Golf Capital: Tiger Woods a winner again, Ryder Cup heads to France

@hamishneal

 

Tiger Woods now has 80 PGA Tour wins following a two-stroke victory in the Tour Championship in Georgia. Woods, who last won in August 2013, triumphed in grand fashion on Sunday in Atlanta on the eve of the Ryder Cup in which he is one of four America wildcard selections. In the Algarve Tom Lewis won the Portugal Masters after Australian Lucas Herbert entered the final day in the lead but couldn’t hold of the in-form Englishman.

 

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Opening drive

Entering Sunday with a three-stroke buffer Woods might have been worried that the chasing duo was recently-minted world number one Justin Rose and a former world number one in Rory McIlroy but that pair faded away with rounds of 73 and 74 respectively as the 14-time major winner’s round of one over 71 was enough to win handily despite three bogeys on the back nine.

 

Woods’ win was set up by his first three rounds of 65-68-65 and when he birdied six of the first seven holes on Saturday the crowning achievement of his come-back from multiple back surgeries and a host of off-course matters.

 

The significance on Tiger Woods’ 91st win as a professional golfer can be borne out by the images alone on the 18th hole at East Lake on Sunday as the crowd charged up behind the 42 year-old and playing partner McIlroy. There was a wave of fans immediately behind Woods but a further wave of spectators back behind the water hazard on the fairway. The posted television ratings were THREE TIMES more than the same event last year. Woods for some time even without winning remained influential, but now, again, he’s relevant as a player. Just incredible.

 

Ironically, despite his final round fade Rose did enough to claim the Fed Ex Cup season-ending crown and the USD10 million bonus but then lost the world number one ranking to Dustin Johnson who finished third at East Lakes. Go figure?

 

Elsewhere Tom Lewis, who won on the European Tours’ second-tier Challenge Tour recently, overhauled Victorian Lucas Herbert who led by two heading into the final day of the Portugal Masters. Herbert was cruelled when he found the water on 18 at the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course to give up two strokes and his even par round wasn’t enough to see off Lewis who was nine shots behind Herbert after round one. Lewis tore up the course shooting 23 under in his next three rounds and saluting by three over Herbert and England’s Eddie Pepperell to claim the win.

 

Lewis was lucky when he found the water on 17 but still made par as Herbert missed a birdie opportunity on the same hole. Despite his late slide Herbert joined fellow Australian Jason Scrivener (T12) in confirming his spot on the European Tour next season.

 

Player performance notes

This year’s Ryder Cup requires the Europeans to gain 14.5 of the 28 points on offer to claim the trophy given the Americans are the current holders for this biennial classic to be staged outside of Paris this year at Le Golf National. Looking at some top performers from each squad.

 

From Team USA. Over two editions Patrick Reed has gone 6-1-2 (W,L,H) and he was quiet on the weekend in Atlanta so expect him to spring back into life.

 

From Team Europe. Thomas Pieters showed us a rookie could score well for Europe, and that was away from home, last time out. In that mould Alex Noren can perform in France. The Swede won the French Open this year at this course and also progressed to the semi-finals of the WGC Match-Play this year.

 

For the win…USA. The consistency and rankings superiority of the Americans should get them over the line, but the form of Noren, Tommy Fleetwood and even Francesco Molinari at the course could give the edge to the Europeans. Wait did I just change my mind? No. USA win 15-13. We are coming off last week’s win.

 

*Some four hours after this column goes up the early pairings for Friday will be confirmed at 1600hrs UK time Thursday and if either of these two don’t feature early on, very unlikely in Reed’s case, it would be hard for them to reach the top point-scorer mark.

 

Greens in regulation

Tiger Woods triumph wasn’t the only culmination of a season of golf on the weekend in the USA, the second-tier web.com’s Tour Championship at Atlantic Beach Country Club saw American Denny McCarthy triumph. McCarthy secured one of the PGA Tour 25 cards for next season based on the Final Series performance with Australians Cameron Davis, Matt Jones and Curtis Luck also in that cohort of players as was Hunter Mahan, a three-time Ryder Cup member as recently as 2014. The latter’s slide highlighting how hard the PGA Tour is break onto in the first place and then maintain your place in.

 

Tap in

The drama of the Ryder Cup has old stories of names with little consequence otherwise in golf, hello Jarmo Sandelin, and recent tales of instant classic moments such as Rory McIlroy versus Patrick Reed at Hazeltine in 2016. I can’t do justice to most of these here but check out the links to these stories alone.

