Thomas Pieters Secures Most Significant Career Victory at Abu Dhabi
THOMAS PIETERS became the first Belgian to win a Rolex Series event as he shot a 72 in difficult conditions to win the Abu Dhabi Championship by a shot. Pieters held off a strong field to secure his sixth DP World Tour title and move back into the top 50 in the world rankings, ensuring that he will be teeing it up in The Masters at Augusta in April.
He finished the week on 10 under to ease home ahead of Rafa Cabrera Bello and Shubhankar Sharma.
Pieters was thrilled. He said: "Winning a Rolex Series is as good as it gets in Europe. I want to play all of the big tournaments and hopefully this gets me close.
“Getting into the top 50 is your strive point and when I jumped out maybe three years ago, I took it badly, but I'm happy to be back again.
"I feel like I've turned the corner and I'm playing really good golf. I'm really in control of my ball flight and it's nice to feel like that and making putts as well. My putting has improved massively and I felt like that's the thing that really kept me going on the weekend.
"I just hope all the juniors back at home are watching this. I used to watch as a kid and think it was impossible for me but then Nico [Colsaerts] came on the scene and started winning. It's stuff like that that inspires kids and hopefully I can do that back home."
Victor Dubuisson, the enigmatic Frenchman, finished in a tie third alongside Viktor Hovland, who posted a level-par 72 despite carding a double-bogey and triple-bogey in his round, with defending champion Tyrrell Hatton three back in the group tied-seventh.
Rory McIlroy briefly threatened before a disappointing finish that saw him end the tournament with a three-under 69 and a share of 12th place. It was a round that included an eagle two, but there were also too many mistakes.
A par on the opening hole was enough for Pieters to move into a share of the lead when overnight leader Scott Jamieson made bogey, with the Belgian adding pars over his next six holes.
Another missed green and another failure to get up and down then dropped Jamieson two back and Pieters maintained that lead until he put a wonderful tee-shot to six feet at the eighth and moved three ahead.
Cabrera Bello had holed a 27-footer on the third but gave the shot back on the fourth before he made a two-putt birdie on the par-five seventh, with an approach to six feet at the ninth seeing him turn in 34 and trim the lead to two.
Pieters missed a good birdie chance at the tenth and when he did the same at the next and ended up with a three-putt, his advantage was down to one.
Cabrera Bello then found rough off the tee at the 14th but played an excellent recovery and holed from seven feet to join the lead.
Sharma had sandwiched a double-bogey after a poor tee-shot on the third with a birdie on the par-five second and a 30-footer on the fifth before three-putting the eighth to turn in 37.
He holed from 28 and 30 feet on the tenth and 14th to get to nine under and a par on the 15th proved to be a good result as playing-partner Cabrera Bello failed to get up and down to put Pieters back in the lead.
Cabrera Bello dropped another shot on the 16th after being lucky not to find the water with his second and Sharma's failure to get up and down from the sand at the 17th gave Pieters a two-shot cushion.
The second-placed duo both claimed birdies on the par-five last but in the group behind Pieters decided to lay up and made a routine par for victory.
Cabrera Bello carded a 70, one shot fewer than Sharma, while Dubuisson signed for a 69 and Hovland finished with a 72.
Hovland recovered from a triple-bogey on the third to get within one of the lead but a double on the 15th scuppered his chances, while Dubuisson made four birdies and a single bogey.
HUDSON SWAFFORD produced a final round of 64 to win the American Express Championship at La Quinta Country Club by two shots from Tom Hoge but the big story for European golf was the remarkable return to form of 2018 Open Champion Francesco Molinari.
The Italian has seen his world ranking tumble as he has battled injury and poor form but he shot four rounds in 60s and finished the week on 19 under par, in sixth place, four behind Swafford. It marks a welcome return to form for one of the most popular figures in European golf. His slump actually began after the 2019 Masters. You may remember that he was leading until he came to the 12th hole in the final round. But he found the water and allowed Tiger Woods to win his 15th major.
But back to the here and now. And for 34-year-old Swafford this was a much-needed success which sees him move into the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings. He began the week outside the top 100. It was his second victory in this tournament but that first win came five years ago. The remarkable thing is that he arrived here with no form to speak of but he played brilliantly in the final round, making nine birdies and an eagle on his way to a 23-under-par total.
