We witnessed all sorts of drama at the DP World Tour Championship yesterday and none whatsoever at the RSM Classic where Talor Gooch pulverised the field.
The pre-event 55.054/1 chance, who was matched at a high of 70.069/1 before the off, came into the event in form and having taken up the running at halfway, he eased three shots clear with a round to go.
Sebastian Munoz got to within two with a birdie at the first and he was matched at a low of 3.45 when he hit his approach at the second to within 10 feet but that was as close as Gooch came to getting caught. The leader his approach on two to four feet and after Munoz had missed his birdie attempt, Gooch knocked his in to restore his three-stroke advantage and he never looked close to losing after that.
After birdies at 10, 11 and 13, Gooch led by five and he was trading at just 1.031/33 with still five holes to play. The 2016 winner, Mackenzie Hughes, rallied late on birdying four of the last six holes, after bogeying the par three 12th, so Gooch's winning margin was reduced to three but that wasn't a true reflection of just how easily he won.
Over at the last European Tour event of the season, Rory McIlroy began the final round of the DP World Tour Championship with a one-stroke lead over Sam Horsfield but it was Shane Lowry who made the initial move. The 2019 Open Champ birdied two of the first three holes to get to within a stroke of Rory and he was matched at a low of 4.57/2 but he lost his way badly after that, playing the remaining 15 holes in two-over par.
The defending champion, Matthew Fitzpatrick, who had started the day trailing by six in a tie for 13th and trading at a triple-figure price, raced through the field, playing the first 10 holes in six-under. The Englishman was matched at a low of 4.1 as it looked like the unlikely defence might be on when he birdied the 15th hole to take the lead but he found sand off the tee on 16 and water with his second shot, just as Rory birdied the 10th to edge back in front.
Fitzpatrick followed his bogey at 16 with another at 17 to put paid to his challenge and having looked dangerous on the front nine, both Robert MacIntyre and JB Hansen derailed their charges with double bogeys at the 12th.
McIlroy's playing partner, Horsfield, never got going at all and despite a somewhat pedestrian start, Rory looked like strolling to victory as all his challengers fell by the wayside.
The well-backed 7.26/1 favourite was matched at a low of 1.192/11 as his third DP World title was beginning to look like a formality but after a remarkable run of 23 holes starting at the par five seventh on Saturday, which saw Collin Morikawa make just one birdie (at seven in round four) and 22 pars, the world number two birdied the difficult 12th hole and it was the spark he needed.
Birdies followed at 14 and 15 for Morikawa and suddenly it was a two-man race with he and Rory locked together on 15-under-par.
Morikawa found the same bunker in the middle of the fairway on 16 that had cost Fitzpatrick a bogey and Rory was still trading at odds-on even though he'd failed to make birdie at the par five 14th.
An intense and detailed conversation between caddie and player was screened live on 16 and it was incredible to hear the detail. The discussion ended with Morikawa declaring that he was going to choke down on an eight iron and hit the ball 164 yards, cutting it from left to right. And he absolutely nailed it...
While all that was going on, Rory smashed a driver down the short par four 15th and the result was still very much up in the air but after Morikawa had tapped in for par on 16, Rory caught a dreadful break on 15...
Rory failed to get up-and-down for par from the bunker at 15 before three-putting the 16th green to drop another shot as Morikawa birdied the last two holes for good measure.
Morikawa, who was generally an 11.010/1 chance before the off, finished up winning by three strokes and the event finished painfully for whoever took the 1.021/50 about a top-five finish for Rory when he dropped another shot at 18 to finish tied for sixth, beaten by five.
Having backed Morikawa before the off and having layed Rory after the opening round, the DP World result was a cracker but the result of the RSM Classic took the gloss off the day as I also layed Gooch at odds-on before round four.
Morikawa a typical winner in Dubai
We've now had 13 renewals of the DP World Tour Championship and three Open champions have won five editions (Morikawa, McIlroy x2 and Henrik Stensonx2) with two other Open winners, Shane Lowry and Paul Lawrie, finishing second.
This year's Alfred Dunhill Links winner, Danny Willett, won the event in 2018 and Jon Rahm, who's won the Irish Open on a links layout twice, won in both 2017 and 2018 so links for really does come to the fore.
Stats-wise, Morikawa ranked 10th for Driving Distance and fifth for Driving Accuracy, which is becoming the norm. Length has always been key and driving accuracy wasn't an essential prerequisite in the early days but, over time, finding fairways has started to be far more important as the course has matured.
Morikawa only ranked 15th for Putting Average and that was an unusually high ranking. The previous six winners had ranked fifth, first, first, third, second and fourth but nobody got up-and-down more times throughout the week than Morikawa, who topped the Scrambling rankings.
It's always important to play the long holes well here and despite parring all four on Saturday, Min Woo Lee, who played them in -11, was the only man to better Morikawa's -10 on the par fives.
Rory fades again
It's now more than 13 years since Rory McIlroy lost a playoff in the Swiss mountains to Jean-François "Jeff" Lucquin at the European Masters after he'd led by four with a round to go and despite a quite brilliant career, winning four majors, three WGCs, the BMW PGA Championship, the Race to Dubai and the FedEx Cup, he remains someone to take on in-running.
Following yesterday's defeat, his strike-rate when leading or co-leading through three rounds is only 50% (12/24) and while that's a decent enough record, I would imagine he's traded at odds-on every time.
Rory's now lost three of the last four events in which he's held a clear lead after 54 holes so he's one to take on at odds-on but he really does make for a brilliant back-to-lay vehicle as this was the 11th time in-a-row that he's led after round one and lost.
Birthday Boy Googh gets it done
Talor Gooch showed yesterday just how hard it is to gauge when someone's ready to win. He was really poor in contention just two weeks earlier in Mexico where he fell from two off the lead in second with a round to go to tied 11th and nine back after a disappointing 74 in round four. But he was brilliant yesterday and victory was never in doubt.
Gooch had turned 30 just the week before so he's yet another significant birthday winner. Players often revaluate their goals and achievements around significant life milestones like a 30th birthday and he won't be the last to deliver the goods at such a time.
And finally, he was the sixth 36 and 54 hole leader to go on and win the RSM Classic in-a-row so this is a tricky event to assess in-running. It's not an old event and we've seen winners come from four, five (twice) and seven strokes back with a round to go. We've also seen beaten playoff protagonists come from way back too recently so it's a job to know how best to tackle the tournament going forward. I suspect the weather is the key.
In benign conditions, the Seaside Course is not a tough test and we witnessed two rounds of 60 last week but when the wind blows it's a tough gig. Laying the leaders when the wind blows and backing them when it lies down is probably the best way to go.
There's no PGA Tour action this week but the rebranded DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) kicks off in South Africa on Thursday with the Joburg Open. I'll be back tomorrow with the preview.
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