Woodland Pulls up Trees to Win in the Desert
ONE by one they fell away until, finally, only Gary Woodland and Chez Reavie were left standing at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in the Arizona desert. The pair finished locked together on 266, 18 under par, after Reavie holed a sensational putt on the 72nd green to force a playoff.
Reavie is one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, but he is also one of the straightest and when they went back to play the 18th again he duly found the centre of the fairway again, while Woodland found the bunker on the left.
Neither man could find the green with their approach shots, but Reavie left himself a devilish chip, up and over a severe slope to the hole. His short game had been magnificent all day, but this was different. This was a playoff, and this was him looking to win for the first time and it was little surprise that he left it fully 15 feet short. Woodland’s shot was far more straightforward and he was able to putt it, knowing that a par would probably be good enough. He left it 18 inches away.
So it was now or never for Reavie. He had to hole out for par to keep the playoff going and this time he couldn’t manage it, leaving the ball hanging on the lip. Woodland duly tapped in for a long-awaited third win.
The day began with crowd favourite Rickie Fowler leading the field at a tournament that seems to be made for him, but this was a day when nothing would go right for Fowler and he fell down the leaderboard. He had desperately wanted to win it for Griffin Connell, a seven-year-old who described himself as Fowler’s number one fan. Griffin lost a long fight with a respiratory condition recently and Fowler had spoken warmly all week about the youngster. Maybe he just wanted it too much.
Woodland is 33 years old and, going into this week, had two PGA Tour wins to his name, but the last of those came way back in 2013. It has been a pretty poor return for a man of his obvious talent. He hits the ball a mile and seems to have all the shots, but he he has consistently come up short. Until now.
Last year Woodland’s wife, Gabby, had been due to give birth to twins, but one of them died during her pregnancy, leaving the couple heartbroken. “I had to deal with some stuff of the course last year but I have felt really comfortable with my game this week. I have been playing well for a while now and was really in control of all parts of my game all day long. I feel very emotional right now. It means a huge amount to me to win again,” he said.
He began the final round at TPC Scottsdale in the chasing pack but came through with a glorious 64 to beat Chez Reavie by a single shot. Woodland shot through the field with a sensational front nine of 30, five under. He birdied the second, third, fifth, eighth and ninth holes but also produced a couple of miraculous par saves to keep his round going. A shot went at the 11th but he git it back at the 13th.
However, when another shot went astray at the 14th, not many would have given much for his chances. But he then birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to set the target at 18 under.
Reavie had been there or thereabouts all day long after an eagle at the par-five third, and he joined the leaders with a birdie at the fifth. A succession of pars followed until he picked up another birdie at the 13th. He appeared to have handed the initiative back to Woodland when he dropped a shot at the 16th, but then came a birdie at the 17th, and so he came to the last requiring a birdie to force a playoff.
He left himself with a 25-foot putt to take the tournament into extra holes and brought the house down when he holed it – this from a 36-year-old still looking for his first PGA Tour victory. And so Woodland and Reavie headed back to the 18th tee.
A record crowd of 700,000 people attended the event. Let me repeat that. A record crowd of SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND people attended the event. It is a one-off, and it is noisy. Very noisy. Players such as Fowler embrace it, as does Phil Mickelson, who looked like a possible winner when he birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th, but then came a horrible double-bogey on the final hole which dropped him back into a tie for fifth place. The fans in Arizona adore Mickelson, and he adores them straight back, but he was unable to give them the grandstand finish they had all come to see.
Justin Thomas may not be quite so willing to return. He “shared some words” with the spectators who surround the par-three 16th on Thursday, when they told him what they thought after he had walked off the green with a double-bogey five. It was disappointing to see Thomas lose his cool but hopefully he will learn some valuable lessons from it.
