Wise Head on Young Shoulders Secures Maiden Title at Byron Nelson
JUST when you thought that the PGA Tour had finished with its production line of astonishing young talents, along comes 21-year-old Aaron Wise to prove that the future of American golf is in good hands. Wise’s name can now be added to a list that already includes the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, Daniel Berger and Xander Shauffele after he saw off the challenge of Australia’s Marc Leishman in emphatic fashion to win the AT&T Byron Nelson. And he did it the hard way.
He went into the final round tied with Leishman and was then told that because poor weather was imminent his tee-time had been pushed back four hours. By his own admission, he struggled to sleep on Saturday night as he pondered the prospect of his maiden win, so you might have been forgiven for imagining that Wise would struggle with his thoughts as the clocked ticked down to his tee time. Not a bit of it.
Instead of showing nerves, Wise shot a final round of 65, without a single dropped shot, to beat the experienced Leishman by three shots and, in the process, become the second-youngest winner of the event, eclipsed only by Tiger Woods.
Wise finished the tournament at Trinity Forest on 23 under par, dropping just four shots all week. It should not have come as a surprise. He is a former NCAA champion and he has been knocking on the door for much of his rookie season. He essentially sewed up the victory in the middle of his round with a run of four straight birdies, the last one of which, at the 10th hole, took him four ahead of Leishman.
“Through that stretch of holes I thought I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said.
Added Leishman: “He holed the putts he needed to hole. I didn’t.”
Ben Crenshaw, who co-designed the Trinity Forest course, paid fulsome tribute to Wise. “I’m so impressed by him,” the two-time Masters champion said. “I watched him win the NCAA and I tell you what, he is really good. He does everything well. He’s a very sound long driver [aren’t they all?], hits beautiful iron shots and has a heck of a touch on and around the greens.”
For Wise, it is a life-changing experience. “It's huge at a young age to be able to plan your schedule, to be able to get into all the big events, to get that experience,” Wise said. “You look at guys like Jordan, Rory, JT, how it's just paid off for them when they're 24, 25, kind of hitting their prime a little bit and get all that experience already. They're able to win so many golf tournaments and I look at this as kind of helping me do that as well.
“I don't think I'm anywhere near my prime, I hope, and for me to be able to get all this experience so early - it's only going to help me down the road when I'm contending in a lot of golf tournaments.” It is a safe bet that Wise will be contending in many tournaments in the years ahead.
Branden Grace, JJ Spaun and Keith Mitchell, another golfer in a rich vein of form right now, shared third place on 19 under par.
THE jury may still be out on whether or not the Belgian Knockout has a future, but that will not be troubling Adrian Otaegui, who defeated Benjamin Hebert by two shots in the final to claim his second European Tour title at the splendid Rinkven International Golf Club.
Otaegui, from Sapin, arrived in Belgium on a blistering run of form and secured his sixth consecutive top-20 finish on Saturday afternoon before going on to follow up last season's maiden victory at the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play.
The tournament was played over 90 holes, with 36 holes of strokeplay on Thursday and Friday determining who would make the final 64 from an original field of 144, with the survivors going on to compete over six rounds of nine-hole strokeplay knockout to find the winner. Otaegui clearly has a flair for head-to-head golf.
It has to be said that the quality of golf played in some of the knockout matches left something to be desired, but Otaegui was a deserved winner. He and Hebert both finished three shots off the lead at five under after two days and battled through the next five matches, with huge crowds lining the fairways as the European Tour returned to Belgium for the first time in 18 years. The big disappointment for the home fans was the failure of Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry to make it to the later stages. Home favourite Nicolas Colsaerts did make it to Sunday but lost his quarter-final to James Heath despite playing his nine holes in two under par.
Hebert went ahead first in the final but Otaegui hit the front on the sixth as three birdies took him to three under par and set up a second win in head-to-head competition. He is now beginning to dream of securing a place in Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
Scotland's David Drysdale finished third after beating Englishman Heath by one shot in the third and fourth-place playoff.
Otaegui was thrilled. "I'm very happy, very relaxed now after the last nine holes against Ben that were very tight," he said. "I think we both played very good golf and I'm just very proud about my week. I just tried to play against myself. Obviously your opponent is just next to you but I just tried to focus on my game.
"I've started pretty well for the moment. I'm just looking forward to focus on the Rolex Series next, some big events coming up and I just want to focus on that and there's still a lot of season ahead. The season is still very long but I'm looking for Ryder Cup."
Both players opened with bogeys but Hebert bounced back on the second, rolling in a left-to-righter from 15 feet for a birdie and the lead.
They then parred the third before Otaegui narrowly missed finding the water on the fourth, going on to take advantage of his good fortune by putting his approach to tap-in range to level the contest.
Two more pars followed at the fifth before Otaegui holed a long putt on the sixth to lead for the first time.
Both men birdied the short par four seventh but a wonderful approach to the par five eighth moved Otaegui two ahead and that was how it finished.
Hebert is still seeking his maiden triumph after claiming six wins on the Challenge Tour. "Adrian is a very good player, especially in this kind of format," he said. "He's already won one tournament in match play last year but I did my best. I was a bit tired for the final but there is a lot of positive things to learn about this week and that's good.
"This format is very fun, it puts you under pressure almost every hole because everything can happen. I think it's a great idea."
Heath took the early initiative in the playoff with a birdie on the second but Drysdale hit back on the third. Both men made a mess of the fifth but Drysdale dropped one shot to Heath's two and that would prove crucial. The contest was level with a Heath birdie on the next but Drysdale birdied the seventh and they both parred their way home.
That there is an appetite for golf in Belgium is beyond doubt, but most of the people who attended this event would rather see a straight 72-hole strokeplay tournament here next year.
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