The Punter's De-Brief: Marvellous Morikawa mugs topsy-turvy Thomas at Muirfield

Golfer Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas looking all at sea on the sixth hole yesterday
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Collin Morikawa has won the first of two consecutive tournaments at Muirfield Village and Marc Warren has won the first event back on the European Tour. Steve Rawlings looks back at all the action...

“Gary Woodland, who finished well to claim a tie for fifth, was the only player in the top-six to rank higher for Driving Distance than he did for Driving Accuracy and the onus on finding the short grass off the tee will be stronger again come Thursday.”

Scotland's Marc Warren has won the Austrian Open by a stroke over Germany's Marcel Schneider, with my [75.0] pre-event pick, Will Besseling, a further stroke back in third.

Warren, matched at a high of [160.0] but generally a [110.0] chance at the off, had been tied for the lead with Nicolai Von Dellingshausen with a round to go but the German faded badly to finish tied for 15th. Level par after eight holes, Warren took a clear lead with back-to-back birdies at nine and ten but he didn't maintain the momentum and bogeys followed at 11 and 12. After a pair of pars, he birdied 15 and 17 to strike the front again before holing from five feet for par to take the title at the par three 18th.

This was 39-year-old Warren's fourth European Tour title and his first for six years. It wasn't the most exciting finale but the final round of Workday Charity Open, which began early to dodge some potentially bad weather later in the day, soon made up for it...

Having ended the third round with a two-stroke lead, Justin Thomas was trading at around [1.7] before the start of play but he was soon drifting badly. The world number five hadn't made a single bogey through the first three rounds but he'd made two by the time he stood on the fourth tee in round four.

His closest challenger before the final round, Viktor Hovland, birdied three, four and five to go three clear of Thomas and Collin Morikawa, who had led after rounds one and two, opened up the final round with birdies at two and four and an eagle at five! He'd gone from three behind Thomas to three clear of him and the two young guns were tied at the top.

Hovland, a pre-event [30.0] chance, was matched at a low of [2.0] but he found water with his approach at the sixth and it was Morikawa that assumed command. With Hovland wet, and Thomas struggling for par, Morikawa's price plunged to [1.67] and Thomas drifted right out to [11.0] but a par save from eight feet at six, and a scruffy par five at seven, seemed to give Thomas a bit of encouragement and the whole tournament flipped again.

Having played poorly for seven holes, Thomas birdied four on the spin from the eighth and when he eagled the par five 15th, after birdying the 14th, he led by three with three to play and he hit a low of just [1.03]. It was starting, finally, to look like a done deal but Thomas opened the door again with a bogey at the tough par three 16th.

Morikawa then got to within one of the lead at the penultimate hole with a birdie and when Thomas failed to get up-and-down from in front of the 18th green, following a poor tee-shot, we were into extra time.

Morikawa went odds-on again at the first extra hole when Thomas was 50 feet away after two but then this happened!

Yet again, Thomas looked far and away the most likely winner and once again he was matched at below [1.1] (around [1.06]). He'd given his backers a couple of almighty scares but it looked like they were about to finally collect. Morikawa, however, had other ideas, and he responded to Thomas' incredible birdie three with one of his own.

Both players parred 18 at the second time of asking and the playoff moved to the par four 10th, where the tournament ended after an extremely unlucky drive by Thomas left him stymied behind a fairly skinny tree.

Thomas could only hack out and he failed to get up-and-down for par, leaving Morikawa to make a simple par four for the title. This was Morikawa's second title, from just 24 starts as a pro, and he's one of just ten players to win in each of the last two seasons.

It's no secret how strong he is tee-to-green and when he putts well, he's a force to be reckoned with. This week he ranked 13th for Strokes Gained Putting and he ranked number one for Putting Average.

My Bets

It's been a bit of a frustrating week. I only backed two before the off in Austria and they both contended. Joel Stalter, backed at [300.0], was within two of the lead after three rounds but he fell to a tie for 15th with a poor final round and Besseling finished strongly with the lowest round of the day (66) yesterday but he'd given himself too much to do after a 74 on Saturday. Besseling hit a low of [5.0] when he birdied the par four 12th but he could only par his way in from there.

None of my pre-tournament picks contended seriously in the States, although a couple of them were on the fringes of contention at halfway, but I looked likely to make amends with my in-play wager on Thomas at [4.3].

Thomas was matched at [1.5] on Saturday and I was kicking myself for not laying him back during round three when he started round four so poorly. I thought I'd missed my window but I needed have worried. I layed him at [1.1] as he played the 15th and trading to a profit was simple enough after that with so many huge swings at the finish.

Is Thomas still reliable?

As highlighted in the In-Play Blog yesterday, Justin Thomas had a strong record in-contention but there had been a couple of disappointing efforts when leading of late and he's now been beaten on three of the last five occasions he's led or co-led.

He fell from tied first to seventh way back in 2015, on the first occasion he'd led with a round to go on the PGA Tour, at what's now called the American Express, and he then fell from first to fifth at the WGC-Mexico Championship in 2017. Either side of that defeat, he converted three times from the front so he was starting to look extremely reliable; but he's only converted twice since, having led five times. It's fair to question whether he's losing his edge in-contention - but I don't think he is.

His worst defeat came at Riviera two years ago when he led by four with a round to go but everyone has a bad day now and again and I don't think we can be overly critical of his last two defeats either. Although he was disappointing yesterday, it's never easy to start early and it was impossible to fault the way he bounced back after the poor start.

More Muirfield magic awaits

For the first time in more than 60 years, the PGA Tour will remain at the same venue this week, as Muirfield Village takes in its usual event - the Memorial Tournament. I'll be back later today or early tomorrow with my full preview but if you're planning on making an early start, it might be worth focusing on the more accurate types off the tee.

Gary Woodland, who finished well to claim a tie for fifth, was the only player in the top-six to rank higher for Driving Distance than he did for Driving Accuracy and the onus on finding the short grass off the tee will be stronger again come Thursday, after a further week's growth to rough.

The European Tour isn't going far either, remaining in Austria and moving from Atzenbrugg to Ramsau for the third edition of the Euram Bank Open and again, I'll be back either later today or tomorrow with my preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Steven Rawlings,

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