Super Sergio Reigns in Spain for the Third Time
IT IS highly likely that Sergio Garcia will be making a phone call to Thomas Bjorn this morning to thank him for saving his season. That may sound a trifle dramatic but don’t forget that there were eyebrows raised when Bjorn gave the Spaniard one of his four wild cards for the Ryder Cup after Garcia had failed to made the cut in any of the four majors in 2018 and failed to contend in any tournament on either the European or PGA Tours.
But there is something about the Ryder Cup that brings out the best in Garcia and he played some sensational golf at Le Golf National to help Europe thrash the United States. And the magic has clearly remained with him as he cruised to victory in the Andalucia Masters for the third time, successful defending his title at the end of a difficult and trying rain-affected week that saw the tournament reduced to 54 holes at Valderrama. It is a measure of the difficulty of this golf course that although it measures not much more than 7,000 yards, the vast majority of the field failed to break par. And over the course of the three rounds there were some absolute horror stories.
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Over the years the trees lining the fairways have matured, giving the impression that the fairways are far narrower than they actually are. The effect of this has been fascinating to watch as some of the finest golfers in Europe have once again failed to work out a way to solve the puzzle. Garcia broke the back of this tournament with his astonishing second round of 64 - a round that featured seven birdies and 11 pars.
When Garcia won 12 months ago they made him a life member. Heaven alone knows how they will mark his latest triumph. Not that he will care as he finally won his first title of the year.
After the latest rain delay on Sunday, Garcia appeared to have everything under control. He still had 11 holes to complete on Monday morning and quickly found himself under some pressure as Ireland’s Shane Lowry, already three under par for his round, birdied the 10th, 11th and 12th holes to move to nine under. He was just two behind the Spaniard, who picked up a stroke of his own at the 10th. Their nearest challenger was Lee Westwood, whose 17-year-old son Sam has been carrying his bag, but he was on six under, three behind Lowry.
Garcia faced a big test on the 13th. He hit his drive left on a hole that calls for a fade and caught the trees with his second, leaving him a difficult up and down to save his par. He was unable to do so and, all of a sudden, his three-shot overnight lead was down to a single stroke. Remember that he hadn’t been in contention all year so, with five holes still to play, this was going to be no stroll among the towering pines for the defending champion.
But then everything changed. Lowry dropped two shots at the par-three 15th hole to drop back to seven under par. Moments later, Garcia birdied the 14th to move back to 11 under par. In the blink of an eye, he was four ahead.
Westwood stumbled on the back nine, dropping shots at the 10th, 12th and 14th as he fell back to five under. When Finland’s Mikko Korhonen picked up his fifth birdie of the day at the par-four 16th he was just one behind Lowry as he continued to enjoy the best season of his life. Lowry birdied the 18th for a 66 and a total of 205, eight under, two better than Korhonen. Garcia simply had to negotiate the treacherous par-five 17th and he was home and dry. And he did so ins one style, picking up another birdie to move to 12 under par. He had the luxury of heading to the 18th tee with a four-shot lead.
Elsewhere there were other battles going on. This was the final event of the regular season, with only the top 116 players retaining their playing privileges, and some pretty big names found themselves battling for survival. Chief among them were former tournament winners Richie Ramsay and David Horsey, who found themselves in a battle for the final spot. Horsey began the week in 116th place while Ramsay languished in 124th, but the Scot started his week well, shooting an opening round of 69 before slipping down the leaderboard after a poor second round.
Ramsay, however, was not finished yet and came storming back with a final round of 68. It saw him finish the tournament just outside the top 10, and he then faced an agonising wait to find out whether he had done enough in an event in which Horsey laboured to a two-over-par 54-hole total of 215. It turned out to be good enough to save Ramsay’s card and, perhaps, his future. It does make you wonder how such an incredibly gifted player could let it all come down to this - and it is a safe bet that he will be working extra hard in the brief close season to ensure that he does not find himself in the same position 12 months from now. With Romain Wattel and Bernd Wiesberger both slipping outside the top 116 (as recent tournament winners they both keep their playing rights), it meant that Horsey clung on to 116th place.
Spare a thought for England’s Matthew Nixon, who appeared to be dead and buried on Thursday morning when the tournament began but towards the conclusion of his final round he had leapt more than 20 places to 111th and seemed to be safe for another year. But a surge up the leaderboard by Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, despite a seven at the 11th hole, and a dropped shot by Nixon at the 17th proved to be costly for the Englishman. The Spaniard leapt from 125th to 100th place and it proved to be enough to push Nixon back into 117th place. One more birdie, one saved par would have made all the difference. What a shame that only his second top-10 finish of the season turned out not to be good enough for Nixon, who now heads back to qualifying school.
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