Luiten Goes Dutch in Oman as Watson Resurfaces at Riviera
JOOST LUITEN won his first title for almost two years when he beat Chris Wood by two shots to secure the inaugural NBO Oman Open. It also saw him leap into the top 10 in the Race to Dubai and secured a place in the WGC Mexico Championship - sometimes, these tournaments offer life-changing moments, even for an established player such as the Dutchman.
The tournament was played at Al Mouj Golf, which has seen some drama on the Challenge Tour, and, once again, the venue came up trumps. In perfect weather, Luiten went into the final day tied for the lead. As he reached the turn, there were 10 players with four of the lead, but it turned into a shootout on the back nine between Luiten and Wood, the tallest player on the European Tour.
In the end, it was Luiten, from Holland, who came out on top after a 68 that took him to 16 under par for the week. Frenchman Julien Guerrier finished third at 13 under after a 71, two shots clear of Spaniard Jorge Campiilo, Frenchman Alexander Levy and American Han Seung-su. Frenchman Levy will be delighted to have produced another top-10 performance as he attempts to secure a place in Thomas Bjorn's European Ryder Cup team to face the USA in Paris in September.
Luiten last tasted victory in the 2016 KLM Open. "This is why you play golf, to hold trophies," he said. "It's been a great week. It's always tough to win out here, all these guys are so good and they keep putting pressure on you.
"Down the stretch I hit some nice shots, I made some nice putts and it was a nice battle with my friend Woody. I need to win another couple to get into the Ryder Cup Team but it's a great start to the year for me."
Wood had missed his first three cuts of the season and was struggling for form. The 30-year-old has spent much of his career battling with injury. His last victory came at the 2016 BMW PGA Championship, which secured his place in that year's Ryder Cup team, but it has all been something of a battle for him since then.
He had been leading towards the end of the third round, but dropped shots at the 17th and 18th. He wasted no time making up ground in the final round, a birdie at the first hole taking him level with Luiten.
But Luiten birdied the second and when he holed from the fringe on the third hole and hit his approach stone-dead at the fourth, all of a sudden he was three ahead.
But Wood birdied the sixth after holing a 15-foot putt and when Luiten three-putted the seventh, the gap was down to one again. Luiten is one of the best putters on the European Tour, but he three-putted the eighth as well and the two men were tied once again.
Wood briefly took the lead at the par-five 12th, but Luiten also birdied the hole and then drained a 15-footer on the par-three 13th to go back in front.
Luiten holed a 25-footer on the par five 16th to get his nose in front and when Wood dropped a shot on the 17th after a poor tee-shot, the Dutchman was in control and held on to win.
Guerrier matched his best European Tour finish as he recovered back from bogeys on the ninth and 10th with birdies on the 12th, 14th and 16th holes.
Campillo and Han both finished with rounds of 68, with Levy carding a 70 to finish a shot ahead of England's Robert Rock and Paraguayan Fabrizio Zanotti. Scot Stephen Gallacher, Frenchman Benjamin Hebert and England's Matthew Southgate were next at nine under.
HE'S BACK! No, not Tiger Woods. Bubba Watson is back. The left-hander has seen his world ranking tumble during the past two years but he finally got his game back on track to win the Genesis Open thanks to miraculous holed bunker shot at the 14th hole.
After finding the greenside bunker at the par three, Watson asked for the location of the nearest bathroom. Playing partner Cameron Smith told him it was at the next hole. “We’ve got a couple of shots and then you can just go to the bathroom if you can wait,” Smith said.
Watson fired back. “No, I’m just going to hole it [the bunker shot] and then go straight to the bathroom.”
Once he got to the sand, Watson and his caddie, Ted Scott, then began discussing strategy. Watson wondered if he could stop the ball anywhere near the hole from a short-sided lie. Scott had other ideas. “Man, you haven’t holed a bunker shot in a while,” he told Watson.
Watson clambered into the trap and duly sent his golf ball into the bottom of the hole, almost 50 feet away.
It took him two in front and helped him to play the back nine at Riviera in 33 shots on a day when most of the rest of the field struggled. His score on the back nine was the lowest of any of the players on the front page of the leaderboard, and he finished the day as one of only eight men to complete those nine hole without dropping a shot.
It started at the 305-yard par-4 10th, when Watson opted to lay up short of the left bunker, then pitch onto the green for a two-putt par. “I still don’t know how to play the 10th,” Watson said, “so par on that hole is a birdie for me.” When he finished the hole, Watson was a stroke behind Kevin Na and playing partner Patrick Cantlay.
Watson got up-and-down from the bunker to birdie the par-five 11th, keeping him within a stroke of the lead. Then he saved par with tricky putts on the 12th and 13th before holing that dramatic bunker shot on the 14th.
Cantlay and Na both dropped two strokes on the same stretch of holes. “Those holes into the wind it’s just about impossible. Like par-and-a-half,” Na said. “I was technically only one-over on those two holes even though I went bogey-bogey.”
Watson was thrilled. “There’s five holes in a row I’m guessing were humungous holes because it’s back into the wind,” Watson said. “Somehow I played those holes under par and it got me over the finishing line.”
Phil Mickelson continued his excellent start to the season, a final round of 68 securing a tie for sixth place, a shot ahead of Martin Laird, of Scotland. Rory McIlroy tied for 20th, while Graeme McDowell, who began the final round just two shots behind the leaders, had a disastrous 77.
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