The Punter's De-Brief: Lame Larrazabal limps his way to victory at Leopard Creek

Golfer Pablo Larrazabal
Pablo Larrazabal with the Alfred Dunhill Championship trophy

Pablo Larrazabal has won an eventful 19th edition of the Alfred Dunhill Championship and our man's back with all the details here...

"Larrazabal shot a six-over-par 41 on the front nine and although he only trailed the leader, Wil Besseling, by a couple of strokes, he looked like a busted flush and he drifted all the way out to 55.054/1, having been matched at a low of 1.564/7."

Pre-event 60.059/1 chance, Pablo Larrazabal, who was backed down from 80.079/1 before the off, won the Alfred Dunhill Championship by a stroke yesterday having sat second after round one and having led after both rounds two and three. He was the seventh 36-hole leader in-a-row to take the title and he was the eighth 54-hole leader to win in the last ten years. It all sounds very straightforward doesn't it, but that was far from the case.

Before the final round began, the Spaniard spoke about how much discomfort he was in with blisters and he started the round tardily, bogeying three of the first five holes. He stopped the rot momentarily with a birdie at the drivable par four sixth, the easiest hole on the course yesterday, but he was back on the slide again minutes later when for the third day in-a-row he found water off the tee at the tough par three seventh. That led to a double bogey five and further bogeys followed at eight and nine. The 26-year-old had shot a six-over-par 41 on the front nine and although he only trailed the leader, Wil Besseling, by a couple of strokes, he looked like a busted flush and he drifted all the way out to 55.054/1, having been matched at a low of 1.564/7.

The sixth was the only hole to play easier that the par four 11th yesterday so it wasn't a huge surprise to see Larrazabal pick up a shot there but he gave it straight back minutes later when he drove into the water at the par five 13th. He really did look dead and buried at that stage but after parring the 14th - a hole the leader, Besseling, double bogeyed - he holed a lengthy putt for birdie at the par five 15th and tied the lead with Besseling when making just the fifth birdie of the day at the ultra-tough par three 16th.

Besseling, a pre-event 220.0219/1 shot, who was matched at a low of 2.01/1, and Larrazabal both parred the 17th and they went to the 72nd hole tied at the top with Sweden's Joel Sjoholm who had finished much earlier in the day, but it hadn't been just a three-man race.

Pre-tournament 26.025/1 shot, Zander Lombard, hit a low of 3.211/5 in-running; 24.023/1 chance, Branden Grace, was matched at just 2.77/4; and 1000.0 shot, Sjoholm, who got into the event as the second reserve, was matched at 2.47/5. The 34-year-old Swede was one of just five men to break 70 on a tricky day and it was hard not to feel sympathy after he'd posted a seven-under-par 281 total to take the clubhouse lead. He looked odds-on to get into a playoff after Besseling and Larrazabal had driven off in to the rough on 18.

Larrazabal decided to lay up but Besseling put himself out of the game with his second stroke. The Dutchman went for the green and although he narrowly avoided the water, his ball was left nestled against the rocks adjacent to the drink and he went on to make a bogey six. The Spaniard calmly chipped up to a foot or so and knocked in his third birdie in four holes for one of the unlikeliest of comeback wins.

My Bets

Having backed Larrazabal before the off at 80.079/1, it's been another great week and given it was my third pre-event winner in-a-row, following Brendon Todd at 110.0109/1 in Mexico and Jon Rahm last week in Dubai, it's been a lovely finish to the golf punting year but the Spaniard's somewhat wayward route to victory resulted in plenty of trading and diluted winnings.

As detailed in the In-Play Blog, I layed Larrazabal at odds-on during round three and once it became clear who might take the title, I also backed the likes of Lombard and Sjoholm in-running yesterday so by the time the Spaniard sank the winning putt I collected less than two thirds of my original potential winnings but I'm not complaining. It was a dramatic and exciting finish and I was more than happy to be able to enjoy it knowing the eventual result was almost irrelevant.

Leopard Creek undoubtedly Africa's finest now

A major renovation to Leopard Creek meant we missed the 2017 renewal of the Alfred Dunhill Championship but the sacrifice was more than worth it and what we have now is an out-and-out masterpiece worthy of hosting a major championship or at the very least, a World Golf Championship event.

Charl Schwartzel once won here with a winning total of 24-under-par (in 2012) and the average winning score of the last six winners, prior to the renovation, was more than 19-under-par so watching everyone fighting to protect their scores over the weekend was a joy for aficionados of tough golf. With absolutely nowhere to hide, the par 72 course averaged just 74.34 for the week and Larrazabal's winning score was -8.

Given the six winners prior to the renovation had been South African, it's interesting to note that the first and second were both Europeans this year and that only one of the top-six 12 months ago was a South African. And outsiders have dominated the last two renewals too but I'm reluctant to believe that's a sea change. Both Grace and Schwartzel were on the premises this year and neither man is in-form. The course has changed, but it won't be long before the home contingent adjusts and they still remain more used to the oppressive weather conditions.

I haven't seen any tournament stats yet but it certainly felt like Larrazabal's short game and touch around the greens kept him in the hunt and scoring-wise, it reminded me very much of Augusta.

A fast start in the US Masters is always important and as the course dries out and runs faster low scores are harder to shoot. The layout produces great drama over the weekend and especially on Sunday and big scores are out there for anyone not quite on their game.

As many as 19 players broke 70 at Leopard Creek on Thursday and although there wasn't a huge differential between the AM-PM scores over the first two days, it was noticeable how many early starters on Thursday made hay early on with ten of the top-12 after round one enjoying an early start. Besseling and Larrazabal sat first and second after round one and the two were locked together on the 72nd tee so that fast start really was key as the course just got harder and harder...

Only five players broke 70 on Friday and Sunday and only four managed it in round three. Concentrating on those that have started well in the morning on day one next year could well pay dividends.

The PGA Tour returns this week with the Hero Challenge and we're off to Mauritius on the European Tour for the fifth edition of the Mauritius Open. I'll be back later today or tomorrow with my previews.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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