Kisner Wins Match Play on Day of Comeback Success for Gallacher and McDowell
IN THE end it wasn’t the day European golf had hoped for. Francesco Molinari and Lucas Bjerregaard began the last day of the WGC Dell World Match Play with high hopes of extending Europe’s winning run in the United States to four successive tournaments, but they both came up short and it was home hope Kevin Kisner who defeated fellow countryman Matt Kuchar in the final to banish memories of a painful defeat 12 months ago.
Kisner was thrashed 7&6 by Bubba Watson in the final last year but he avenged that defeat with a 3&2 victory over Kuchar, who was seeking his third victory of what is turning out to be a quite remarkable season.
After ending Molinari's extraordinary 10-match winning run in a close semi-final earlier in the day, Kisner led after every hole apart from one against Kuchar on his way to securing the trophy.
Molinari bounced back from his loss straight away, winning the consolation match against Denmark's Bjerregaard 4&2 to finish third.
Kisner got off to a flying start in the final, taking the first hole with a birdie from 11 feet. Kuchar levelled things up with a par at the fifth but the match was not tied for long. Kisner was badly out of position after his second shot at the sixth but got out of trouble with a sensational third, sending his approach to six feet before rolling in his birdie putt to secure an unlikely win which restored his one hole lead.
And a par at the seventh was good enough to see him extend his advantage to two holes after Kuchar missed from 12 feet. Kuchar cut the deficit to one when he won the ninth but Kisner's two hole lead was restored when his opponent put his tee shot in the water at the short 11th. The 35-year-old extended his lead to three holes at the 15th before knocking in his 20 foot putt at the 16th to become the first ever player to lose their opening match at this event and still win the title.
Kisner, who only progressed to the knockout phase after beating Ian Poulter in a Group 14 play-off on Friday, defeated Li Haotong, Louis Oosthuizen and Molinari on his way to the final, and said he was delighted to finally win the title.
He said: "It's a big week, a long weekend. Gruelling, not only from the mental side, but the physical side too. It's a lot of golf and a lot of stressful holes and stressful putts but I was able to prevail and had a great week. I love Austin Country Club, love Austin, Texas, and love being out here.
"Last year I felt like I rushed around to get ready to play in the second match. I ran around and ate really fast, ran back out. I tried to go through my whole normal routine in an hour to get ready, and that's just not feasible. I hung out, took a shower, chilled out, got some treatment on my body and went to the range at 2:05pm, and teed off at 2:25pm. I just went and hit 20 balls and went to the tee. I think that greatly helped my mental side of the game as much as anything. I wasn't over hyped for it and just tried to go and play a casual round of golf."
Kuchar progressed to the final after edging his last four contest against Bjerregaard by a single hole but he struggled against Kisner in the afternoon.
"I had a great week," said Kuchar. "To make it to Sunday, to make it to the championship match, it's an awesome run. "But only one person goes home with the trophy, and only one person goes home without a loss in knockout rounds. I got a loss, and it's never fun taking a loss."
In the third place match, Ryder Cup star Molinari led by two holes at the turn after carding four birdies on the front nine. And he continued to dominate as the European pair made their way down the stretch, winning the tenth and 12th to go four holes up. Bjerregaard pulled one back on the 13th but Molinari cruised to victory, winning the 16th to secure a 4&2 win.
The Dane was pleased with his week's work despite losing twice on Sunday. He said: "It's been a brilliant week. I can't stand here and say it's been a bad week. There were 64 to start and I'm in the last four. But to lose twice in a day, that hurts.” He now heads to the Texas Open before taking part in his first Masters.
There was a remarkable comeback victory for Stephen Gallacher, who birdied three of his last four holes to win his first European Tour title in five years at the Indian Open. He looked to have thrown away his victory chances at the seventh hole, a par five, when he ran up an eight, but he refused to say die.
The lead kept moving backwards on a windy day at DLF Golf and Country Club but as he stood on the 15th tee, Gallacher appeared to have little chance of ending his drought. However, he took advantage of the par five before hitting stunning approaches into the 17th and18th to claim his first win since the second of back to back Omega Dubai Desert Classic titles in 2014.
A closing 71 moved the 44-year-old to nine under and gave him a one shot win over Japan's Masahiro Kawamura, with Spaniard Jorge Campillo a further shot back.
American Julian Suri led by three after 12 holes but dropped four shots at the 14th to slip back, and he finished alongside South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout at six under.
On Mother's Day back in his native Scotland, it was a father and son show in New Delhi, with son Jack caddying for Gallacher this season.
"It was great to have him on the bag and Mother's Day as well makes it even more special," said Gallacher. "When you're 44 you're in the sort of twilight so it's a big win for me. It was good to finish it out the way I did it, three under for the last four is a great way to finish."
He added: "I was pretty calm after that hole (the seventh), there's nothing really much you can do. To see that I was only five back gave me a wee bit of encouragement. I thought, 'just hang in there'. When I birdied 15 I saw that Julian Suri had come back and then when I got to the 16th green I was tied for the lead. I just tried to finish as strong as I could and I did that. Thankfully it was enough."
Gallacher birdied the first but gave the shot back on the third and when he had to go back to the tee twice at the seventh, his chances looked to have gone.
Suri made a slow start with bogeys on the third, sixth and seventh but he got on the green at the eighth in two and played a lovely chip off the bank at the driveable ninth to lead by two at the turn.
Kawamura birdied the fourth but bogeys on the first, fifth and sixth meant he turned in 38 before a beautiful up and down from the sand on the 11th brought a birdie. A bogey on the next from the 25-year-old gave Suri a three shot lead and it should have been four when he drove the par four 13th but a three putt stalled his momentum.
He twice played over the green and then three putted from the fringe on the 14th and all of a sudden, the contest was wide open. Gallacher made birdies on the ninth, tenth and 12th but three putted the 14th before Campillo was the man to set the target at seven under.
AND there was yet another comeback success involving a European golfer when Graeme McDowell ended his own four-year title drought to claim the Puntacana Championship. It was the fourth PGA Tour win by a European golfer in as many weeks - a record. McDowell emulated Francesco Molinari (Arnold Palmer Invitational), Rory McIlroy (The Players) and PauL Casey (Valspar Championship) with gusty one-shot success over the American Chris Stroud.
It was a welcome victory for the 2010 US Open champion, not least because it earns back the full playing privileges on the US circuit that he lost last year. McDowell, 39, went into the tournament in the Dominican Republic ranked outside the world’s top 250, his worst standing in 16 years for a player who was once as high as fourth in the world. He will now rise inside the top 140, and has his sights set on better things.
"This is for the people who stood by me," McDowell said, after a final-round 69 for an 18-under total. "It's been a grind for my whole family, my wife, my kids back home. It's been a rough few years. Bu this win is going to go a long way towards getting me back to where I want to be in the game. Back in the top 50, top 100 in the world, competing on a week to week basis against the best players.”
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