Colsaerts Ends Title Drought And Secures Future With Dramatic Win
Nicolas Colsaerts won his first tournament in seven years at Le Golf National, securing his playing rights and, more importantly, his future, with a dramatic victory in the French Open. He began the week in 114th place in the Race to Dubai and faced the prospect of heading back to qualifying school.
The big hitting Belgian had to do it the hard way. He began the final round leading by three shots and extended that to five before a dramatic back nine that tested his nerve to the full and saw South Africa’s George Coetzee throw away a golden opportunity to get back into the winners’ circle.
Coetzee led by two with six to play and Joachim B Hansen was in the box seat after the leading pair found water on the 15th, but Colsaerts held his nerve to sign for a 72 and get to 12 under. Hansen carded a closing 68 to finish a shot behind, one clear of South African Coetzee, who signed for a level par 71.
The victory is Colsaerts' third on the European Tour but first since 2012, when he was a member of the European Ryder Cup team that battled back from 10-6 down at Medinah. But things went rapidly downhill thereafter and there must have been times when Colsaerts wondered if he would ever win again.
On a day of high drama, Colsaerts chipped in for an eagle on the 14th to retake the lead but double bogeyed the next to slip back, only for Hansen to make a double of his own on the 17th and put Colsaerts back in pole position. The 36-year-old had entered the week in a fight to keep his card and struggled to fight back the tears as he ended a victory drought of seven years and five months in his 389th European Tour appearance. "It's very, very special," he said. "The French Open for me is very special because I'm French-speaking. I've been coming here for I don't know how many years, it's been a long road. So many people have supported me over the years, that's why I get so emotional. I went through up and downs for so many years now.
"We knew the last four holes are always pretty dramatic, I proved it with hitting it in the water on 15. I don't know what happened on 17 with JB but it was a bit of a surprise when I got on to the green. I thought I was still going to be one behind.”
Colsaerts extended his lead to five when he picked up a shot on the first with an approach to two feet, with Coetzee dropping a shot after finding water off the tee. A bogey on the second after a poor chip dropped Colsaerts back to 13 under but both he and Coetzee took advantage of the par five third before Colsaerts took a long three putt on the fifth and failed to get up and down on the sixth. Coetzee had to play his second at the ninth with his feet in the water but when he rolled a long putt up the slope and in from off the green, the lead was down to one after what was surely the birdie of the week.
Hansen birdied the third and although he gave the shot back on the next, great approaches to the sixth and tenth meant he was just two back. Coetzee then put his approach to the tenth to four feet and a tee shot to even closer range on the 11th had him in the lead after a hat-trick of birdies. Colsaerts failed to get up and down on the 12th to trail by two but picked the shot back up from ten feet on the 13th, where Hansen had moments earlier birdied from similar distance. Hansen took advantage of the par five 14th from 16 feet to get within one but Colsaerts spectacularly chipped in for eagle on the same hole and he was back in front.
Coetzee's chances of winning ended on the next when he found the water twice and ended up with a triple bogey but Colsaerts also ended up in the water and dropped two strokes, handing the lead to Hansen.
But Hansen came up just short of the green at the par four 17th and then hit his first putt over the green and took three more to get down for a horrible double-bogey that handed the lead back to Colsaerts. American Kurt Kitayama recovered from a quadruple bogey on the second with birdies on the third, 12th, 13th and 17th in a 71 that left him at nine under, one ahead of Martin Kaymer, Ireland's Gavin Moynihan and Scot Richie Ramsay.
Justin Thomas won his 11th PGA Tour title and a cheque for $1.75m when he held off the challenge of Danny Lee to secure the CJ Cup in South Korea. A final round of 67 gave him a 20-under-par total of 268. Lee shot 69. It has been quite a run for the 26-year-old American. Those victories have come since the start of the 2016-17 season, and his record is second to none. In the same period, Dustin Johnson has landed eight titles, Brooks Koepka six. Admittedly, four of Koepka’s wins have come in majors.
But Thomas has become a winning machine and this was his second at JeJu Island in three years. He has now converted eight of 11 54-hole lead into victory. But he remains pretty modest about his achievements. “I don't think you can ever necessarily call yourself the best closer. I've only won 11 times. I feel like once I get to 40 or 50 times and I've closed a lot of those, then I think that's kind of different,” Thomas says.
Although Thomas won by two, Lee made sure that it wasn’t a comfortable day for him as he holed a series of clutch putts during the final round as he tapped into a huge wave of support from the local fans. Lee was, of course, born in Korea. And in the end, it was Lee who blinked first with some late bogeys costing him his chance of victory.
“The biggest thing I think that I've gotten a lot better at is just learning, taking experiences and learning from them,” Thomas said. “That's what I did early in my career. There were a couple times I felt like I should have won the tournament but I did something incorrectly or hit a wrong club or thought how I shouldn't have. There's going to be things today that once I sit down and digest it and pay attention to kind of what happened out there, I'll be able to learn from it. That's all I'm trying to do because I feel like if I can just improve a little bit every year, then there's not really a ceiling that I feel like I can't reach, I just want to try to win as many tournaments as I can.”
Watching Thomas in full flow, it is easy to forget that he missed a chunk of 2019 due to a wrist injury suffered when he hit a tree on his follow-through at the Honda Classic, and when he returned to action he struggled. And then came the BMW Championship in the FedExCup Playoffs in August, where he returned to form in some style. “It feels great … It's very reassuring knowing that I could hit those shots when I needed to the entire day when I felt like the heat was on the whole day,” Thomas said. “I feel like I'm starting to understand a lot better what I need to do, what my body needs to do on prior weeks before events and I feel like I'm doing a good job. In terms of the season, I definitely got off to a good start, there's no doubt about that.”
Thomas and Lee began the day tied for the lead and that’s how it remained at the turn, with Lee making three birdies. They were still locked together after 13 holes. But then Thomas birdied the 14th. Lee found bunker trouble at the 14th and 15th, dropping shots at both holes.
“Just a couple holes let me down with the driver on the back nine,” Lee said. “A couple tee shots that you cannot hit it in that bunkers on the left and I did, so struggling to make par from there when Justin had a couple birdie looks.”
When they reached the 72nd hole, Lee was two behind, with a long, last-gasp putt for an eagle. His magnificent effort was a fraction too hard, hitting the back of the hole and refusing to drop. He finished with a 69, to Thomas’ 67.
“I wasn't going to leave that short,” Lee said of the putt. “It looked so good for so long. Had a little too much speed to go in, but I gave it a really good run.”
The runner-up finish is the third of Lee's PGA Tour career as he searches for a second win to go with his 2015 triumph at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. “Before I tee off my very first tee shot on Thursday, if someone's going to give me solo second, I would take it in a heartbeat. It is a good week, but also very disappointing. I really wanted to win The CJ Cup. It means a lot to me to win it in front of the Korean fans and all my Korean family, but it is what it is. I gave my best out there today and solo second was the best I could do.”
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