Finau Pipped at the Post by Schauffele in China as Champ Secures First Win
Tony Finau must be starting to wonder what on earth he has to do to win a golf tournament after he lost in a playoff to fellow American Xander Schauffele at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.
Finau, who has reeled off a whole succession of top-five finishes in 2018, began the final round at Sheshan International Golf Club with a three-shot lead but Schauffele carded the lowest round of the day with a 68 to catch him, with the pair locked together on 14 under par after 72 holes.
Schauffele found the green in two on the first trip back up the last and with Finau having to lay up after finding a bunker off the tee, a birdie was enough to hand Schauffele the victory.
Defending champion Justin Rose was in contention for much of the day but a bogey at the last eventually saw him finish four shots out of the play-off at 10 under.
Thai Kiradech Aphibarnrat and American Andrew Putnam were on eight under, a shot clear of another American in Keegan Bradley
Schauffele's victory comes in just his 14th European Tour event and moves the Affiliate Member up to fourth in the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex after top ten finishes at the US Open and Open Championship.
"I felt like I was playing great all day," he said. "We kept our heads down. Even when I was signing my card I was like, 'oh, wow, I actually went birdie-birdie to get in the play-off'. I was just in my own world out there.
"It means a lot, it was my birthday this week. To have my family out here, especially with the win, it's really special."
Finau was disappointed. "I definitely feel like I let one get away," said Finau. "Xander played incredible golf today. It was playing tough out there. He posted a number and made birdie on a play-off hole when it counted. Hats off him to, he played nicely today and deserved to win.
"It seemed like we separated ourselves with nine holes to play. Kind of a three-man tournament - definitely felt that way coming down the stretch - and it was cool to have a chance to win, a real chance to win. I'll definitely learn from this and keep moving forward.”
Finau, who had 11 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in the season that has just ended, missed from inside five feet on the first but recovered beautifully, getting on the green at the par five second in two to make a birdie. Rose and Schauffele both found sand with their second shots on the same hole but played excellent bunker shots to make birdies.
Schauffele failed to get up and down from sand on the fourth but bounced straight back with a 16-foot right-to-lefter on the next, although it was Rose who cut the lead to one, holing a ten-foot putt on the seventh.
Finau found the hazard with his second on the eighth while Rose found trouble off the tee and both men did well to make par, leaving the door open to Schauffele who made a routine birdie on the par five.
Rose could not repeat his heroics at the next after finding the cart path off the tee and he was two behind at the turn.
Finau put his approach to the tenth to two feet to open up a two-shot lead and when Rose saw a chip roll back to his feet for a second consecutive bogey, he was four back. Finau found a poor lie off the tee on the 11th and put his second in the sand, with a clumsy chip after missing the green on the next making it back-to-back bogeys and handing Schauffele a share of the lead.
The 25 year old put his approach to a couple of feet on the 13th to lead on his own but Finau hit back from seven feet on the 14th, with Rose making back-to-back six-footers to sit a single shot back.
Finau made a par on the 15th but that was enough to put him back in front as Schauffele three-putted and Rose failed to get up and down from a bunker.
Schauffele recovered from 12 feet on the 17th to rejoin the lead heading to the last and he and Finau both made birdies on the par five, with Rose putting his third in the water for a bogey.
Aphibarnrat made five birdies and four bogeys in a 71 to seal his third top five in a World Golf Championships event this season, while Putnam and Bradley both signed for rounds of 72.
Tommy Fleetwood, Thorbjørn Olesen, Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay completed the top 10 at five under.
Belgian Thomas Pieters made the first ever hole-in-one at the 12th hole at Sheshan as his six iron off the tee from 197 yards took two bounces and rolled into the cup.
Cameron Champ wasted no time in living up to his name by winning the Sanderson Farms Championship by four shots in just his second start as a member of the PGA Tour. He shot a final-round 68 to finish at 21-under 267, to defeat Corey Conners at the Country Club of Jackson.
Having only just come through qualifying, Champ now has an exemption that will last nearly three years, until the end of the 2020-21 season. He also earns spots in The Players Championship and Tournament of Champions, PGA Championship and the TOUR’s invitational events.
Champ’s trademark driving distance was key to his victory. He finished first in driving distance, averaging 308 yards on all holes and 334 yards on the measured holes. He was second in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, as well. Champ also finished second in Strokes Gained: Putting (+2.27 per round) and ninth in greens hit (55 of 72), despite hitting just 11 in the final round.
Before starting his final round, Champ had been hitting drives on the practice ground when he broke the head of his favourite driver. It was hardly the ideal preparation, but it didn’t affect him. He simply put another one in his bag and off he went. A slightly different swingweight required compensations to keep the club in the fairway.
“I just tried to hit as many balls as I could on the range, just to get used to it a little bit,” he said.
After losing a four-shot lead on the front nine, he sank several crucial putts to hold off Conners on the closing holes.
He let an easy birdie opportunity pass when he failed to get up-and-down from in front of the green on the par-5 11th, though. Two holes later, Champ holed a 10-foot birdie putt. He knew that if he missed, Conners could take the lead for the first time Sunday.Conners then sank his own birdie putt to stay tied with five holes remaining.
“I just felt like it was big,” Champ said, calling it his first realistic birdie opportunity since the sixth hole. “It gave me a little momentum going into the par-5, as well.”
Once again, Champ was just short of the green on a par-five. He opted for the putter this time and it paid off with a birdie. After Conners failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker, Champ sank his seven-foot birdie putt to take a one-shot lead. They matched birdies on the next hole, a drivable par-four, after Conners’ eagle putt slid by the hole. Champ got up-and-down from short and right of the green, pitching over a greenside bunker to a green that ran away from him.
On the next hole, Champ was the one who holed a crucial putt. His approach shot to the 479-yard, par-4 16th, the course’s hardest hole, was 30 yards shorter than Conners’. It was Conners who had the shorter birdie putt, though.
Champ pumped his fist when his 38-foot putt curled into the hole. It gave him a two-shot lead with two holes remaining.
“That wasn’t a putt I was trying to make,” he admitted. “I was just trying to just have good speed and get it down there for an easy par. Obviously, it had perfect speed and read it perfectly and just dropped in there.”
Champ holed a 12-foot par putt at the next hole to maintain his two-stroke lead. He closed the tournament with a 7-foot birdie putt after an impressive recovery from the left trees.
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