Sergio Garcia Gives European Tour Dream Finish to Regular Season
SO, YOU are Keith Pelley and you are chief executive of the European Tour. You are overseeing the Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation. What is your dream scenario?
Well, how about the man hosting the tournament finishing on top of the pile in front of an adoring home crowd? That wouldn't be bad for starters, would it? And guess who won the Andalucia Valderrama Masters for his third victory of an unforgettable 2017? Erm, that would be Sergio Garcia.
The Spaniard's achievement should not be underestimated. He had a huge amount to cope with as the week unfolded, hosting dinners, overseeing the pro-am and glad-handing with everybody who wanted a piece of his time. And yet he still found the game to add to his victories in the Dubai Desert Classic and The Masters at Augusta.
As an added bonus, Garcia also closed the gap on Tommy Fleetwood at the head of the Race to Dubai, and will now head into the season's final big-money tournaments believing that he can catch and overtake the Englishman, starting at the HSBC Champions in China.
This was no straightforward win for Garcia, who had to hold off a determined final-day challenge from Holland's Joost Luiten. Garcia led by one at the start of play and reached the turn in 33 to get to 10 under par and maintain that advantage over Luiten.
Garcia was already a five-time winner on home soil, with all of those victories coming after he had held the 54-hole lead. Luiten, who is one of the best putters on the European Tour, was looking for a first win in a season that has seen him miss just four of 21 cuts but also only claim one top 10.
This is the final event of the regular season, and a last chance to claim a place in the top 100 in the Race to Dubai - anybody finishing outside that elite number would lose their playing privileges for the 2017-18 season, and one man who found himself in a precarious position was England's Daniel Brooks. He came into the week knowing that he needed a top-eight finish to have any chance of keeping his playing privileges for next season and he turned in level par.
The 30-year-old holed a six-foot putt on the second to join Garcia in the lead but the Spaniard holed a slippery one down the hill on the par five fourth to edge back ahead. Luiten began his round with four straight pars but hit a stunning approach to tap-in range on the fifth and when he put his tee-shot on the par three sixth to six feet and made the putt, he was just one off the lead.
Garcia birdied the 10th and 11th but dropped a stroke at the 12th. When he came to treacherous par-five 17th, the Spaniard was 11 under for the tournament and one in front of Luiten. The Dutchman, who birdied the 13th and 15th holes but dropped a shot at the 16th, was 10 under and made a crucial birdie at the 17th, but Garcia matched him so the pair went to the 18th tee with the Spaniard still leading by one.
Brooks was level par for the day and seven under for the tournament, five behind Garcia but in third place. His chance of victory had gone, but he knew that if he could avoid disaster at the last then he would be playing on the European Tour again next season. He parred the hole and secured third place. There is a huge amount of pressure involved in winning any golf tournament, but it as nothing when compared with turning up for the final event of the regular season with your entire future on the line - Brooks will walk away from Valderrama with his head held high.
Luiten parred the final hole for a magnificent round of 66 and a 72-hole total of 273 and when Garcia matched his par he had secured victory by a shot after a final round of 67.
Jamie Donaldson, who began the week in 118th place in the Race to Dubai, climbed into the top 100 after finishing fourth, while fifth-placed Wade Ormsby was fifth, doing enough to rise from 106th place and secure his playing rights for the new season.
THERE was also a heartwarming outcome to the Foshan Open on the Challenge Tour when Oliver Farr, of Wales, romped to a five-shot win that secured his return to the European Tour. The Welsh golfer won by five shots in China and now finds himself in fourth place on the Road to Oman, knowing he has done enough to win back his tour card.
He last played on the European Tour in 2014-15 but was unable to retain his playing rights. He had enjoyed two top-10 finishes in his past three Challenge Tour starts and maintained his outstanding form to secure a memorable victory. He began the final round with a five-shot lead and was never in danger of being caught.
With three birdies between the 10th and 13th holes, Farr was able to enjoy the closing holes. Despite dropping a shot at the par three 16th, he stepped onto the 18th with a four-shot lead and crowned his amazing week with a closing birdie.
