Our man looks back on an eventful week of golf where we witnessed a resurgent Tiger Woods battling it out in America and two great wins for Englishmen on both Tours. Read his customary look back at all the action here...
"I don’t want to be too critical of Tiger's performance yesterday but he wasn’t the utter beast in-contention of old. Far from it in fact. He dribbled a few birdie putts without conviction and what he did on the 72nd hole particularly bemused me."
Paul Casey, who began the week as a [28.0] shot, even though his only previous win on the PGA Tour had been nine years previous, shot a six-under-par 65 to win the Valspar Championship from five strokes adrift with a round to go. The 40-year-old Englishman began the day trading at [120.0] after a poor back-nine on Saturday had seen him drop off the leaderboard. He missed the last six greens coming in yesterday but managed to scramble his way in and post a score that nobody else could match. Incredibly, Casey had just 21 putts in round four.
Justin Rose fell apart on the back-nine, having hit a low of [2.4], Tiger Woods never really looked like winning but was still matched at [2.7] and Patrick Reed was matched at [1.71] when he looked highly likely to tie Casey at least when he hit a cracking drive up the 72nd hole when tied. But from position A in the fairway his approach landed two or three feet short of where it should and the ball rolled back to an awkward spot on the green, 46 feet from the hole. He should really have chipped the ball with his third but instead elected to putt and seconds later he was faced with the exact same shot for par after his ball rolled back to his feet.
It was an exciting finale in Florida but it wasn't quite as dramatic as the finish to the Hero Indian Open, where two more Englishman were involved in the finish...
Pre-event [85.0] chance, Matt Wallace, who drifted to [100.0] before the off and to [270.0] in-running, looked as though he'd taken control of the tournament going into the back-nine and he was matched at a low of [1.18] but everything changed in the space of a couple of minutes. Wallace hit a poor tee-shot into the rough on the par three 16th and an even worse recovery shot that flew the green and found a nasty spot in the greenside bunker, just as Andrew Johnston birdied the equally tough 17th when trailing by two.
Wallace was a long odds-on shot to make a double-bogey on 16 so with the tough 17th still to play, it looked like Johnston would play the par five 18th with at least one-shot lead and the market reacted. Johnston was matched at a low of [1.01] for more than £5k. That was a nasty case of fat fingers by someone but he was also matched for plenty at around the [1.2] mark - which didn't look stupidly short given the situation.
Wallace then got up-and-down brilliantly at 16 for bogey and Johnston, presumably playing the percentages when he knew he was tied, turned down the chance to go for the green with his second shot on 18 after a brilliant drive. A decision I'm pretty sure he now regrets. Johnston parred 18 after laying-up, Wallace then parred both 17 and 18 and we had ourselves a playoff, which was won with a Wallace birdie after this sensational approach from almost the precise spot Johnston had been in regulation play.
The first two home weren't the only two to trade at odds-on - Emiliano Grillo, who eventually finished sixth, traded at [1.69] on Friday morning!
It's been a successful week but it was very nearly a really successful one so I've got mixed feelings this morning.
Having backed Johnston before the off and having got up early to trade the final round, I was able to make a profit by laying him back several times at rates from [3.5] down to [1.33]. And as detailed in the In-Play Blog, I backed Reed before the final round in Florida so I managed to scrape a very small profit there also by backing Casey at even money right at the end.
With hindsight, I made a real pig's ear of it last night given I could have either backed him a lot earlier or layed Reed instead and when Woods holed for birdie from 44 feet on 17 to get within one I was given a bit of an unnecessary sweat. I'm not going to berate myself too severely though given I'd been up since 4:30!
What Have We Learned This Week?
I'm not even going to start with the quirky course in India, suffice to say they got really lucky with the weather. It's such a severe test that had the wind blown for four days we'd have seen utter carnage. Hopefully, the event will go back to Delhi Golf Club next year because I'm no fan of this one and neither are the players.
I'm really cross with myself for not siding with Casey before round four for three reasons. Firstly, I'm often advocating the merits of backing players that bounce back in round four after a poor third round, secondly, off-the-pace winners are commonplace at Innisbrook, and thirdly, off the pace is perfect for Casey. He's a hugely talented player but, as demonstrated on Saturday when in-contention, he's nearly always very poor in-the-mix. With Rose underperforming, Woods showing understandable rust in-contention, and Reed having a brain fart on 18, everything worked out perfectly for Paul, who'd constructed his score over the first 12 holes when not really in-contention and well ahead of the 54-hole leaders.
What next for Tiger Woods?
It's amazing how well Tiger Woods has fared of late, with an impressive 12th at the Honda Classic and yesterday's tied second, and he now moves on to Bay Hill- a course at which he's had plenty of success - for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
He's the early and clear favourite to win a sensational ninth Arnold Palmer title and he's less than [14.0] to win the US Masters for a fifth time but can we really believe he's going to return to winning ways so soon after so long out and the age of 42?
I don't want to be too critical of his performance yesterday but he wasn't the utter beast in-contention of old. Far from it in fact. He dribbled a few birdie putts without conviction and what he did on the 72nd hole particularly bemused me. Would the old Woods have knocked an iron down the fairway less than 250 yards when a birdie to tie was needed on a hole that demanded a long tee shot to give any chance of a birdie three? To a certain extent I'm playing devil's advocate and I'm also understanding of the fact that after so long he's bound to be a bit tentative but as fabulous as it all was, it wasn't vintage Woods in-the-mix and I'm not convinced he poses the threat of old in contention.
Incredibly, if he were to win at Bay Hill on Sunday, he would be winning for the first time in 1,687 days and that's the exact time lapse between victories endured by Phil Mickelson. And that's worth highlighting, not just because it's extremely freaky but it's worth pausing to reflect of Phil's win.
If Tiger wins today, it will be his first title in 1,680 days. Phil's victory drought that ended last week: 1,687 days.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) March 11, 2018
After a prolonged drought, Lefty needed several experiences of being back in the heat of battle before he finally got the job done and it is possible that -that may transpire to be the case for Tiger too.
And finally, beware backing anyone drawn with Woods over the first two days. Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman, who were drawn with him at Torrey Pines, both made the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open before finishing 23rd and 35th when Tiger missed the cut but both Patton Kizzire and Brandt Snedeker missed the cut at the Honda Classic when paired with him and neither Jordan Spieth or Henrik Stenson made it to the weekend at the Valspar Championship last week, having been drawn to play with Woods on Thursday and Friday. The galleries are boisterous and like nothing seen for years and the evidence of late suggests it isn't an easy environment.
There's no European Tour event this week but I'll be back tomorrow with my Arnold Palmer Invitational preview.
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