“I have been playing great and all the hard work that I have put in finally paid off today,” he said.
Brian Harman, Lanto Griffin and Lee Hodges finished in a tie for third place on 20 under, one ahead of Molinari and Will Zalatoris.
Swafford began the final round three shots back but he hit 11 of 14 fairways and 13 of 18 greens in regulation.
He actually dropped a shot at the 445-yard par-4 first but bounced straight back with a birdie at the second. On the 535-yard par-5 fifth, Swafford made another birdie after hitting the green in two. At the 223-yard par-3 sixth, Swafford hit his tee shot to 12 feet putt for another birdie.
He was really motoring now and hit a 304-yard drive on the 559-yard par-5 eighth, to set up yet another birdie.
At the 405-yard par-4 10th, Swafford rolled in a 45-foot putt for birdie and followed it with another at the par-five 11th.
After a drive to the left side of the fairway on the 363-yard par-4 12th hole, he had a 98 yard approach shot, setting himself up for a third birdie on the trot. He was six under for his round. He dropped a shot at the short 13th but an approach to 10 feet at the 14th gave him another birdie.
A wayward drive cost him a bogey at the 468-yard par-four 15th but then came the shot of the day at the par-five 16th when he struck a magnificent shot to eight feet and drained the putt for an eagle and the lead.
And he clinched the title when he holed another fine birdie putt at the 165-yard par-three 17th.
THE incomparable Miguel Angel Jimenez is off to another great start on the PGA TOUR Champions in Hawaii. Jimenez, birdied the par-4 18th hole in regulation for a 6-under 66 and then beat Steven Alker on the second playoff hole to win the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai for the third time.
"It's a nice way to start a season. It's nice to be here, winning again in Hualalai," Jimenez said. "The golf course, I like it very much. The golf course is set up in beautiful condition this year. They make it very good here at Hualalai."
Jimenez won two years ago in a playoff, along with winning outright in 2015. The season opener is for winners from the last two years and senior major champions from the last five years, along with a few sponsor exemptions.
Alker had no PGA TOUR Champions status late last year under getting it through a qualifier and then finishing in the top 10 each week to keep playing, eventually winning. He also closed with a 66 to join Jimenez at 17-under 199. They finished one shot ahead of Vijay Singh and Stephen Ames, who each birdied the final hole for a 68.
Ernie Els, who had the lead going into the final day. couldn't keep up and had to settle for a 70. He finished three shots behind.
Alker had a chance to win with a birdie at the 18th on the first extra hole, narrowly missing the cut. Playing the 18th again in the playoff, his approach came off the green and into a bunker, and he failed to save par. "It was fun to get in position and have a chance," Alker said.
David Duval made his debut on the 50-and-older circuit and closed with a 72 to tie for 34th.
Jimenez joined Bernhard Langer as the only three-time winner of the tournament. It was his 11th career victory on the PGA TOUR Champions, four of them in playoffs.
WORLD No1 Nelly Korda threw away the 54-hole lead to finish fourth at the Tournament of Champions and allow American Danielle Kang to claim victory.
Kang, 29, shot a four-under-par 68 after starting the final round one adrift of Korda in Orlando, Florida. The season-opening triumph was Kang's first LPGA title since winning the Marathon Classic in 2020.
England's Georgia Hall finished in 12th place on two under. Canada's Brooke Henderson came second, with Gaby Lopez of Mexico in third.
Hitting a three-over-par 75 in her final round, Korda ended the competition at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club on 10-under 278 after 72 holes and was tied with France's Celine Boutier.
The 23-year-old American led after the second and third rounds but failed to find her form on Sunday. Korda eventually drifted out the running following an early bogey on the fourth hole and a bogey on the 10th.
Although she regained a shot with a birdie on the 15th, back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th saw her hopes quickly drop, along with her position on the leaderboard.
Korda's sister, Jessica, was seventh on eight under, while Hall's final-round 69 was not enough to see her break into the top 10. Compatriot Melissa Reid shot a 75 to finish on seven over.
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