Having been 50th on the Road to Oman just six weeks ago, it has been a remarkable turnaround for Farr. “It is a massive win,” he said. “If you’re playing in this event you start the week knowing that if you win you will be close to getting a European Tour card. That brings a little bit of added pressure to the event but that’s what also makes it such a big tournament.
“It still hasn’t set in yet but it’s a fantastic achievement to win one of the biggest Challenge Tour events. I wasn’t in a good frame of mind six weeks ago if I am honest. I was questioning myself and was lacking in belief but it feels great to have been able to have turned everything around.
WOW!! Overwhelmed with all the messages and support throughout the week! Couldn't do it without the best support from my wife and family! ???? pic.twitter.com/IrSFXzv2L9— Oliver Farr (@oliverfarr25) October 23, 2017
“I am not 100% sure how I have turned everything around but I know I am playing the best golf I have ever played. That is a great feeling to have and I hope it continues.
“I played on the European Tour in 2015 after qualifying from here so it is a fantastic feeling to know that I can progress from the Challenge Tour again. I have to go out there and prove myself on the European Tour and I’ll start thinking about how I am going to do that over the next couple of weeks.”
Joining Farr on the European Tour next season will be Ryan Evans. The Englishman, who shared a room with Farr this week, claimed a share of third.
THE juggernaut that is Justin Thomas just keeps rolling along, sweeping everybody who gets in his way to one side. The young American sensation recorded his fifth PGA Tour victory of 2017 when he birdied the second extra hole to claim the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges.
And the question is: who on earth is going to stop him. On this occasion, Australia's Marc Leishman came mighty close, finishing level with Thomas on nine under par after 72 holes. But Leishman succumbed at the second playoff hole. There was something rather inevitable about it all.
The pair finished on 279 in South Korea after Thomas had looked like he was going to throw it all away. He entered the final round tied for the lead with Scott Brown but had a double-bogey seven at the par-five third hole. To his credit, he shrugged it off and got stuck back in.
“I told myself it was a bad golf swing," Thomas said. "It wasn't a mental error or wasn't a wrong judgment that we made but just a bad golf swing at a pretty bad time but I knew you are going make bogeys out here today.”
Thomas regained the lead and looked like winning in regulation play until he dropped a shot at the relatively straightforward 17th hole, a 195-yard par three. It meant he came to the 18th trailing Leishman by a shot but he birdied the final hole to force the playoff.
"I really played some great golf after the third hole but it's just such a long day with these conditions," Thomas said, adding that he is looking forward to taking some time off. Unsurprisingly, his astonishing efforts in 2017, which included a 59 and his first major, the US PGA Championship, have taken it out of him. “I'm so excited to not do anything. I officially have nothing left in the tank at this moment.”
Leishman, who ended a five-year drought on the PGA TOUR when he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and then added the BMW Championship in September, looked to have slipped out of contention when he dropped shot at the fifth, seventh and eighth holes, but the Australian is a different player these days, and he duly birdied the ninth, 12th, 14th and 18th.
Returning to the 18th tee, both men parred the hole at the first attempt before Leishman found the water the next time around when trying to find the green in two at the 568-yard par five. Thomas birdied the hole, and that was good enough.
"Obviously, it is very disappointing to finish off that way. I probably got a little bit of a lifeline on the first playoff hole and I didn't take advantage of it. You give one of the best players in the world a chance like that, he's probably going to take it. Disappointed but second is not all bad," Leishman said. “It was a bit of a dodgy lie for my second shot but I was never going to lay up in those circumstances. I just chunked it a little bit and it goes in the water. If you go down, you want to go down like that. You don't want to go down laying up and making par. I rather attack and try to take it. I would certainly sleep better at night just doing that.”
Cameron Smith of Australia finished one stroke back in third place at eight under with Whee Kim, the highest placed finisher of the 16 South Korean players in the field, finishing fourth at seven under after closing with a 72.
“I'm so pumped," Thomas added. "I probably wasn't very fun to be around those first two days. I was just glad I finally got back to myself being patient these last two days.”
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