Sergio Leads From Start to Finish as Hideki Impresses Again
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
JUST 12 months ago all the talk in professional golf was of the sport's new Big Three - Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. To those names can now be added the Japanese superstar Hideki Matsuyama, who successfully defended his Waste Management Phoenix Open title in dramatic fashion at TPC Scottsdale.
Matsuyama has now won five of his past nine tournaments and has yet to finish outside the top five in four starts in Phoenix. He began the day with only an outside chance of victory, but as 54-hole leader Ben An began to falter, Matsuyama made his move with an early birdie and eagle. His charge up the leaderboard was relentless and even when An reached the turn with a three-shot lead, there was a feeling that something special was going to happen. And it duly did.
One player after another threw down the gauntlet. Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, came up one shot shy after a magnficent round of 65, there was a brilliant return to form by Rickie Fowler at a venue where he finished second last year after coming to grief at the 17th hole and, from nowhere, former US Open champion Webb Simpson produced a round of 64 to set a target of 17 under par.
Matsuyama stood on the final tee level with Simpson and launched a drive that travelled 357 yards. It left him 75 yards from the green and he struck his second 18 feet beyond the hole. His birdie putt was right in the heart of the hole but, agonisingly, stopped half an inch short. And so, like 12 months ago, off they went to extra holes. Matsuyama and Simspon twice parred the 18th and also shared the 10th in par. They moved to the 17th hole, a reachable par four. Simpson struck what he thought was a perfect drive but it bounced to the right and although his ball finished on the putting surface he was faced with an impossible putt, a bunker between himself and the hole. Matsuyama hit a three wood just short of the green and chipped to eight feet.
Simpson's first putt finished fully 20 feet from the cup and his birdie try slipped just past, so he had to settle for a par. Inevitably, Matsuyama holed his birdie putt to win at the fourth extra hole.
"I played really well all week," he said afterwards. "And I have been striking the ball well for a while now. Defending this title means a great deal to me."
Record crowds of more 655,000 people attended the tournament, with in excess of 200,000 pouring through the gates on Saturday. In the main, they were pretty well behaved, but Matsuyama was singled out for verbal abuse on several shots. If the PGA Tour wants this tournament to survive in its current format, it is going to have to do something about the spectators who don't know when to draw the line between good-natured banter and downright boorish behaviour.
His victory means that Matsuyama overtakes Justin Thomas at the top of the FedEx Cup rankings. An finished in sixth place, one ahead of Scotland's Martin Laird, whose final round of 73 did not contain a single birdie.
Hideki Matsuyama - 'In the Bag' information:
Irons: Srixon Z965 (4-PW; True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts)
Wedges: Cleveland Golf 588 RTX 2.0 Precision Forged (52, 56 and 60 degrees; True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts)
Ball: New 5th generation Srixon Z-Star XV
Dubai Desert Classic
SERGIO GARCIA completed a wire-to-wire victory at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic thanks to a bogey-free final round of 69 that was good enough to see him beat Open champion Henrik Stenson by three shots.
It was the 37-year-old Spaniard's 12th European Tour success, but the margin of victory should not cloud the fact that Stenson mounted a serious challenge for this title. The crowds had turned up in record numbers at the start of the week to see Tiger Woods continue his latest comeback from injury. In the event, Woods opened with a miserable 77 and then withdrew from the tournament, citing back spasms.
It meant that Garcia and Stenson played the final round in front of huge crowds, and they duly delivered some wonderful golf. Stenson's performance was all the more remarkable because he was struggling with his game throughout the week - it was no mean feat that he finished the week on 16 under par.
The Swede closed the gap to Garcia to two shots with birdies at the 13th and 14th holes and it looked like it was game on. At the 200-yard par-three 15th, Garcia produced the shot of a lifetime. After watching an adrenaline-fuelled Stenson fly the green, Garcia nearly holed his six iron, with the ball finishing 18 inches from the hole. Stenson found his ball in an awful lie behind the green and fluffed his pitch before nearly holing his third. But it was a shot gone. And when Garcia tapped in for a two, the lead was back to four.
The Spaniard hit a crooked approach to the next green, leaving himself with a horrible pitch. He chose to bounce the ball into the slope, and it could so easily have gone wrong, with the ball finishing back at his feet. Instead, it finished two feet from the hole and he duly holed for par.
Earlier in the round, there had been a crucial 12-foot putt holed for par at the eighth hole, followed by a birdie at the ninth. There was a feeling that this was going to be Garcia's day, and so it turned out. He set the tone for the week with an opening 65 at Emirates Golf Club on Thursday and never looked back.
Englishman Tyrrell Hatton and Dane Lasse Jensen were then at 14 under, two shots clear of Matthew Fitzpatrick and Peter Uihlein.
Major next for Sergio?— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 5, 2017
His thoughts. pic.twitter.com/ofU0RzN7lw
This was Garcia's 250th European Tour appearance and his first victory since the 2014 Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. It should also take him back into the top 10 in the world rankings.
Unsurprisingly, he was delighted with his week's work. "I'm very happy to play the way I played, " he said. "The way I handled some of the key moments and to beat Henrik, we all now how great a player he is. The eighth was very, very big because it was the worst drive I hit all week, but it was a massive save and then I birdied nine which was great.
"The recovery at the 16th hole was important but I think my birdie at the 15th was even more important. To be able to hit it to a couple of feet and get four clear was massive. Henrik is always there so you've got to stay calm and collected with him. It's a great start to the year so we're going to try to keep going the same way."
Garcia got off to the perfect start, putting his approach to the first to inside six feet and rolling it home to extend his lead.
Stenson made a fantastic birdie after finding trouble off the tee on the sixth, putting an approach to 15-feet and rolling in the putt and while Garcia was in worse trouble on the eighth after finding the desert, he found his ball and made par from the sand.
He carried that momentum to the ninth and an excellent approach brought a birdie and restored his four-shot lead at the turn and he was never really in trouble after that.
It was a huge week for Jensen, who had missed his first four cuts of the season but he produced some fabulous golf on the back nine to record a 65.. The 32 year old turned in 33 before a birdie on the 11th was followed by an eagle on the 13th and he finished birdie-birdie.
Hatton made it seven top 25s in a row with a 67 that contained six birdies. Fitzpatrick also had a 67 despite a double-bogey on the eighth, while Uihlein carded a 69.
What’s In Garcia’s Bag?
- 2017 M2 Driver / 9.5* / Mitsubishi Kuro Kage Silver 80 X
- 2017 M1 Fairway 15* / Mitsubishi Kuro Kage Silver 80 X
- 2017 M1 Fairway 19* / Mitsubishi Kuro Kage Silver 80 X
- P750 Tour Proto Irons / 3-PW / Nippon Modus 130 X
- Milled Grind Wedges / 52 & 58
- TP Collection Juno Putter
- TP5 Golf Ball
- adidas Golf apparel & Powerband BOA BOOST footwear
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