Francesco Laporta began the fourth and final round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth with a one-stroke lead but the 30-year-old Italian never really got going and having traded at a low of 3.814/5 on Saturday, before he failed to birdie either of the par five finishing holes, he was never really a factor on Sunday.
Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who had led after rounds one and two before slipping back into a tie for 10th with a round to go, was the man to make the big move in round four. Already on nine-under-par for the round, and leading by two on 19-under-par, the pre-tournament 280.0279/1 chance hit a low of just 1.618/13 when he nailed his drive on the par five 17th. A birdie-birdie finish would have seen him post an invincible target, but it wasn't to be.
With the coveted trophy well within his reach, the burly Thai appeared to have thrown the event away in a matter of seconds. His second shot on the penultimate hole looked to have gone out of bounds, over the rhododendron hedge to the left of the fairway, and his provisional also went straight into the hedge. Having dropped again and played what would have been his sixth shot short and right of the green in the rough, all looked lost but the first ball played hadn't cleared the hedge as originally thought.
As it transpired, his second shot was unplayable but just in bounds and after a drop, Aphibarnrat was able to scramble a bogey six.
While all the was going, playing in the final pairing alongside Laporta, England's Laurie Canter birdied the par five 12th to get to -18 and to draw alongside the Thai and America's Billy Horschel was also closing in, making back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12 to get to within one.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Shane Lowry were both matched at lows of 3.55/2 on Sunday and Jamie Donaldson finished well with birdies at the last two holes to tie Aphibarnrat on -18 but it never felt like it would be enough after Horschel had birdied the 15th. Aphibarnrat and Donaldson both posted 18-under-par but with Horschel and Canter still on the course they looked the most likely to prevail.
It looked like it was advantage Canter after Horschel had parred 17 with the Englishman greenside in two on the same hole and having traded between 390.0389/1 and 190.0189/1 before the off (generally a 270.0269/1 chance), Canter hit a low of 1.511/2 as a birdie four to take the lead looked an odds-on chance.
It's hard to get an accurate timeline for when everything actually happened, as Sky decided to interview Shane Lowry just as at the wrong time, and there was absolute carnage in the market once the talking had stopped.
Within the space of a minute, we witnessed three extremely pivotal shots. Donaldson missed an eagle chance on 18, seconds later it looked like Horschel had driven into the water on 18, and straight after that we saw Canter mess up his chip on 17!
In search of his first European Tour title and no doubt feeling tremendous pressure, Canter completely chunked his third shot but he was still odds-on to take the title with Horschel seemingly in big trouble.
Horschel's price momentarily bounced out to double figures when it looked like he was wet on 18 but after we'd seen Canter's chunky third on 17, it was revealed that Horschel's drive hadn't actually reached the water!
Although dry, on a steep downslope and in the rough, there was no way he could go for the green in two but after chipping up the fairway he played this beautiful approach to set up a birdie four and it transpired to be enough when Canter could only par the last.
Horschel, a pre 36.035/1 chance, had hit a high of 170.0169/1 after a slow start on Thursday had seen him play the first 12 holes in two-over-par. It was some comeback after that, and he was very much the deserved winner given he'd been in the heat of battle all weekend.
Horschel is the first American to win a Rolex Series event and he's only the second to win the BMW PGA Championship title, following in the footsteps of the 1975 winner, Arnold Palmer. And if this tweet from 2017 is anything to go by, it's a win he'll hold dear for many a year.
It was a bit frustrating not to have backed Horschel in-running. As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I liked his chances at halfway and again before round four but I'm happy not to have gotten too involved this week.
It was a truly magnificent event but anyone claiming they were confident of picking a winner at any stage, and that includes with only two or three holes to play, is telling lies. I could and obviously now, should, have backed Horschel but I'm certainly not going to mope about it. It looked an ultra-tough tournament to call throughout and there'll be easier opportunities in the future.
Stricker snub motivated Billy
When interviewed after the win, Horschel revealed how much not getting a pick for the Ryder Cup motivated him, or should that be, not getting a courtesy call from the US Captain, Steve Striker?
"It sucks not making the team. I didn't think the call was going to say I made the team, but I was a little gutted that I didn't get a call to say, you didn't make the team. In my mind, I thought I'd at least get that so there was a little more added motivation this week for that."
Given he's now moved from number 28 to number 18 in the World Rankings and that he's the reigning WGC World Match Play champion, it does seem a little odd that he's not on the team, but he admitted himself that he hadn't played consistently well enough in-between this year's two wins. I don't think he'll be too disappointed for long though and he may yet make the line-up anyway should the injured Brooks Koepka withdraw.
Wait for the putter to warm
Apart from the fact that he's multiple winner on the PGA Tour, and that he'd been overlooked by Stricker, I also liked the look of Horschel at halfway because the stats were showing he was playing well but that he wasn't holing as many putts as the others in and around him on the leaderboard and that's a decent tactic to adopt in-running.
If someone's up there because they're making putts left, right and centre, that isn't usually sustainable and more often than not the flatstick will cool enough over the weekend to see their challenge fizzle out. Conversely, if a player is striping their approach shots, but the putts aren't dropping, even a small improvement on the greens will see their challenge strengthen.
Studying the myriad of in-play stats and identifying those in-contention that aren't holing everything they look it is a tactic that often pays dividends.
We have two events to look forward to this week - the Dutch Open (formerly the KLM Open) on the European Tour and the 2021/22 PGA Tour season kicks off in California with the Fortinet Championship (formerly the Safeway Open). I'll be back tomorrow with the previews.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter