Nicolai Hojgaard Continues Rise Through Game
NICOLAI HOJGAARD claimed his second DP World Tour title after holding off Jordan Smith in a roller-coaster final round at the 2022 Ras al Khaimah Championship presented by Phoenix Capital to win by four shots. Overnight leader Hojgaard's resilience faced a stern test when he stumbled around the turn and saw a five-shot lead evaporate before finding himself two strokes behind a charging Smith on the back nine.
But he showed exceptional determination over the closing holes, bouncing back with a birdie at the 13th before producing an outstanding eagle on the next to open up a two-shot lead.
And from there he was able to cruise to victory, adding another two birdies on his way home to sign for a closing 68 and finish the week on 24 under par.
He now has two DP World Tour crowns to his name following last year's DS Automobiles Italian Open triumph, and sits just one win behind his twin brother Rasmus.
Smith, who had started the day six shots off the lead, finished alone in second on 20 under, three ahead of Li Haotong, Lukas Nemecz, Matthieu Pavon and Adrian Otaegui in a tie for third. Li's bogey-free 63 saw him tie the course record at Al Hamra Golf Club.
Hojgaard looked to be strolling to victory early on day four after extending his overnight advantage from three to five shots with an eagle at the long third, which was inches away from being an albatross.
But as the Dane began to falter, with a double bogey at the ninth reducing his lead to one stroke at the turn, Smith found his very best form and took over at the top.
While Smith reeled off a hat-trick of gains at the 12th, 13th and 14th to take his birdie tally for the day to seven, Hojgaard dropped another stroke at the 12th after his tee shot landed in the penalty area down by the water.
That gave Smith, who was three groups ahead of Hojgaard, a two-shot lead on 21 under but the Englishman surrendered his first bogey of the day at the 15th after his par putt from 21 feet narrowly evaded the hole.
And with Hojgaard holing his close-range birdie putt at the 13th to return to 20 under, he grabbed a share of the lead once more, with two par fives still to come.
Hojgaard regained full control after hitting a shot-of-the-week contender at the par-five 14th, sending his second shot from a waste area to inside ten feet before rolling in his eagle effort to jump to 22 under and open up a two-shot lead.
And with Smith unable to close the gap at the 17th and 18th, Hojgaard only extended his lead with birdies at the final two holes.
After clinching victory, Hojgaard said: "It's very sweet. It's been such a tough grind today. Got off to a good start and then I struggled quite a bit.
"I had to dig deep out there and the turning point was obviously on 13 where I saw Jordan Smith had made a run and was two up when I was on the green at 13, and I stepped up with a clutch finish so I'm really happy.
"I was thinking that I was throwing the tournament away when I made a double bogey and a bogey on 12. So I had to dig deep and my good friend Christian on the bag, he did a brilliant job of keeping me focused and getting me motivated for the finish. And it turned out pretty good.
"I’m quite excited for the future now. I’m not really thinking about it, but obviously when you’re playing good you start looking at all the Rankings. I’m motivated to keep going and get better and hopefully quality for the big tournaments."
Smith, a winner at this course at the Ras Al Khaimah, 2016 Golf Challenge on the Challenge Tour, said: "I feel really, really good about this year.
"Happy with the changes that I've made, I'm really happy with the work that I've put in off the course and on the course, so I'm looking forward to the rest of the year."
AMERICAN Harold Varner III holed a 92-foot putt for an eagle at the final hole to beat Bubba Watson by a stroke and claim the Saudi International and, with it, a cheque for $500,000.
When the Saudis assembled their all-star cast they could not have imagined that Varner III would be the man who would win but he did so in the most dramatic of circumstances on a day when a host of players threw away chances to take the tournament.
Varner III needed only a birdie four to take two-time Masters champion Watson to a play-off on the final day of the $5million tournament, being played at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City.
However, his snaking effort from the fairway of the closing hole was judged to perfection, dropping into the cup to his elation, sparking scenes of wild celebration between the Ohio-native and his caddie, Chris Rice.
“I'm just trying to take it in,” said Varner III in his post-match press conference. “Winning just never gets old. I just know that there’s been times where it just didn’t go my way and today it did. I’m super thrilled not just for myself, but everyone that’s either on my team or in my corner.”
The 31-year-old headed into the final round with a one-shot lead over Spain’s Adri Arnaus. By the time they made the turn, they were equal at the summit - with a five-under-par front-nine 30 establishing Watson as the pair’s only real contender.
Watson’s closing eagle at the 18th gave him a two-shot clubhouse lead. But a birdie at the 17th meant Varner III needed a closing birdie to take his good friend Watson to a play-off. But Varner III had other ideas.
Opting to putt from the fairway on 18, he looked on in disbelief as the ball climbed the slope and rolled on and on before falling into the hole.
“That was awesome,” said Varner III. “Obviously that it went in kind of helped! When I was coming down the hill, worst case scenario [was that] we'll go to a play-off, and I'd get him there. And then it went in, and emotions came out. I love that. When I play with my boys, that’s the emotion I want to see. That's why you play. Competition, it’s the greatest thing in the world.”
Watson was one of the first to congratulate Varner III, running from the scorer’s tent to the green to embrace a player he shares a strong friendship with.
“He’s a dear friend of mine,” said Watson. “It's a guy I truly love. It's a guy that I want to help. He's new - when I say new, we know Harold, but it was five years until I won my first. So this is a guy that's just starting to play better and better each year. We see his name a little bit more. He's getting comfortable.”
Arnaus shot a 71 to finish third. England’s Steve Lewton and Cameron Smith, of Australia, were a shot further adrift on nine under, with two-time champion Dustin Johnson finishing the week on seven under par.
TOM HOGE became the latest first-time winner on the PGA Tour, shooting a final round of 68 for a two-shot victory over Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He finished the week on 268, 19 under par.
It is a life-changing win for the 32-year-old American but it should surprise nobody. He finished tied fourth at the RSM Classic and second at the American Express Championship and began the week in 12th place in the FedEx Cup standings. He has now secured his place in The Masters and has full exemption on the PGA Tour until the end of 2024.
“It feels pretty good, almost a little bit in shock,” Hoge said. “I guess it’s been so long since I’ve won anything, I forgot how to celebrate there at 18. It was a weird day because I felt like I made a few too many mistakes early on and was kind of out of it, and looked up and I was still kind of right in the game there making the turn. Luckily made a few putts finally on the back nine.”
Hoge started the day with a share of the lead, but he ran into trouble on the par-3 fifth after landing his tee shot in the bunker. Hoge doubled there, but then made back-to-back birdies on the next two holes to offset it and keep him in the mix.
Hoge, after ending his front nine even, then made four birdies on his back nine to push ahead and get to 19-under for the win.
Spieth, after starting one back, took the solo lead early on his back nine after he made back-to-back birdies. But a bogey at the par-3 17th, paired with Hoge’s birdie at the hole, suddenly pushed Spieth two shots back.
Spieth then parred the 18th after landing his second shot in the bunker, and ended his day with a 3-under 69. Hoge easily stuck his approach on the green at final hole and two-putted for par to secure the win.
Hoge is the second straight first-time winner on Tour after Luke List’s playoff victory at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
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