The Punter's De-Brief: Wonderful Willett and humble Howell finally win again
Golf's very own little renaissance period continued unabated last week with wins for Danny Willett and Charles Howell III. Our man takes his customary look back at all the action here...
"It seems the golf world is in some sort of bizarre renaissance period at present. Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood both won last week after a gap of 1,666 days between wins and after Willett’s success in Dubai, 953 days after he won the US Masters, Charles Howell III, playing in his 529th PGA Tour event won the RSM Classic a whopping 4,291 days and 333 events, after he won the Genesis Open in Los Angeles!"
After joint third round leader, Patrick Reed, had bogeyed his opening hole of round four at the DP World Tour Championship yesterday, Sheffield's Danny Willett did this on the par five second to open up a three-stroke lead and while there were a few twists and turns on the way, he was never headed thereafter.
Willett, who was in search of his first win since he swooped late to win the US Masters 953 days earlier, was incredibly impressive on the back-nine and he was very much the deserved winner.
He'd looked like holding the field at bay as he made the turn but a poor drive on 10 led to a bogey and he did very well not to make double-bogey on the par four 12th when another poor drive saw him find sand off the tee.
Willett went from odds-on to almost 3/1 when he hit the lip of the bunker with his second shot and his ball landed in the rough, still miles from the green, but he played a magnificent recovery shot to around 20 feet before missing the par save.
My 50/1 each-way fancy, Matt Wallace, who was matched at a low of [2.74] on Saturday, tied Willett when he birdied the 14th hole but the 2016 Masters champ turned on the style, recording birdies at 14, 15 and 17 - going on to win by two.
This year's Masters winner, Patrick Reed, was matched at a low of [2.06] when he stiffed his approach on 16, after making birdies at 10, 11, 14 and 15 to apply the pressure, but he missed the birdie chance from around three feet to tie Willett before a two shot swing on 17 put Willett firmly in the driving seat.
Willett, who was matched at a high of [190.0] before the off, was generally a [150.0] chance.
It seems the golf world is in some sort of bizarre renaissance period at present. Matt Kuchar and Lee Westwood both won last week after a gap of 1,666 days between wins and after Willett's success in Dubai, 953 days after he won the US Masters, Charles Howell III, playing in his 529th PGA Tour event won the RSM Classic a whopping 4,291 days and 333 events, after he won the Genesis Open in Los Angeles! But it was all a bit of a struggle...
Howell, a pre-vent [70.0] chance, matched at a high of [75.0], opened up the fourth and final round with a bogey at the first and a double-bogey at the second and it looked highly likely that he was about to again throw away another chance to win as he drifted right out to [65.0]. Cameron Champ hit a low of [1.83] and Webb Simpson was matched at [1.83] but it was Patrick Rodgers who looked the most likely winner when he birdied the 18th to post the lowest closing 36-hole total in PGA Tour history. The pre-event [160.0] chance was matched at [1000.0] in-play having trailed by 12 strokes at halfway but he was matched at [1.62] after his 17-under-par 61-62 weekend push looked to have got the job done.
Howell had looked dead in the water but he birdied 15, 16 and 17 and after missing birdie putts at 18 in regulation and at the first extra hole, he did this at the second playoff hole to finally win his third PGA Tour title and the relief was tangible.
I missed the chance to lay Wallace back on Saturday at less than 2/1 but I'm not going to beat myself up over it. I made a strategic decision and it backfired but I'm not convinced it was the wrong tactics.
Having gone in to the weekend with a one-stroke lead, Wallace had opened up with three straight birdies and once he'd found the tricky par three fourth green, I decided to let my bet roll and to wait to see if he got shorter than the [2.8] he was trading at.
The fourth hole was the hardest on the course all week but the fifth and sixth both averaged under their par and the par five seventh ranked as the second easiest hole on the course. Looking back, Wallace played holes five to nine in two-under-par on Thursday, Friday and Sunday but when I needed him to kick on - on Saturday, he played them in two-over. I'm not convinced I made a bad call but it certainly didn't work out. I did trade my way out of trouble yesterday though...
I layed Wallace back at [4.6] as he played the 14th and recycled the stakes on Willett at [2.34] so I finished the event losing only a few pounds. It wasn't the cracking result I'd hoped for but it certainly could have ended up worse than it did.
Over in the States, as detailed in the In-Play Blog, I backed Rodgers before the final round at [110.0] and I was able to trade to a nice profit there quite comfortably after that. I layed Rodgers back in regulation play at around the [2.5] mark and once the event went to a playoff, I backed Howell at [1.98] to level things up a bit more. I kept Rodgers as the slightly bigger winner so I'd have preferred it if he'd have won but I certainly wasn't complaining. I fancied neither winner before the off so to finish the week in front was very pleasing.
What Have We Learned This Week
Danny Willett was by some distance the largest priced winner we've witnessed to date at the DP World Tour Championship but given he's a major winner, he's still a classy experienced type. He only ranked 16th for Driving Distance, so he was also one of the shortest ranked winners for that stat, although I'm not quite sure how he ranked that lowly. Every time I saw him on a par five he was giving it an almighty smack off the tee and nobody played the long holes better than Danny.
Willett and joint-second, Matt Wallace, were tied first for Putting Average for the week and it was the winner's ability to make par saves from five to ten feet that kept him in front on Sunday so excellent putting was again the key to victory and it was also important how Willett played the finishing stretch. He ended the week on 18-under-par and he played the last five holes in 14-under-par for the week.
Following Willett's win, seven men have won the ten renewals of this event and four of them have also won the Dubai Desert Classic - Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Alvaro Quiros and Willett so that remains far and away the best angle in.
And finally, Willett was yet another winner here to be up with the pace throughout. He was never more than a stroke off the lead all week long and he was the sixth third round leader to win un ten years. Making up ground here is very difficult and concentrating on the leaders is the way to go.
Had Patrick Rodgers won the playoff at Sea Island he would have been the archetypical RSM Classic winner. My preview headline read "Hot putting maidens can shine at Sea Island" and the 26 year-old very nearly became the fifth first time winner in-a-row. He was also, like a number of the winners of this event, a big outsider before the off and like three off the eight winners before him, he very nearly won from way off the pace, and I'll be sticking with the tactic of backing a handful of players from off the pace again next year.
Incredibly, Rodgers played the final 36 holes in 12 strokes less than the man that beat him in the playoff, demonstrating in no uncertain terms why three men previously have won here form way off the pace and he ticked the hot putting box too by ranking first for Strokes Gained Putting.
Howell was more reminiscent of the early winners of this tournament given he was a veteran in need of a win and given he was yet another local winner. Prior to this week, Howell had three top-10s at the RSM Classic, and he had an even longer history on St. Simons Island. He grew up three hours away in Augusta, he's been traveling here since he was child and he also owned a home in the area.
There was a big change to the scoring differential between the two courses over the first two days but I'm loathed to read too much in to that given the weather was cold and windy over the first day and a half and given the Plantation Course is going to be revamped completely before next year's renewal anyway.
We've got two events to look forward to this week - the World Cup of Golf Down Under and one of my favourite tournaments of the year - the Hong Kong Open kicks off the brand-new European Tour season on Thursday. I'll be back later today or tomorrow with my previews.
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