We report a simple and efficient synthetic method to prepare gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) in aqueous phase using HAuCl4 and poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) ligands appended with bidentate anchoring groups. Our approach provides narrow size distribution nanocrystals over the size range between 1.5 and 18 nm; this range is much wider than those achieved using other small molecules and polymer ligands. The NP size was simply controlled by varying the molar ratio of Au-to-PEG ligand precursors. Further passivation of the as-prepared AuNPs permitted in situ functionalization of the NP surface with the desired functional groups. The prepared AuNPs exhibit remarkable stability in the presence of high salt concentrations, over a wide range of pHs (2-13), and a strong resistance to competition from dithiothreitol (DTT). These results are a clear manifestation of the advantages offered by our synthetic approach to prepare biocompatible AuNPs, where modular, multifunctional ligands presenting strong anchoring groups and hydrophilic PEG chains are used.