 

Image via golfdigest.com

 

Golf Capital: Stanford salutes at Evian but tragedy in Iowa

@hamishneal

Angela Stanford was a surprise winner of the final major of 2018 the Evian Championship as the American benefitted from the profligacy of runner-up and countrywoman Amy Olson who finished back in second with Austin Ernst, Mo Martin and Sei Young Kim. Elsewhere Wu Ashun won on the European Tour as the PGA Tour took a week off before its season-ending climax which will be followed by the Ryder Cup. However the golfing results were over shadowed by the horrific death of Spanish golfer Celia Barquin in America.

 

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Opening drive

 

Angela Stanford’s pair of 68’s on the weekend was enough to secure her first triumph since 2012 when her overall 12 under finish came after a dramatic Sunday at Evian-Les-Bains.

 

Stanford, 40, was with a group of players three shots back before Olson unraveled after she stepped on the 14th tee. A bogey on that hole opened the door and Stanford who had a wild few closing holes of eagle-double bogey-birdie-par for a 12 under score looked headed for a playoff until Olson double-bogeyed 18.

 

26-year-old Olson, for a player without even an LPGA tour victory to her name, may long rue Sunday as a big chance squandered. Several of the big names were well out of contention with players like Lydia Ko too far back even allowing for impressive rounds on Sunday.

 

Stanford’s major triumph came at her 436rd LPGA start and 76th start in a major. By way of comparison remember when Sergio Garcia won the Masters last year? He had gone 70 starts in a major without a victory.

 

China’s Wu Ashun won his third European Tour title when he triumphed in the KLM Open at the Dutch on Sunday. Wu entered the week ranked 344 but not without a hope given the fact he was coming off a T6 last start at the European Masters and given he led after rounds one and two he was a strong chance to replicate at the very least the previous week’s effort heading into the weekend. A closing birdie on the par five 72nd hole allowed Wu to prevail on 16 under ahead of overnight leader Chris Wood whom he had drawn level with on 15 after consecutive birdies.

 

The week the European Tour hosts the Portugal Masters at Vilamoura won last year by Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard.

 

Player performance notes

 

30 players tee it up in the US PGA Tour’s season-ending TOUR Championship this week. Recent years have seen players wins multiple events in the playoffs and last year Xander Schaufelle won at the East Lakes venue in Georgia. Three picks for the limited field.

 

Under 20: Justin Rose. Despite missing out two weeks back the new world number one can assert his authority with a victory here and if he got into contention on Sunday I don’t think he will make the mistakes he did on the run-in at Aronimink against Keegan Bradley.

 

Under 20: Tiger Woods. Okay this is one for the dreamers to a degree. But Woods has finished T6 or better in four of his last seven starts and, probably, should already have a win this season given the run he made at Valspar in March. Woods might have a limited impact at the Ryder Cup in terms of his matches as I don’t think he’ll play more than three so this could be his big moment in 2018.

 

20 to 50: Xander Schaufelle. Last year’s winner here was T3 in recent the BMW Championship which was a return to form after four poor recent results. As one of the impressive mid-20 year olds on tour it’s perhaps surprising Schaufelle hasn’t won this year after two impressive victories last season.

 

Greens in regulation

 

Hawaiian golfer Tadd Fujikawa’s claim to fame came before his professional career when he qualified for the 2006 US Open as a 15-year-old but last week he made more history in becoming the first male professional golfer to publicly come out as gay.

Fujikawa never hit any great heights in the last 12 years bar a few strong efforts in the Sony Open and he only dipped inside the top 1000 in the world during one stretch but he has won a PGA sectional event in Hawaii this year and had been playing the Canadian Tour recently.

 

Given the nature of these hitherto unknown announcement in men’s golf it will be interesting to see if the 27-year-old becomes a trailblazer in the sport in this regard.

 

Tap in

 

A tragic note to end the column on this week which comes only the weeks after the passing of Australian golfer Jarrod Lyle. Spanish golfer Celia Barquin was found dead on an Iowa golf course on Monday. Barquin was a rising star of the women’s game having claimed not only the European Amatuer Ladies title in July but also the Big 12 conference individual crown this year with her college Iowa State who had also named her Female Athlete of the Year previously.

