Daniel Berger Successfully Defends in Memphis

By: | Mon 12 Jun 2017 | Comments

Daniel Berger produced a flawless final round of 66 to successfully defend the St Jude Classic at TPC Southwind. It was a day that could have turned out very differently for the young American. At the first hole he pulled his approach way left and then fluffed his pitch. Staring a double-bogey in the face, Berger then chipped for a dramatic par, and he was off and running.

"Yeah, that could have been a double or triple-bogey in the blink of an eye,” said Berger, whose second PGA TOUR victory moved him to 10th in the FedExCup standings. “I was lucky to save par there, and that kind of got my round going and I hung on there at the end.”

He became just the fourth player to go back-to-back at this tournament after David Toms (2003-04), Lee Trevino (1971-72) and Dave Hill (1969-’70). He also moved from 11th to fifth in the U.S. Presidents Cup standings.

Berger called his chip-in a one-in-a-hundred result, and he took full advantage, making four birdies and no bogeys the rest of the way. This, on a watery TPC Southwind course that routinely claims more victims than even watery TPC Sawgrass.

“I put so much work in over the last six, eight months to try to be in the same position again,” said Berger, who stayed in the same hotel and even the same room—a coincidence, he said—as the one he stayed in last year here. “I’m so excited to finally get there.”

At one stage, eight players were tied for the lead but while others frittered shots away, Berger played superb golf to finish on 10 under par and beat Charl Schwartzel and Whee Kim by one shot.

For Rafa Cabrera Bello, however, the condundrum continues. He began the day in great shape to finally win his first PGA Tour title, and ended it two behind Berger. The Spaniard hit some huge drives and gave himself plenty of opportunities but he struggled on the greens and had to settle for finishing fourth, just as he had at the Players Championship.

Phil Mickelson also threw away an opportunity to get back into the winners' circle. He was playing brilliantly until he came to the par-four 12th, where he drove out of bounds and then put his third shot into water behind the green. In the end, he had to hole a 12-foot putt to walk off the green with a triple-bogey seven, and his chance was gone. He still managed a final round of 68, and finished three behind Berger.

But the story of the day was written by Braden Thornberry, an amateur from nearby Olive Branch Golf Club. He fired an astonishing final round of 65  to briefly tie the lead before finishing tied with Cabrera Bello on eight under.

He’s the new NCAA champion, and he played like a season campaigner. “I never really got nervous today,” he said after his bogey-free round. “I was kind of surprised actually. But I think when your putter feels as good as it did today, you're a little more freed up tee to green.”

Trying to become the first amateur winner on the PGA Tour since Mickelson at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open, Thornberry's tied fourth finish at Southwind was the best result by an amateur on tour since Lee McCoy took fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship.

He kick-started his round at the par-five third hole, where his 213-yard second shot finished 45 feet from the hole. He holed the putt for an eagle, and was off and running. It was quite an achievement for Thornberry, who was three over par when he stepped off the ninth green on Friday and only made the halfway cut by a shot.

European Tour

Dylan Frittelli won a thrilling Lyoness Open in Austria, fending off the challenges of David Horsey, Mikko Korhonen and Jbe Kruger to win by a shot. It was the third time in recent weeks that the South African found himself on the leaderboard going into the final round - he had previously come up short, throwing away a five-shot lead in the China Open, where he lost in a playoff, but this time he managed to complete the job.

"I said after China that I felt I would go on and win a tournament this season, and I am thrilled that I have been able to do so," said the 27-year-old.

Felipe Aguilar, of Chile, began the day with a two-shot lead but made a poor start on a day when everybody else was taking advantage of the perfect scoring conditions and quickly found himself trailing Frittelli by two. Frittelli, who was playing on the Challenge Tour last year, carded six birdies and a single bogey in a magnificent round of 67 to get to 12 under par.

Austria has been a happy hunting ground for Frittelli, who won his first Challenge Tour event here four years ago. He began the day on seven under, but made early birdies to take control of the tournament. With Kruger dropping a shot at the last, and Finland’s Korhonen and England’s Horsey already in the clubhouse at 11 under, Frittelli stood at the 18th tee with a one shot lead, and knocked in his close-range par putt to secure the trophy.

Horsey, who matched the course record with a 64 on Friday, posted the lowest round again. The 32-year-old shot into contention after birdies at the first four holes and another at the seventh helped him reach the turn in 31. He picked up two further birdies on the way home. Richard McEvoy finished a further shot back on 10 under, while Aguilar laboured to a final round of  75 to finish the week six shots behind Frittelli.

Unsurprisingly, Frittelli was delighted with his play. “I’m just elated, I’m really happy with the way the week went – super stoked to get my first win on the European Tour," he said. "It has been a long time coming and I am glad to be inside the winners' circle.

“At the final hole I was just trying to get it on the green, make a par and avoid a playoff, my zero and two record in playoffs is not very good, so I didn’t want to have extra guys in the playoff trying to beat them on the 18th, it would have been tough. But I was very happy with the way I hit that seven iron in.

“It was one of those putts I looked at early on and saw the line, knew exactly what it was doing, had to wait around for the other guys to putt but I kept it in the back of my mind as to what it was doing and nailed the putt.

“Five years ago I played this tournament as an invite and I managed to miss my second round tee time so I would like to think that this is a role reversal here five years later and basically a culmination of the hard work I have put on in those two periods.

“This win will move me up the Race to Dubai, and open up some more doors down the road. I was pretty relaxed through the back nine actually, I felt a lot more nervous in China and gained a lot from that experience having lost to Alex Levy in a play-off, but I felt good coming down the back nine and hit some really crucial shots, so I’m really proud of how I handled the nerves.”

Korhonen briefly joined Frittelli in the lead on the front nine and admitted that it was on those nine holes where he had made his score throughout the week. “The front nine has been my strong part this week and the back nine has been a little harder, and today I was also quite good. It wasn’t as hard as Thursday or Friday but a little different on the greens," he said.

“It was a nice experience to be in a tight pack like that and to be able to play well under the pressure we had. A second place finish is really good and it gives me a boost for sure.”

Going into the round, Horsey knew that his chances of victory were slim. “Obviously I was a long way back going into today. I got off to a quick start which is what I needed, you can do that around this golf course, conditions were favourable, and I played pretty good for most of the day. I can’t really grumble at shooting 65 on a Sunday, you just have to question the first and the third rounds but I know my game is a work in progress still and it’s nice to see that I’m getting very close.

“I was just trying to focus on myself and give myself chances. When you come to any 18th hole on a Sunday afternoon, in my head I was thinking I need to make birdie to win, but I couldn’t quite polish it off."

Kruger lost his playing privileges at the end of last season, and has been struggling with his game. “It is sweet and sour, I’ll take the good with the bad. It is disappointing in a way to finish like that but it’s part of the game. I haven’t played well under pressure for a long while and I haven’t been able to compete for a long while, so to be there or there about is enough.”

The home fans had turned out in large numbers expecting to see Bernd Wiesberger, Austria's top player, winning the tournament, but he struggled all week. However, Sepp Straka gave the Austrians plenty to cheer about. He is a member of the Web.com Tour and has played very little golf in Europe since turning professional but the 24-year-old, whose swing and demeanour are uncannily like those of Ernie Els, got himself into contention before dropping a couple of shots. He finished the week in seventh place on seven under par but served notice that he could be a force to be reckoned with.

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