Our man reflects on all last week's golf action, where two well-fancied players claimed the spoils. Read Steve's customary look-back piece here...
“Chile’s Joaquin Niemann again caught the eye. His tied eighth on debut at Colonial at the age of 19 was another incredible performance and the sky’s the limit for this young man. He shot a two-over-par 72 on Friday so he did well to reach nine-under for the week and sooner rather than later he’s going to put four rounds together and get off the mark.”
Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari entered the fourth and final round of the BMW PGA Championship tied for the lead and four clear of the field at Wentworth yesterday and although Rory began the day as the odds-on favourite, Molinari soon took command with back-to back birdies at three and four. The Italian went on to shoot an impressive, stress-free, four-under par 68 to win by two over Rory and the result looked far closer on paper than it was. McIlroy birdied 17 and 18. Molinari parred them both.
The Italian was matched at around [30.0] when the market first opened but he was generally a [22.0] chance before the off and he was matched at a high of [75.0] in-running after an opening 70 saw him trail by five.
The final round at Wentworth wasn't the most exciting ever seen thanks to Francesco's brilliance, but it was a real nail-biter compared to Justin Rose's deeply impressive, facile victory at the Fort Worth Invitational.
The Englishman, who began the event trading at the same price as Molinari, having been matched as high as [27.0], began the final round four clear of the field and trading at around [1.4] but by the time he'd shot a five-under par 30 on the front-nine, Rose was five clear and trading at [1.07]. He went on to win cosily by three strokes over Brooks Koepka.
Both tournaments have seen plenty of fourth round drama in the past and many a third-round leader has been beaten but excitement was thin on the ground this year. That's not to take anything away from either winner - both were simply superb.
Having won the WGC HSBC Champions in China in November, this was Justin's second victory on the PGA Tour this season and he's the fifth player to double-up. Patton Kizzire, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson and Jason Day have also won twice.
Having layed Rory McIlroy on Friday, had I left things alone yesterday I'd have had a profitable week but I made the decision to meddle and lay Molinari before and during round four so it turned in to a week to forget.
I very soon regretted my decision and I do think not seeing any play on Saturday, and not being able to trade on Saturday, had a bearing, but it's easy to moan afterwards. We've seen all sorts of drama on a Sunday at Wentworth lately and this was certainly one of Molinari's better efforts in-contention and possibly his best. He was matched at just [1.6] here during round three in 2015, before finishing fifth, beaten by nine strokes, and he shot 74 in round three last year having led through 36 holes so I'm perhaps being harsh on myself. There's plenty of evidence to suggest yesterday's brilliance was arguably against the grain.
Rose was a bit of a disappointing result as I did look at him after the first round but (as usual) I was put off by his putting. He'd shot a nice opening four-under-par 66 to trail by only four strokes and he was clearly playing some sublime golf but he's a notoriously iffy putter and I noticed that he'd missed five putts inside 10 feet and that, understandably put me off.
I thought his long game couldn't get any better and that he was highly likely to keep missing putts but his entire game improved and the rest is history.
Players To Watch
Young players don't shine at Colonial, debutants don't have a great record at Colonial, and big-hitting types soon learn it's not their sort of venue so I'm not quite sure what 28-year-old first timer and power-hitter, Brooks Koepka, was doing hanging on to Justin Rose's coattails all weekend.
Koepka missed a large chunk of the season with a wrist injury but it's fair to say he's back. After a missed cut in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, playing alongside Mark Turnesa, and an unremarkable 42nd at the Wells Fargo, Brooks sparked in to life at Sawgrass with a final round 63 to finish 11th and kept the ball rolling nicely here. His US Open title defence is only two weeks away now and we haven't seen a title defence since the 1980's (Curtis Strange) so perhaps we're due one.
Chile's Joaquin Niemann again caught the eye. His tied eighth on debut at Colonial at the age of 19 was another incredible performance and the sky's the limit for this young man. He shot a two-over-par 72 on Friday so he did well to reach nine-under for the week and sooner rather than later he's going to put four rounds together and get off the mark.
What Have We Learned This Week
It's over four rounds and four days so it's exactly the same as any other ordinary stroke play event on the European or PGA Tour but the BMW PGA Championship feels like a longer tournament than most and the winning line feels like it's a long way off.
Rory McIlroy hit the front as early as Friday morning and he was soon trading at odds-on (went as low as [1.54]) but he was the second player in three years to go odds-on during round two and fail to get home (Danny Willet hit [1.85] on Friday in 2016) and he was the fourth to go odds-on and lose before round four in the last five years. Thomas Bjorn in 2014 and Molinari a year later, both hit odds-on during round three.
It didn't happen this year but off the pace winners on a Sunday have been fairly-common of latest Wentworth and even though he didn't win, strong> Lucas Bjerregaard was a great trading vehicle yesterday. He hit [1000.0] several times before dipping to just [25.0] on the back-nine and backing a few outsiders from off the pace on Sunday morning remains a worthy strategy here.
Francesco Molinari returns victorious to his homeland this week for the Italian Open and Justin Rose is in the Memorial Tournament field in Ohio. Both men have won the events previously, so we might witness a back-to-back double-double or something like that!? I'll be back later today or tomorrow with my previews.
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