 

A 22-year-old man has been charged with first-degree murder.

Image via dailytimes.com.pk

Golf Capital: Bradley rolls new number one Rose, Evian for final major of 2018

@hamishneal

 

It was an end to the Bryson DeChambeau show on the PGA Tour as Keegan Bradley snapped a six-year drought to win the third-leg of the Fed Ex Cup playoffs, the BMW Championships. England’s Matt Fitzpatrick joined exalted company with his triumph in Switzerland and the final major of the year takes place in France with the women contending for the Evian Championship title.
PGA: Bmw Championship - Final Round

 

Opening drive

After losing Sunday to the rain, and with the chance the tournament would get contracted to 54 holes, Keegan Bradley’s triumph at the Aronimink Golf Club came as a big surprise, especially after Justin Rose bungled late putts in regulation (which would have given him the win) and then the playoff (which would have extended things) gave the 32-year-old his fourth PGA Tour victory, three of which have come via a playoff.

 

Bradley and Rose finished at 20 under one clear of the chasing duo after Bradley started three shots behind the Englishman who was at 17 under heading in the final round.

 

The result still meant Rose, 38, climbed to number one in the world for the first time in his career. The 2013 US Open winner and 2016 Rio gold medalist will be a key plank in the Ryder Cup for the Europeans in the Ryder Cup. Not bad for a player who when they turned professional missed 20 cuts in a row.

 

Following an impressive seven-under 63 in his third round to give him a two-shot buffer heading into Sunday at the European Masters England’s Matt Fitzpatrick but first Mike-Lorenzo Vera and then Lucas Bjerragaard nearly halted the defence. MLV hit the lead after his 13th hole then threw away his chance to win with a double bogey on the 14th and Bjerragaard did all he could for the outright win only for Fitzpatrick to birdie 18 to force extra holes. Fitzpatrick then birdied the opening playoff hole for the win.

 

Seve Ballesteros was the last back-to-back winner (1977/78) of the event at Crans-sur-Sierre and the following year he won his first major The Open. Fitzpatrick has won five titles at the age of 24 and will be hoping he can look to push into the world’s elite group with his pending move to the US PGA Tour.

Player performance notes

Following major wins in 2018 to Pernilla Lindberg, Ariya Jutanugarn, Park Sung-hyun and Georgia Hall the final women’s major of the year the Evian Championship takes place in Evian-les-Bains in south-eastern France this weekend. Swede Anna Nordqvist won a playoff in rain-soaked conditions last year over American Brittany Altomare.

 

Under 20: Ariya Jutanugarn. In recent years class players have bounced back from poor efforts to win here. In 2016 In Gee Chun won in a record 21 under having missed the cut in the year prior so Jutanugarn’s missed cut here last year isn’t a massive concern. Has already won the US Open this year plus two other tournaments.

 

Under 20: Sung Hyung Park. The Korean has opened with an eight-under 63 in the last two editions of the tournament. Albeit she did capitulate last year then going 73-77 to finish T26 but I would rather judge her on the second place in 2016 and this year’s PGA Championship triumph.

 

20 to 50: Georgia Hall. The British Open winner was tenth here last year in her best result at a major outside of the UK and now that she has got that win it might break the dam for more. Was second recently in Portland.

 

50 to 100: Charley Hull. Brooke Henderson has had a monumental few weeks and England’s Hull gets the last nod, just. This time a year ago Hull was the Brit most likely to claim a major having won the LPGA’s season ending tournament in 2016. In 2017 she failed to kick on but its worth remembering Hull is only 22 and has three top ten finishes in majors this year.

 

Greens in regulation

America completed their Ryder Cup squad during the week confirming Tony Finau as the final wildcard following his T8 finish in the BMW. To underscore the quality in the USA squad the weekend’s winner Bradley, along-with Xander Schaufelle now the world number 18 and Billy Horschel who has two top threes in the last two events he’s finished aren’t on the squad.

 

However it should be noted the last two European Tour winners Fitzpatrick and Matt Wallace did miss Thomas Bjorn’s side so there are many hard luck stories in both teams. The statistic from last week bears repeating – all of the top ten in the world will be playing at Le Golf National. As the kids say, it’s going to be lit.

 

Tap in

The PGA Tour’s built-in week off between the BMW and the Tour Championship worked out well after the Monday finish in Pennsylvania with this week’s break until the Fed Ex Cup playoff climax in Atlanta giving the top-liners a useful week off.

