Sam Horsfield Wins Inaugural Soudal Open in Belgium
IT HAS been one hell of a rollercoaster ride for Englishman Sam Horsfield. The man tipped as a future superstar by Ian Poulter won twice on the DP World Tour in 2020 as he finally lived up to his potential, but he would be the first to admit that last year is one he would rather forget.
So it was no surprise that he battled to fight back the tears after winning the inaugural Soudal Open in Belgium as big-hitting New Zealander Ryan Fox let victory slip from his grasp. Not that Horsfield will be concerned by that.
And he did it with his girlfriend, Issi, on the bag. He said: "I was trying not to cry while I was over my little tap-in (at the 18th). Having Issi on the bag, it's been an amazing week.
"Mick [Seaborn, his regular caddie] is not here but I wish he was. I said that I wanted to do it for him and I was able to do it for him. I'm just so, so happy.
"I definitely thought about Mick quite a lot, especially on the back nine, I pulled a few clubs that he definitely would have wanted me to hit.
"Issi has been amazing. I've been so happy on the golf course. It's just like golf's sort of got in the way this week, until a little bit there on the back nine.
"I asked her coming down 18, ‘Are you nervous' and she said, ‘Yeah’. But we've had an amazing week and I'm just so happy that she was here to enjoy this.
"I feel like I've been playing really good for a while but haven't really been able to put four rounds together. This week I played solid all week and next week the PGA, I'm really looking forward to it and definitely the summer ahead.”
The Englishman found himself three shots behind overnight leader Fox after eight holes on Sunday but showed his mettle on the back nine, clinching a two-shot victory with a winning score of 13 under par courtesy of a closing 68.
Horsfield's third victory, following his wins at the Hero Open and Celtic Classic in 2020, comes just two weeks into his return from a three-month injury lay-off.
Fox finished in a tie for second on 11 under par alongside German Yannik Paul, with Chase Hanna and Oliver Bekker another shot further back.
Horsfield started the day one stroke off the lead but joined Fox at the summit early in the final round after the overnight leader dropped a shot at the second hole.
But Fox bounced back in style, holing from 27 feet on the third green to return to 11 under. A stunning approach from Fox at the fourth set up a five-foot birdie, and he made it three in a row from nine feet on the fifth to go three clear. The 35-year-old came agonisingly close to adding a fourth straight birdie from the fringe at the sixth but narrowly missed.
After six straight pars, Horsfield picked up his first birdie of the day at the seventh to close the gap to two, but a nine-foot birdie at the eighth restored Fox's three-shot advantage.
Fox had to settle for a two-stroke lead at the turn after an errant tee-shot on the ninth led to a bogey there, but it could have been so much worse, with the New Zealander producing one of the shots of the week to give himself a ten-foot par chance, but the putt narrowly slid by.
Horsfield, however, holed his 15-foot par putt on the ninth to keep up the pressure on Fox. And Horsfield closed the gap to a single shot after making another birdie from around 15 feet at the tenth.
The pendulum swung back Fox's way at the 11th, though, as Horsfield made a bogey after getting into trouble off the tee. But Horsfield holed his short birdie putt at the 12th to reduce the gap to one once more.
And a bogey from Fox at the 13th saw him hand Horsfield - who rescued a par despite a wayward tee-shot - a share of the lead on 12 under. Both men parred the 14th and 15th before Horsfield grabbed the outright lead at the 16th after Fox made another bogey to slip back to 11 under.
And Horsfield took a one-shot lead into the final hole after he sunk a vital eight-foot putt to match Fox's birdie at the 17th. A par at the last proved enough to seal Horsfield's third victory, and with Fox dropping a shot there, his winning margin was two strokes.
ON A day of sensational low scoring, K H Lee successfully defended his title at the AT&T Byron Nelson thanks to a final round of 63 that was concluded with a crucial birdie at the 18th.
Lee knew he needed that closing birdie. In the group behind him, Jordan Spieth was still in contention as he tried to land his second title of the year. Lee hit his approach to 24 feet and cosied the ball up to a few inches. The birdie was a formality as he ended the week on 262, 26 under par for a one-shot victory.
Lee thus joined joined Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead as back-to-back winners of the Byron Nelson. Pretty illustrious company for the South Korean, who also moves up 88 places on the FedExCup points list, from 116th to 28th.
Lee said afterwards that he is determined to make the cut at this week’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills, something he failed to do last year.
“Hopefully this season will be better than last year,” he said. “Last year I missed the cut at the PGA Championship. So my first goal is next week play well, hopefully make the cut.”
Lee made five birdies on the front nine and came home in 32, including an eagle on the par-five 12th. He had a tricky putt of 11 feet on the par-three 17th but made it.
Xander Schauffele (61) and Hideki Matsuyama (62), made significant moves, and they were not alone. Charl Schwartzel (67), Alex Noren (64), Matt Kuchar (64), Peter Malnati (66) and Christiaan Bezuidenhout (67) all made a charge at Lee on a glorious afternoon,
Spieth, Sebastian Munoz, Justin Thomas and James Hahn all had chances.
Schauffele, who survived the cut on the number, shot a near-flawless 61 to lead briefly. Spieth tied Lee minutes later with a birdie at the ninth, his fourth in five holes, and when Spieth took three putts from 8 feet for a bogey on the next hole, Matsuyama birdied the 15th to replace him.
Then Lee eagled the 12th to reach 24 under. Schauffele’s was run. Lee also birdied the 13th. He was now the one to catch.
No one could. But Spieth, who finished second in the end, will travel to Southern Hills in good heart as he attempts to win the major he needs to complete the career Grand Slam.
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS
STEVE STRICKER completed a wire-to-wire victory Sunday in the Regions Tradition, closing with a 4-under 68 for a six-stroke victory and his fourth PGA Tour Champions major title.
Stricker's second Regions Tradition win at Greystone Golf & Country Club came in his third event since returning from a six-month absence for health reasons.
“It’s been a long time,” Stricker said. “I hate crying, but where I was last November and even a couple of months ago - to come full-circle here, it means a lot.”
He had his 20th consecutive round under par on the Founder’s Course, finishing at 21-under 267 for his eighth victory on the PGA Tour Champions.
Ireland’s three-time major champion Paidrag Harrington finished second, closing with two birdies for a 68.
Steven Alker was in the group at 14 under after a 72. He has finished four straight tournaments in the top three, winning twice.
Ernie Els, who had his third 68 in four days, also was at 14 under with Rod Pampling (67), Stuart Appleby (69) and 2018 winner Miguel Angel Jimenez (70).
Stricker punctuated the win with a birdie from the bunker on 17 that put him at 20 under for the first time, receiving a congratulatory fist bump from Alker. It ended a string of 11 straight pars.
Stricker spent nearly two weeks in hospital and lost 25 pounds. “I didn't know what to expect coming out three weeks ago,” he said. "I didn't know if I could make it three weeks in a row."
Stricker doubled his three-stroke lead over Alker within the first five holes. He has now finished all 10 rounds since his return inside the top 10, including a tie for second at the Insperity Invitational. It was his fourth straight year at Greystone finishing in the final group, including a win in 2019 and runners-up finishes in 2018 and 2021.
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