Billy Horschel Overcomes Worst Run of Career to Win Again
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
BILLY HORSCHEL beat Jason Day in a playoff to win the last AT&T Bryon Nelson to be played at TPC Four Seasons, in the process ending a run of four successive missed cuts and leaping to 15th place in the FedEx Cup standings. It was also Day's best performance of the season - he began the final round without a single top-10 finish to his credit this year.
After missing the cut at the Players Championship at Sawgrass, his caddie, Josh Cassell, told Horschel: “You know what? We’re going to go next week to Dallas, to the Byron Nelson – and we’re going to win." The American has been working hard on his swing and it was clear that Cassell realised that a good run of form wasn't too far away.
And so it was that he delivered on Cassell's prediction, beating world number three Day on the first playoff hole to claim the AT&T Byron Nelson, his first victory since winning both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2014. The tournament ended when Day missed a four-foot par putt on the 18th hole that would have extended the playoff after both players finished at 12 under in regulation. And they were almost joined by James Hahn - the American needed to hole his second shot at the par four to join them on 12 under and his magnificent effort actually lipped out. He would go onto knock in the putt for a birdie and finish one behind.
Horschel arrived at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas in the middle of his worst run on the PGA Tour since his rookie season of 2011 when he missed 14 cuts in 25 starts.
The American putted brilliantly throughout the four days in Texas, on a course upon which he has never played well. In two previous starts he had missed the cut on both occasions. This was an especially sweet victory for both the player and his bagman, who normally caddies for John Senden - Senden is recovering after treatment for a brain tumour and was among the spectators at the course with his young son, Jacob.
Next year the tournament moves to a new location, Trinity Forest, a course Horschel has never seen but looks forward to playing. "I was never a fan of this course,” Horschel said, “Now I am and I won - and I don’t want to leave.”
Despite losing, Day left TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas in a positive frame of mind. The runner-up finish was his best result since finishing second last year at the US PGA Championship. He has struggled with injuries and the devastating news that his mother is suffering from cancer.
Day was not at his best, but he and Horschel enjoyed a ding-dong battle on the back nine after 54-hole leader Hahn fell out of contention with three successive bogeys. Horschel holed a huge putt at the 14th for a birdie that edged him ahead of the Australian but Day bounced straight back at the next, holing a chip from a difficult downhill lie to square things up again.
To put things in perspective, in his past 19 events he has not had a single victory - in his previous 17, he won seven times.
“I only had one top-10 up until this point,” Day said. “To be able to play the way I did today, I played some good, solid golf. Obviously, it’s a little disappointing – but it’s not the first tournament I’m going to lose. I’ve lost plenty of other ones beforehand and I’ll lose plenty more in the future.
“I’ve got to try to get better from this experience and I feel good about my game. Everything is coming along nicely.”
ALVARO QUIROS won his first tournament in more than six years when he claimed the Rocco Forte Open but, boy, did he make hard work of it. After making a sensational start to his final round, the Spaniard led the field by seven shots, but nerves got the better of him and he frittered strokes away. In the end, he had to beat South Africa's Zander Lombard on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.
It was the 34-year-old's seventh win but he has never had to work harder for the ultimate prize.
Quiros has endured a miserable run. After winning twice on the European Tour in 2011 he was ranked 21st in the world, but after trying to make swing changes he has gradually slipped to his current position of 703rd and missed 15 cuts in 23 events in 2016. That meant the 34-year-old lost his card and he had planned to attempt to regain it via the Challenge Tour, but this victory gives him a European Tour exemption until the end of 2018. Hopefully, he can take advantage.
Before this week, he had only made five cuts in his past 20 stars, but he rolled back the years at Verdura Golf Club as he came flying out of the blocks with four birdies in the first six holes – draining huge birdie putts at the fifth and sixth.
Quiros doesn't know what it is to play safe golf. He hits the ball a mile and has always attacked every flag. Feeling that he was destined to win this tournament, and in utter control of his game, he continued his aggressive approach, but it came back to bite him in windy conditions and four bogeys and a double-bogey opened the door for the chasing pack.
Lombard, a 22-year-old who is regarded as one of the brightest prospects in his native South Africa, started with back to back birdies but was unable to make an impression on Quiros. However, as the Spaniard frittered shots away, Lombard kept his cool and focused on his own play, finishing with a round of 68, compared with Quiros' 73. In the end, Quiros had to hole a pressure-packed 10-foot putt on the final green to finish on 14 under par and take it to extra holes.
Quiros made his experience count though, and after they halved the first playoff hole in pars, a two-putt effort for par was enough to seal the victory for Quiros at the second time of asking - sadly, Lombard missed a three-footer to end his hopes of a maiden win.
A consolation for the South African came in the shape of qualification for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, while Li Haotong of China finished third after holing his second for an albatross at the par five 12th en route to a five under final round 66 and a 13 under total.
The most casual albatross you'll ever see... pic.twitter.com/sYVWHiYNta— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 21, 2017
Quiros was delighted to become a winner again. “I'm very happy. Obviously it shouldn't have been like that with a playoff, but in the end it's a victory and that's the most important thing," he said. "It's been a little bit of a mess today – the game wasn't that bad. Just the last few holes I started to struggle with the wind left to right, and Zander was playing nicely.
“I didn't have an idea how many shots I was leading by, what I knew on 18 is I have to make a putt to halve with Zander. It’s a strange feeling because it's a victory and it means a lot. But I didn't like how I ended the round. It should never have gone that far. But at the same time I could be talking about finishing second so I’m happy.
“I’m positive because it means I can go back onto the European Tour and I’m positive because even after the finish that I had, I’ve been able to manage, so there are a lot of good things. I knew I had a five shots advantage and that’s a lot of shots but on a day like this, it’s nothing. I knew I had to play as well as the previous days and keep doing what I’m doing. The most important thing is that I’ve been able to do a good job for the whole week and I’ve been able to go low.
“I have been struggling because I was trying to improve. I changed my swing a little bit technically speaking and I lost my natural swing. At the end of the day, it’s difficult to stop and come out with a different setup. The lowest point was last season, losing my card for the first time in my career and I had to fight for it. The most important thing for me back then was to recover my game, because I knew that if I could do that after a year on the Challenge Tour I should be able to get my card and come back. Fortunately it happened earlier and I’m happy to say I’m hitting the ball better. I know where I am technically and that’s a big improvement.”
Lombard was happy enough with his performance. “I’m very happy with how I kept myself in contention and all the best for Alvaro. He’s a great champion, he’s won in the past and it’s nice to see him win again. It’s a good consolation prize to get into Wentworth. I suppose winning isn’t everything but I can’t complain, losing in a playoff – it’s anybody’s game with this wind. I think I hit a great putt but the wind just kept it out, so I’m pleased.
“The main thing I take from this is that I can be in contention and I can win. I just need to trust myself and believe that and hopefully I can do it.”
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