Pepperell Banishes Pain of Tour Card Loss to Finally Break his Duck
FIFTEEN months ago Eddie Pepperell was in the depths of despair, having lost his playing privileges at the Portugal Masters. For a young golfer with so much God-given talent it was a massive blow. The Englishman could have gone one of two ways - he could have ended up on a downward spiral or he could go away, work his socks off and come back better than before.
Pepperell chose the latter path. He went off to tour school, won back his Tour Card and last season the hard work he did at the end of 2016 finally began to pay off. It didn't start well for the 27-year-old, who missed the cut in seven of his first eight starts, but he kept the faith, convinced that he was working on the right things.
First of all he qualified for the US Open, where he finished in a tie for 16th, and then came a purple patch in September when, in successive weeks, he enjoyed three top-five finishes. It was vindication that he knew what he was doing.
All that was missing from his CV was a victory, and it finally arrived at the Qatar Masters after he went into the final round tied with fellow Englishman Oliver Fisher on 16 under par and kept his nerve throughout a tense final 18 holes.
Tee-times were brought forward due to the threat of bad weather and the rain did come overnight with conditions the toughest they had been all week, although the wind was still light at Doha Golf Club.
The English pair parred the first three holes while playing partner Sean Crocker, of the USA, who began the day two off the lead, bogeyed the first and third. Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño and Frenchman Gregory Havret replaced him as the nearest challengers at 13 under.
???????? pic.twitter.com/rKKoI7jXWZ— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 25, 2018
Fisher, who is still only 29, was touted as the next big thing when he won the Czech Open in 2011 but he hadn't managed a top-three finish since the 2014 Africa Open and when he bogeyed the fourth, fifth and sixth holes he had given himself a mountain to climb.
Fernandez-Castano birdied the first and when he added another on the fourth he was up to 13 under. That was a share of second after American Crocker dropped a shot on his opener.
A nice approach into the fourth allowed Havret to make his first birdie of the day and he joined the group three off the lead. Crocker found sand off the tee on the third to drop to 12 under alongside Spanish pair Pablo Larrazabal and Adrian Otaegui.
Pepperell opened with eight straight pars and when he birdied the ninth to move to 17 under par he found himself three ahead of Renato Paratore, who was putting together the best round of the day, Larrazabal and Fernandez-Castano. Paratore, from Italy, picked up one shot on the front nine but then birdied the 10th, 11th, 12th and 14th holes to move to five under for the day and 14 under for the week. But he was running out of holes.
So the question was: could Pepperell keep his nerve and secure the maiden win that would change his life forever?
Fernandez-Gastano, who regained his card after attending qualifying school, reduced the gap to two with birdies at the 10th, 11th and 12th holes. He was 15 under.
Paratore closed with a birdie to move to 15 under after a final round of 66. He was joined on that mark by Larrazabal, Fernandez-Castano, Havret and Markus Kinhult, of Sweden.
But the big story of the back nine was Fisher, who birdied the 10th, 12th, 14th and 16th, and with Pepperell also managing a birdie at the 16th, there were just two shots between the pair as they headed to the 17th. Fisher piled on the pressure when he birdied the par three, and so they came to the last with Pepperell leading by a single shot.
It was advantage Fisher after two shots with Pepperell in the rough after both men laid-up at the par-five 18th but the leader hit an excellent third to set up a par which his playing partner could only match.
Pepperell's closing round of 70 got him to 18 under, with Fisher signing for a 71 and Kinhult finishing at 16 under after a 68.
"What a day," Pepperell said. "Oli made it really tough and I made it tough for myself at the end there with the second shot at 18. I felt good all day, I felt comfortable. I didn't feel that comfortable with my swing but I was in a great place mentally and I kept telling myself that I'm going to win this.
"This will give me confidence. When you win, you know you can win. I've always felt and believed I will win out here but it hadn't happened before today. You've always got to take that step and that's uneasy but at some point in everyone's career they've got to do something for the first time. Hopefully this is not my last."
THE machine that is Justin Thomas duly collected the eighth PGA Tour title of his young career when he defeated Luke List at the first hole in a playoff to claim the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens.
It was his second victory of the season and it took him to the top of the FedEx Cup standings. The win came courtesy of a fine final round of 68. List, who went into the final round leading his fellow American by a shot, emerged with plenty of credit. He shot a 69 and finished level with Thomas at eight under par, 272, before the pair returned to the 18th, where a birdie proved to be good enough for Thomas.
It was a hugely encouraging week for Europe. Alex Noren continued his wonderful run of form, a 67 taking him to seven under par, meaning that he finished the tournament in third place on his own. He also ended the tournament in 19th place in the FedEx Cup standings. And just a shot further adrift in fourth place was Tommy Fleetwood, winner of the 2017 Race to Dubai.
SEVEN WINS in 31 STARTS?!— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 25, 2018
Dad approves. pic.twitter.com/tnZkLU3TOi
Tiger Woods completed his week with a round of 70. It left him on a 72-hole total of 280, in 12th place on his own. In his third comeback tournament, he also broke 70 for the first time. Woods and his supporters should be encouraged by his performance as this is a tough golf course. He will be the first admit that he is not yet the finished article, but he is getting closer every time he competes.
And, right now, that is more than can be said for Rory McIlroy. After missing the cut at the AT&T Pro-Am, he did at least make it to the weekend this time, but he failed to break par all week and finished nine over - 17 shots behind Thomas.
LEXI THOMPSON could be forgiven for thinking that the authorities have got it in for her. You will recall her infamous four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration last year, turning a victory march into a heartbreaking loss. Well poor old Lexi has fallen foul of the rules once again.
This time it happened during the Honda LPGA in Thailand. On the 15th hole at Siam Country Club, Thompson found her ball near an advertising sign, which she moved.
At most LPGA, PGA and European Tour events these signs are considered moveable obstructions, but at others they are temporary immovable obstructions.
But you've guessed it. Sadly for Lexi, on this occasion they were deemed immovable, and she picked up a two shot penalty which gave her a 68 for the day rather than a 66, leaving her six back of the leader Jessica Korda, who went on to win the tournament with a record-breaking winning total of 25 under par.
Thompson wasn’t given the penalty until she was actually in the scorers’ tent, so she completed her round oblivious of the fact that she had broken the rules.
The American shrugged her shoulders and accepted the penalty. She went on to finish in a tie for second place, four shots behind Korda.
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