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Billy Horschel Puts Past Defeats Behind Him to Win WGC Match Play

By: | Mon 29 Mar 2021 | Comments

Billy Horschel beat Scottie Scheffler 2&1 to win the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin, Texas, denying the 2020 Rookie of the Year his maiden victory.

And it came as a relief. In 2014, when the tournament was a straight knockout event he was three up at the turn against Jason Day in the second round but somehow contrived to lose at the 22nd hole. Day would go on to win the title.

In 2014, when the tournament was a straight elimination format, Horschel had destroyed the higher seeded Jamie Donaldson 6 and 5 in his first-round match and was cruising against Jason Day in the second round.

At Harding Park in San Francisco a year later, with the new group format, Horschel easily beat Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner over the first two days setting up a showdown with Rory McIlroy. He had a chance to win from 12-feet on the 18th hole but missed.

“I was two up against Rory with two to play. Rory drained like a 45-footer on 17  and birdied 18 and then he won two holes later. So that was an opportunity lost there,” Horschel recalled. McIlroy also went on to win the tournament.

In 2019 Horschel was three up against Jordan Spieth but bogeyed the 16th and 18th to finish all square. He then faced Kevin Na, knowing he had to win to progress. They were all square with four to play but Horschel lost three holes on the trot.

“I've had my opportunities. I just didn't finish off matches. So to be able to do that this week – it makes this win sweeter,” Horschel said.

This week was different. He got out of a group that included Collin Morikawa, J.T. Poston and Max Homa and then beat Kevin Streelman, Tommy Fleetwood and Victor Perez before taking out Scheffler.

“There were certain times that I've been too focused on trying to play my opponent instead of the course,” Horschel said. “When he's in trouble you're just like, hey, I just want to hit the green and make a par and you wind up not hitting a great golf shot.”

Holding a two up lead coming down the par-four 12th Horschel watched Scheffler’s second shot find water. So he laid up. But his wedge shot found a bunker and he failed to get up and down.

“It's a roller coaster. You're going to have ups and downs, you're going to have swings in matches where you think you're going to win a hole and you wind up tying or losing a hole,” Horschel said.

“But the next hole's a new opportunity to win a hole . So I've got the mentality that I'm never down, I'm never out, until you tell me I can't play anymore. That's a perfect mentality for match play. I'm a bulldog. I fight hard. I never give up, and I always think I can win. I always think there's a way I can get the job done.”

Even when he once again overcooked a wedge on the 16th, knowing a birdie would end the match, Horschel produced a brilliant chip to preserve his lead. And he closed out the match at the next.

The victory moved Horschel within reach of another FedExCup title as he rose to seventh in the standings and back into the top 20 in the world for the first time since July 2015.

Horschel is also fully aware it is a Ryder Cup year. “If you looked at some of the other formats, how I played in team events, what I've done at Zurich (winning with Scott Piercy in 2018). I've had success there. I've had success playing at QBE Shootout. So I feel like I'm a really good partner to pair up with a lot of people.

“I feel like I should have been on Ryder Cup teams before but that's my fault because I haven't done what I needed to do to take care of that. But maybe this year is the year. It's always been one of my priorities. If I do happen to make a Ryder Cup team in my career, I'll be happy.”

Horschel was the first man into the final after he came from behind to beat Frenchman Victor Perez. Horschel won the opening hole but found himself one down through six as he chased a spot in the championship match. With tough winds whipping through the canyon lined front nine and the river adjacent back nine, birdies were hard to come by. Bogeys on the seventh, 10th and 11th were costly for Perez and a three-putt on the 14th sealed his fate.

Perez gave the crowds one last highlight by almost holing out from 122 yards on the 15th to prolong the match but when he missed a 10-foot birdie putt on 16 Horschel put the match to bed.

Scheffler looked to be cruising towards the final when he took a two-up lead on Matt Kuchar at the 11th hole. But he dumped two balls in the water on the 12th and 13th holes and allowed Kuchar back into a grinding contest. In the end it was a critical 10-foot birdie on the 17th green that would help Scheffler to the final – but not before he dodged one last punch on the 18th hole.

After failing to make birdie from 16-feet Scheffler could only watch as Kuchar lined up his birdie try from just outside eight feet. The 2013 champion and 2019 runner up would have sent the match to extra holes had he found the hole but his attempt slid by and gave Scheffler a 1-up triumph. Kuchar beat Perez in the third-fourth playoff match.

European Tour

DANIEL van Tonder secured his first European Tour title at the Kenya Savannah Classic after defeating Jazz Janewattananond with a birdie on the third play-off hole.

The 30-year-old South African posted a closing seven under par round of 64 to join Thailand’s Janewattananond on 21 under par and after both players parred the first two trips back down the 18th hole, it was third time lucky for Van Tonder as he converted his short birdie putt after a glorious approach.

He was eight under par after 13 holes following five birdies in a row from the ninth hole, but back-to-back bogeys at the 14th and 15th handed the advantage to Janewattananond. He needed to find something special and he holed a lengthy birdie putt on the final hole to force extra holes.

"I was struggling last week, but this week I found everything and was very happy," Van Tonder said. "I knew if I gave myself some putting chances, I’d make one sooner or later. "I’ve been working hard. Last year I had four wins on the Sunshine Tour, my stroke average was quite low – then Covid happened and it made everything a bit hard travel-wise and getting in to tournaments. It wasn’t easy. I had to work hard and keep myself motivated. It paid off, so I’m very happy.

"I’m a bit different. I love pressure, if there’s pressure I get more in the zone. For me, I tried to keep it as easy as possible – hit the fairway first, then the second, put the other player under pressure and see what happens from there. I took it shot-by-shot and it worked.”

The victory is Van Tonder’s fifth in his past 13 worldwide starts, while Janewattananond secured his best European Tour finish since his tied second place at the 2017 Fiji International.

England’s Sam Horsfield and Scotland’s Calum Hill both carded seven under par final rounds of 64 to share third place on 20 under par, while David Drysdale, of Scotland, and South Africa’s Jacques Kruyswijk finished two shots further back in a tie for fifth place on 18 under par.

Justin Harding ran out of steam in his bid to claim back-to-back victories in Kenya. Having come out on top in the Kenya Open he returned to the Karen Country Club and appeared to be on track for another victory but he could only manage a final round of 73 and had to settle for a share of 14th place.

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Tags: PGA Tour european tour


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