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Wonderful Wiesberger Completes Italian Job for Third Win of the Year

By: | Mon 14 Oct 2019 | Comments

BARELY 12 months ago Bernd Wiesberger was beginning to wonder if he would ever win a tournament again. He was recovering from a career-threatening wrist injury and was fast becoming just another also-ran on the European Tour. He nows finds himself standing in 22nd place in the world rankings after winning the Italian Open - his third success of what is becoming the best year of his career. What a difference a year makes. The Austrian started the day three shots behind overnight leader Matthew Fitzpatrick but carded a magnificent 65 to get to 16 under and beat the Englishman by one shot.

Wiesberger missed the last seven months of the 2018 season and struggled upon his return to competitive play until winning the Made in Denmark in May. He followed it with victory in a playoff at the Scottish Open, which took him to the top of the race to Dubai and he returns there after joining Jon Rahm, Alex Noren, Justin Rose and Danny Willett as a multiple Rolex Series champion.

The 34-year-old also moves to a career high world rankings and has put himself in pole position to make his Ryder Cup debut next year. And he is thrilled. "It's been a great summer for me," he said. "I've had a lot of good golf shown and a lot of progress after coming back from the last year. I've won three times this year and it's been the same every time, I've just really enjoyed my time and I'm positive to be back out there because I know how tough it was when I had to withdraw from these great events.

"I've played really well in the right events in Ireland and the Scottish and here this week which helps getting up there in the Race to Dubai. I feel excited about what is ahead of us in these last four events.”

For Fitzpatrick, a fourth second place finish in 2019 moves him to fourth in the Race to Dubai but he was bitterly disappointed to miss out on a sixth European Tour title. "It was a bit rubbish," he said. "To lose by one is obviously very disappointing. I've played well when I've been up there on a Sunday, just other people really keep grinding and I keep coming up from behind. It is what it is. It's still a great week, I'm here to win and not here to just make up the numbers.”

American rookie Kurt Kitayama finished at 12 under after a 71, a shot clear of England's Andrew Johnston, Scot Robert MacIntyre and another Austrian in Matthias Schwab. Kitayama and McIntyre are involved in a ding-dong battle for rookie of the year honours and, for the time being, it looks like McIntyre is going to win that battle.

Fitzpatrick recovered from a poor tee shot on the first to make a par but replied with a stunner to seven feet on the par three second for a first birdie of the day and a two shot lead. He then made six pars in a row and that opened the door for Wiesberger to surge up the leaderboard, starting with a long putt on the fifth. An approach to five feet at the sixth and a 20 foot right to lefter on the next made it a hat-trick of birdies, and he took advantage of the par five ninth to share the lead.

Fitzpatrick went the other way at the turn, sending his tee shot out of bounds to surrender a double bogey and Wiesberger led by two. Par saves on the 11th and 12th maintained that cushion and a tee shot to 15 feet moved him three ahead at the 14th.

An excellent approach to eight feet saw Fitzpatrick hit back at the 13th but Wiesberger put his tee shot inside six feet on the 16th to edge back three ahead. Fitzpatrick took advantage of the par five 15th to trim the lead once more and a two putt birdie on the 17th had him within one but he could not birdie the last to take it to a playoff.

Kitayama - already a two time winner in his rookie season - made two birdies and two bogeys as he looks to close the gap on MacIntyre in the race to be the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year. He moves to 15th in the Race to Dubai but MacIntyre is up to seventh after also carding a 71 with three birdies and three bogeys.

Schwab dropped a single shot in a 66, while Johnston recovered from a bogey on the third with four birdies in a 68. Home favourite Francesco Laporta was at nine under alongside India's Shubhankar Sharma and Englishman Matt Wallace.

PGA Tour

ANOTHER incredible story was written on the PGA Tour as Lanto Griffin holed a six-foot putt on the final green to become the latest first-time winner, clinching the Houston Open. And, not for the first time in this fledgling season, we saw the winner in tears as he reflected on the journey he has been on.

The 31-year-old world number 176 carded a three-under final round of 69 for a 14-under winning total. Compatriots Scott Harrington and Mark Hubbard, both also without a PGA title, shared second.

Griffin had a one-shot lead playing the final hole but found an awkward spot in the rough with his drive. He found the edge of the green with his second, 60 feet from the flag, and then holed a six-foot putt to make par and win the title.

"I learned you don't have to win," Griffin said after his victory, which has earned him $1.3m in prize money. "If you put all that pressure on yourself it can backfire. Thinking like that helps me take the pressure off."

His father, Michael, died of a brain tumour when Griffin was just 12 years old, but not before he had taken him to meet Steve Prater, now the director of instruction at Roanoke Country Club. He first met Griffin when he worked at Blacksburg Country Club and quickly become the young boy’s mentor and father figure.

“I remember when Lanto’s dad died,” Prater said. “I knew he was sick but it was still kind of a shock to me. Lanto was in the bag room when I saw him. … He was sad, crying. We hugged for a while. Ever since, we’ve had a bond.”

Asked about his father after winning in Houston, Griffin said: “I bet he’d be pretty proud. He got me started. He got me a set – I don’t know if I’ll be able to tell this story – but for Christmas in 1996, he got me a 5-iron, 7-iron, 9-iron, putter, 3-wood and he got me into golf. And then Steve Prater, he took it from there.”

In 2014, Griffin had $176 in his bank account. In the spring of 2017, he told his agent he was quitting the sport. But then he started seeing a sports psychologist, and turned things around, winning in Nashville on the Korn Ferry Tour. That led to membership on the PGA Tour in 2018, but Griffin could not keep his card. Back on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019, he won again and earned a second shot at the big time.

And now he’s a proper winner, breaking a tie with playing partner Mark Hubbard and Scott Harrington with a 33-foot birdie putt at the 16th hole before parring the two hardest holes on the course to finish it off.

He won’t have to worry about his playing privileges for a while now. And he leads the FedEx Cup standings. He keeps his list of goals for the season on his phone and admitted that he has already achieved most of them - playing in a final group on Sunday, keeping his card, top-70 FedExCup, qualify for The Players Championship and producing a Sunday scoring average within a 1/2 stroke of his normal scoring average. And top of that list was to win. Job done.

“I wouldn’t be here without Steve Prater,” Griffin said. “He opened every door in golf that I ever had, teaching me for free, giving me a membership. He’s had my back the entire journey.”

Prater’s response? “It’s been a great relationship. He’s such a special person. At the time, when you’re doing those things, you don’t realize how beneficial they can be. Only later in life, you understand that those things were really important for him.”

Prior to this season, Griffin decided to put Prater on his payroll as part of Team Lanto. Until now, he had never been in financial position to do that. “He deserves every penny that I’m going to pay him,” Griffin said. “I can’t wait to write that cheque to him.”

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