Martin Laird had given himself a shot at winning after reaching the turn in 31, but the wheels came off for the Scot on the back nine. There was, however, another encouraging performance from 24-year-old American Ollie Schnederjans, who tied for third with Brendan Steele after a 65. Matt Kuchar, who tied for fifth with Bryson DeChambeau and Chesson Hadley, recorded the 95th top-10 finish of his career.
Fowler eventually finished the week on 11 under, in a share of 11th with, among others, Spain’s Jon Rahm.
Asia has a new star. His name is Shubhankar Sharma and he leads the Race to Dubai after winning the Maybank Championship thanks to a stunning final round of 62 for his second victory of the season in only his 10th start on the European Tour.
Sharma won the Joburg Open in December but this was something extra special from the Indian as he raced to 21 under par and beat Spain’s Jorge Campillo by two, with Ryan Fox and Pablo Larrazabal a shot further adrift. He becomes only the third Indian after Jeev Milkha Singh and Anirban Lahiri to win two European Tour events in the same season.
"I played pretty solid and it wasn’t easy because it was windy,” said the 21-year-old. "I kept pushing the whole day. I knew I had to make a lot birdies to catch the leaders. I made a lot of birdies on the front nine and just continued on the back. To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about the leaderboard. I wanted to set a target in my mind and try to achieve it.
"On the 13th I knew I was somewhere near the leaders but on 16 I knew I had a two-shot lead. I told myself 'if I can make two more birdies, that would give me a good chance to win’. The last two months have changed my life. I’ve been a member on the Asian Tour for a while and I will continue to be a member on the Asian Tour. I’ve always dreamt of winning and now I’m a two-time winner on the Asian Tour and European Tour."
Youngest players since 2000 to win twice on Tour:— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 4, 2018
???????? 17 years 363 days @ManasseroMatteo
???????? 20 years 251 days @WangJeunghun
???????? 21 years 198 days @ShubhankarGolf
???????? 21 years 278 days @MattFitz94 pic.twitter.com/WVbgNJIMb7
Campillo started the day four ahead of Sharma and when he put his approach to the first to four feet for an eagle, he was two clear of the field. But Sharma made four birdies in a row from the fourth to get within two of the lead and then holed a long putt on the ninth to turn in 31 and cut the gap to one.
Campillo took advantage of the par five fifth to lead by two but Sharma struck a glorious approach to the 11th to make it six birdies in eight holes. Campillo found The trouble off the ninth tee and when he failed to get up and down from a bunker after finding sand with his second, he dropped to 17 under and the lead was shared.
Sharma birdied the par five 13th and hit the flag with his pitch into the next to set up another birdie and lead by two.
Larrazabal reached the turn in 34 with birdies on the first and fifth and made his move with birdies at the 13th, 14th and 15th to join Campillo in second.
Sharma's winning formula (ranks) ????— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 5, 2018
???????? 295 yard average drive (45th)
???? 42 of 56 fairways (19th)
? 61 of 72 greens (7th)
???????? 8 of 11 scrambling (14th)
?? 1.71 putts per GIR (23rd)
???????? 24 birdies or better (3rd)
???????? 3 bogeys or worse (1st)#MaybankChampionship pic.twitter.com/MUqOJp3OJh
Sharma and Larrazabal both missed birdie chances on the 16th but the Indian holed from eight feet at the 17th to extend his lead to three. Larrazabal also birdied the 17th but when Sharma got up and down from a bunker to birdie the last and set the target at 21 under, Campillo was his only realistic challenger.
A par on the last saw Larrazabal sign for a 66, a score that was matched by Fox as the New Zealander birdied three of his last four holes. Campillo birdied the 17th but when he failed hole his second shot on the par five last, the title was Sharma's, although the 31 year old made a birdie to claim second on his own.
Italian Nino Bertasio and Japanese pair Ryo Ishikawa and Hideto Tanihara all carded rounds of 69 to finish at 16 under alongside India's Khalin H Joshi, who signed for a 70, and South African Dylan Frittelli who finished with a 71. American Berry Henson also carded a 71 to finish at 15 under and close out the top 10.
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