Rickie Fowler has broken into the top-four with victory in Abu Dhabi and Jason Dufner has broken a two and half year barren spell with a win in California. Read Steve's take on their respective victories here...
“I couldn’t have been more impressed with Rickie Fowler. Once a far from safe conveyance in-contention and a player possibly lacking in determination or even professionalism, the amiable 27-year-old American has very quickly transformed himself into a ruthless closer and a prolific winner.”
On a typically exciting golfing Sunday, both tournaments ended in dramatic fashion. Rickie Fowler moved up from sixth to fourth in the world rankings, with a thrilling win at the Abu Dhabi Championship, and Jason Dufner triumphed in extra time over David Lingmerth at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Fowler edged out Belgium's Thomas Pieters after holing out from a greenside bunker for eagle on the eighth hole and chipping in for birdie at the 17th hole but although that may sound melodramatic, he always appeared in control. Dufner, on the other hand, looked dead and buried when he hit a stinker of a tee-shot on the penultimate hole in regulation.
Lingmerth was matched at - at least as low as 1.141/7 when Dufner had appeared to throw the tournament away when his tee-shot on the par three 17th hole (a hole named Alcatraz) found the rocks but he somehow found a lie and managed to get up-and-down (see below).
Both players recorded pars at the first playoff hole, after Dufner had again looked in trouble. Having found a fairway bunker off the tee, he couldn't reach the green with his second shot but he managed to hole from ten feet for a par four. His luck extended further at the second extra hole when Lingmerth found water with his second shot and a straightforward par gave Dufner the title. And having led from flag fall it was a title he deserved.
Pieters was matched at a low of 2.942/1 in Abu Dhabi and with hindsight I should have layed some of my wager back but given I'd backed him each-way, I didn't bother. And having also backed Rory McIlroy to finish in the top five, profits on the European Tour were sufficient to more than cover small loses incurred on the PGA Tour.
As detailed in the In-Play Blog, I was always up against it with my lay book, with very few outsiders getting involved but I've got no regrets as I feel like I could have easily made things worse given Dufner won. I toyed with taking him on further at odds-on before the final round but instead levelled things off by laying those around him. In the end, I lost a smidgen over £200 and I can leave with that.
What Have We Learned This Week?
I'm not convinced the CareerBuilder Challenge is an event to get stuck in to anymore. For seven years straight the winner went off at a triple figure price but the last of those outsiders - Patrick Reed - turned out to be pretty classy and the last two winners - Bill Haas and now Dufner - have been high class too.
Dufner and Lingmerth were four clear of the remainder and now that the event is using the tougher Pete Dye Stadium Course as the host course, I fancy the wheat will sort itself from the chaff again in the future. The tournament has been getting stronger since it was reduced from five to four rounds and there are perhaps better events to get stuck into - the Fall Series events for starters.
Over at the Abu Dhabi Championship, Rory McIlroy started well but didn't putt brilliantly and when his putting deteriorated further his obvious frustration leaked into his long game. Matched at just 2.26/5 early in the event, his game was a million miles from his best and yet he still managed to finish inside the top five for the seventh time in nine attempts and for the fifth time in-a-row. This was the ninth year running he'd began the year in Abu Dhabi and its patently obvious he loves the venue but I'd love to see him play here after he'd played somewhere else first. He was clearly rusty and yet still finished placed. I've read that he's committed to playing in the South African Open next year so if he uses that as his pipe-opener, a week or two before coming here, he could be a max bet material play here.
I feel somewhat aggrieved that Pieters couldn't quite get the job done because fancy prices about the Belgian look likely to be a thing of the past. This is a top quality tournament where the best can shine and it's no coincidence that the four players in the line-up that ranked inside the top-six in the world rankings finished inside the top-six.
Has The Big Three become The Big Four?
I couldn't have been more impressed with Rickie Fowler. Once a far from safe conveyance in-contention and a player possibly lacking in determination or even professionalism, the amiable 27-year-old American has very quickly transformed himself into a ruthless closer and a prolific winner.
Despite finishing inside the top-five at all four majors in 2014, a pole by his peers, revealed last May, voted him (and Ian Poulter) as the most over-rated player on Tour but that seems to have galvanised him and he hasn't looked back since.
Over the last ten months, he's won twice on the PGA Tour - the Players Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship - and twice on the European Tour. In addition to yesterday's success, he also took the Scottish Open in July. This was his first career win in the first four months of the year and it's clear that, under the tutelage of Butch Harmon, he's fully focussed on his golf now and more wins in 2016 are surely inevitable.
This victory has taken Fowler up to fourth in the world rankings and what a top-four we now have! In the last 12 months, Jordan Spieth (six), Jason Day (five), Rory (4) and Rickie have amassed 19 wins between them and we appear to be enjoying a golden era of golf that could run for years and years to come.
Debates will run and run as to who is the best but what isn't up for debate, as far as I'm concerned, is that Fowler deserves to be talked about in the same glowing terms as the front three. With Rory and Jordan dominating the market, Rickie went off at 20/1 in Abu Dhabi and I've backed him for the Open Championship at 25/1 (previewed here back in December) but I can see him being much shorter going forward.
Rickie skips back across the pond this week for Farmers Insurance Open and I'll try and get that preview out today but with the Qatar Masters starting on Wednesday, I shall concentrate on that one first and that'll be out later today.
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