistency earned him a place in Europe's last Ryder Cup team, performed splendidly in awkward conditions yesterday to claim the joint lead with Welshman Bradley Dredge over a star-studded field after the first round of the Commercialbank Qatar Masters.
Having got to five under with five holes to play in conditions that were improving, he was disappointed not to have gone clear on the home stretch. He lamented, in particular, the squandering of a good birdie opportunity on the 16th and an even better one on the last when his brilliant approach shot landed six feet away. Nevertheless, he was happy as he made for the clubhouse after a good day's work.
"It was strange really because it didn't feel that hard out there even though the scoreboard suggested it was tough for most of the guys. "Overall I felt really good. I drove it well and hit my irons really well." Failing to convert all his near misses into an elusive maiden tour title persuaded Wilson to make extensive modifications to his game since ending the last campaign at seventh in the Race to Dubai - and they are clearly working.
"Not winning meant something had to change," he remarked. "So I did a lot of evaluating over Christmas with my coach and my team. "We worked out what needs to improve and implemented a plan. "We concluded that I've tended to start tournaments strongly and then get worse as the week progressed which is not what you want to do. "I'm starting to find a lot of answers now. Part of the problem was my balance.
"Suddenly it feels a lot easier to swing the club after swinging out of balance for so long." It was not until the final putt of the day that Wilson was caught, Dredge coming from well down the pack with a run of five birdies in the last seven holes to post his 67. The last of those birdies came from 20 feet in near darkness on the 18th green, Dredge reflecting: "I was hoping it was in the hole but wasn't too sure."
Wilson and Dredge have four players snapping at their heels only a shot behind going into today's second round, principally a back-to-form Lee Westwood who put an embarrassing rare blip in Abu Dhabi last week with a solid 68. The Dubai World Championship winner, who attributed his missed cut down to a combination of rustiness and having to adapt to new club regulations, insisted he was not worried about his dip in performance.
"A 78 around that [National] course last Friday was not Lee Westwood-like," he declared, "so I wasn't too worried about what to expect here." Westwood shares third place with two Swedes, Robert Karlsson and Alexander Noren, and the unheralded German Marcel Siem, while Australia's Brett Rumford is alone in seventh place on three under par.Seven men are on two under, notably Sergio Garcia and the in-form South African Charl Schwarzel who has triumphed in his two previous events.
"The course is set up very difficult so I am happy with the round especially given the conditions," said Karlsson, the former European No 1 whose only blemish was a three-putt bogey at seven. "I hit all the greens and had a lot of long putts, but that's what you have to when's it's windy so I am very happy. The weather makes it harder, not the course; it is set up very fair and it is in a great condition."