 

The Dutch (great name) hosts the European Tour’s KLM Open in Spijk with Romain Wattel, a first-time ET winner here last year when ranked 451 in the world, the defending champion.
Image via reuters.co.uk

 

Golf Capital: Double Bryson, Wallace’s win not enough.

@hamishneal

The FedEx Cup series has started with back-to-back wins for Bryson DeChambeau after he followed his opening finals series victory with a two-stroke triumph at TPC Boston. At the other end of the spectrum Marina Alex claimed her first LGPA title and elsewhere Matt Wallace won a four-man playoff in Denmark but it wasn’t enough to get the Englishman into the Ryder Cup.

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Opening drive

Bryson DeChambeau continues to dominate the FedEx Cup after his 16 under score saw him finish top clear of Justin Rose with Australian Cameron Smith in third to win the Dell Technologies Championship in Massachusetts. DeChambeau, who turns 25 next week, heads into the third leg of the finals series having gone 34 under in the first two tournaments.

 

American Marina Alex broke through on the LPGA Tour after 124 starts winning the Cambia Portland Classic. Alex charged early in her round birdieng five of the front nine as the challenges of Australian Minjee Lee (77) and Open winner Georgia Hall (73) buckled under pressure from the New Jersey native.

 

Alex’s victory had a quirky element to it as Travis Wilson, her caddie, was on the bag for Stacy Lewis when she won the tournament last year. Lewis has recently put her career in hold due to her pregnancy.

 

Matt Wallace won for the fourth time since May last year following his playoff triumph at Silkeborg Ry Golf Club to win the Made in Denmark crown. Lesser lights Steven Brown and Jonathan Thomson plus Ryder Cup vice-captain Lee Westwood were no match for Wallace after the four of them finished at 19 under and Wallace beat Brown at the second playoff hole.

 

Despite Westwood’s prolific career, 23 wins alone on the European Tour, perhaps his playoff defeat was likely – his ET playoff record reads 2-6 and he hasn’t won a playoff since 2010 on the US PGA.

Player performance notes

 

The final 30 for the FedEx Cup climax, the Tour Championship, will be decided at the BMW Championship with the PGA Tour’s best 70 for the season set to take part. Marc Leishman is the defending champion but host venue Aronimink Golf Club is home to it’s first PGA Tour event since 2011.

 

Under 20: Justin Rose. England’s Justin Rose won the AT&T National here in 2010 and he was second in Boston last weekend. With these week’s announcement of his Ryder Cup teammates Rose might be primed to win again in Pennsylvania.

 

20 to 50: Tony Finau. Utah native Finau can assure himself of the final Ryder Cup spot for the USA with a strong performance here. With Europe opting for experience in it’s wildcard picks, we will get to that shortly, Finau would be one of the few rookies in the USA squad if selected (there is currently two.) Fourth and second in the first two playoff events.

 

20 to 50: Cameron Smith. Chasing home DeChambeau in the last fortnight has yielded two third-placed finishes for the Queenslander. Bidding to become another Australian winner in the playoffs.

 

50 to 100: Billy Horschel. Before the American, one of last week’s picks, withdrew during his first round on account of a sinus infection he’d been in good form after a third to open the playoffs with an 11th the week prior. Hasn’t since the Byron Nelson in May last year though.
Greens in regulation

 

It has been all Ryder Cup off the course this week as both sides confirmed (most of the) their wildcard picks. USA skipper Jim Furyk added Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and DeChambeau to his team this week with one player still to be added, possibly Toby Finau but other players might elevate their hopes later in the playoff series.

 

Dane Thomas Bjorn by-passed form for experience seeing Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, and Henrik Stenson get the nod in joining their current squad which includes five rookies. The youngest of the four wildcards is Garcia at 38 proving Bjorn valued experienced to guide his talented squad at Le Golf National in Paris later this month. An interesting quirk of the rankings means the Ryder Cup is really an elite event this year with all the top ten taking part (Australian Jason Day is currently ranked 11.)

 

Tap in

 

This week the LPGA takes a break until the Evian Championship in France – the final major of the year. With the Ryder Cup wildcards confirmed the ET heads to Switzerland for the Omega European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre Golf Club won last year by 2016 Ryder Cupper Matt Fitzpatrick.

 

Image via irishtimes.com