Casey and Wallace Fly the Flag for England as Woods Storms Back to Form
PAUL CASEY and Matt Wallace flew the flag for England in sensational style with victories on the PGA Tour and European Tour respectively. Casey won on US soil for the first time since 2009, when he shot a magnificent final round of 65 at the Valspar Championship to deny Tiger Woods a memorable win in only his fourth comeback tournament.
Casey finished more than an hour ahead of Woods, setting a target of 10 under par that he was convinced wouldn’t be quite good enough. Woods and Patrick Reed were the only players in the field who came close, but Reed had a disaster on the 18th green that cost him a place in a playoff with Casey. He hit the green in two but his first putt rolled to the top of the hill and he watched in horror as it stopped and rolled all the way back to his feet. He then pulled out a wedge and chipped the ball to six inches, but the dropped shot left him one behind Casey.
A huge gallery followed Woods, who quickly rewarded them with a birdie on the opening hole. But the wonderful iron play he had demonstrated over the first three days generally deserted him. He dropped a shot at the fourth and then reeled off 12 successive pars. With Woods, you know that a moment of genius is never far away, however, and it came at the par-three 16th. He faced a huge downhill putt for birdie, knowing that he had to hole it. Inevitably, the ball disappeared into the hole for an unlikely birdie. He parred the 17th and came to the last needing a birdie to join Casey on 10 under par.
Woods took an iron from the tee in order to ensure that he found the fairway. It left him with 185 yards to the pin. No player in the field had a longer approach shot on that hole on Sunday. Woods'approach finished 39 feet from the pin, and his birdie attempt came up short. Asked why he hadn’t used a three wood, Woods said: “I bring the right part of that fairway where it cuts in a little bit with three wood into play and on top of that the wind is off the left. If I'm going to squeeze it in I want to cut it. I didn't feel comfortable with that. If anything, that 2-iron I could have hit it flatter and hotter but, hey, I'm in the fairway, I got a shot at this thing. Unfortunately, I didn't hit it close enough.”
Make no mistake though. Woods is back. He shot four sub-par rounds on one of the most difficult and challenging courses on the PGA Tour. But it has been a long time since the 42-year-old was last in a position to win a golf tournament and the pressure clearly told. However, there is a growing sense that a first victory is just around the corner for the 14-time major champion.
Casey did not enjoy the wait for the rest of the field to finish. He signed his scorecard, signed some autographs, did a quick interview and then retreated to the locker room to watch his chasers come in.
It was not a fun experience. “The wait was awful,” he said. “Rubbish. Can’t stand it. In the end, I dodged a bullet."
Casey’s only previous PGA Tour win came way back in 2009 at the Houston Open. Tin the interim he has won four times on the European Tour, although at one point his world ranking plummeted and he fell out of the top 100. But he has had many close calls, particularly in the past two or three seasons, and had three top-five finishes in the FedEx Cup Playoffs in 2017. And he has made 27 successive cuts, which is a remarkable record.
“This is probably not the most significant win of my career, but it's certainly one of the most satisfying ones,” Casey said. “The quality of golf that I played. I know I made some errors on the round yesterday, I hit it in the water twice but as a whole I would say it's one of the cleanest weeks I've ever had from kind of a golf course management point of view. Houston was obviously great fun. My eyes are much more open right now. I've taken a lot in. Your last win is always your best one because it's the freshest.”
Winning with Woods in contention was even more satisfying for Casey. “I'm sure he was disappointed he didn't get the victory,” Casey said. “I actually thought he was going to win today before the round started. I thought it was just teed up beautifully for him. I said a couple times if I don't win this thing, I actually want Tiger to win it. I'm glad it's this way.”
Another Englishman, Justin Rose, was also in contention for much of the day. He was nine under par and one behind Casey until dropping shots at the 12th and 13th holes. He finished the tournament in a tie for fifth place, one behind Sergio Garcia, who climbed the leaderboard with a 65.
Matt Wallace won his second European Tour title with a playoff victory over Andrew Johnston at the Hero Indian Open. He entered the day at Delhi’s DLF Golf and Country Club sharing the lead with Shubhankar Sharma, and a closing 68 got him to 11 under par - a total matched by compatriot Johnston who recorded an impressive bogey-free round of 66.
Sharma, who leads the Race to Dubai, has been in a rich vein of form and was widely expected to go on and win his national open but he had an extraordinary roller-coaster round. Sharma, 21, recorded six birdies. He also had three bogeys and three double-bogeys in a round of 75 and had to settle for a share of seventh place.
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Wallace, who won five times in five consecutive starts on the Alps Tour in 2016 and secured his place on the European Tour when he took the Portuguese Open title last year, hit a huge drive down the 18th on the first extra hole, and when Johnston laid up and saw his birdie putt lip out, the 27 year old had two putts for the title after hitting a brilliant second shot onto the green.
He rolled his first up to the side of the hole and tapped home to seal a second victory in as many seasons after going wire to wire to seal his maiden European Tour title last May in the Open de Portugal at Morgado Golf Resort.
American Sihwan Kim finished the day at eight under par, a shot clear of Spain’s Pablo Larrazábal and Matthias Schwab of Austria, with Argentinian Emiliano Grillo at five under par.
Wallace said: “I'm ecstatic. I just played some amazing golf. Beef really had a great round today because I was playing fantastic and thought I might have been a few more clear. I hit some really good shots in that play-off. I pumped it down there on the last and it went a long way and then the four iron went even further than I thought it would so I was jacked up a bit. To hit two shots like that is exactly why I play the game.
“With the people that were coming up behind me, there were some real class players. Beef's putt on the last should have gone in and it's just been my day today. There are some great champions. SSP [Chawrasia] held it for a couple of years there and I am so happy to get my name on the trophy.”
Johnston’s world ranking has been on the slide and he needed a big week. “I feel good as I played very well today, like I did on Friday. I was happy to be able to put up a good score today and force a playoff,” he said. “I’m slightly frustrated, as I attempted a similar putt on the 18th during regulation play. I didn’t think it broke that much and I hit a good putt, but it didn’t go in. It’s alright. I had a very good week. I was trying to stay patient and I wanted to start well. Yesterday, I made a mistake on eighth, and made a birdie on ninth. Today, I made birdies on both holes, which was good. I played solid on the back nine, so I played lovely all day.
“I’m very happy with the way I played this year. Last year was tough. This year’s start has been good so I just got to keep pushing on and keep working hard.”
This was Wallace’s second win in only his 32nd European Tour appearance and takes him to 14th place in the Race to Dubai, as well as taking him into the top 100 in the world rankings. He is the fourth English winner this season, following Chris Paisley (BMW SA Open hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni), Tommy Fleetwood (Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship presented by EGA) and Eddie Pepperell (Commercial Bank Qatar Masters).
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