JB Hansen won the Dubai Championship and Jason Kokrak triumphed at the Houston Open. Our man looks back at the two very different tournaments...
"Hansen led after the opening round and was never outside the top-two places. Jazz Janewattananond was the only player to finish inside the top-eight places to be any further back than 11th and four off the lead after round one."
This week's events were like chalk and cheese.
As many as 60 players reached double-digits under-par at the Dubai Championship, where Denmark's J.B Hansen, who was generally a 65.064/1 chance pre-event, held on to win by a stroke with a winning total of 23-under-par. But the winner of the Houston Open, Jason Kokrak, who was backed down from 70.069/1 to 55.054/1 before the off, was the only man to get to double-digits under-par. Only 28 players finished the event under the par of 280 and Kokrak finished the week on -10, two strokes clear of the rest.
Although the leaderboard didn't change an awful lot throughout the week in Dubai, it was fairly congested, and it was a tricky event to call. But the 31-year-old Dane was the only player to go odds-on. Matt Cooper's main fancy, Francesco Laporta, finished alongside Austria's Bernd Wiesberger in a tie for second and he was in the thick of it throughout. But the Italian traded no shorter than 2.89/5 and, despite being beaten by a solitary stroke, Wiesberger traded no lower than 10.519/2.
Wiesberger birdied five of the last seven holes to post a target that never looked quite enough and Laporta failed to birdie any of the last five.
Hansen opened the door for the Italian on the reachable par five finishing hole when he short-sided himself with a poor second shot, missing the green left to leave and almost impossible up-and-down, but the Italian fluffed his lines, hitting a wild second short wide right and into the rough. Both men chipped up and two putted and Hansen was crowned the winner.
Following back-to-back victories for the Hojgaard twins and Jeff Winther's maiden success in Mallorca last month, a different Dane has now won four of the last 10 European Tour tournaments.
Over at the Houston Open, Kokrak took a far stranger route to victory. Having failed to finish his second round thanks to the weather delay on Thursday morning, the 36-year-old returned to the course early on Saturday trailing by two with still seven holes of round two to play. He was at the head of the market at 5.95/1 but he must have got out of the wrong side of the bed as he played the seven holes in seven-over-par!
Kokrak drifted right out to 400.0399/1 after that but he bounced back brilliantly, shooting the second best third round of the day to claw his way back to within two of the lead through 54 holes and, with birdies at three and four, he was soon in the thick of it on Sunday.
Kokrak played the next eight holes in one-over-par and the well fancied Scottie Scheffler, who was backed down from 22.021/1 to 18.017/1 before the off, was matched at a low of 1.564/7 when he regained the lead that he'd held through three rounds. Not for the first time, though, the 25-year-old Ryder Cupper lost his way with his first PGA Tour title firmly within reach.
Scheffler bogeyed holes 10, 11 and 14 to put pay to his chances. Huge outsider Martin Trainer, who had led the tournament at halfway, looked the most likely man to capitalise on Scheffler's misfortune. The pre-event 1000.00 chance, who had missed 17 of his last 18 cuts, was matched at a low of 2.3611/8 as he eased a couple clear with a birdie two at the 11th before Kokrak rattled off four birdies in-a-row from the 13th hole to seal the deal.
Scheffler birdied two of the last three holes to finish alongside Kevin Tway in second as Trainer bogeyed the last two holes with the disappointment of Kokrak's devastating finish hitting home and Matthew Wolff, who'd hit a low of just 2.0421/20 when he hit the front on Saturday, finished poorly after acing the par three ninth to finish outside the top-10.
The Dubai Championship was a very frustrating result. In addition to backing the eventual second, Wiesberger, at halfway, I also backed Min Woo Lee at 29.028/1 in-running. He hit a low of 4.216/5 on Sunday before his challenge fizzled out.
I also layed the winner in-running at 1.75/7 with five holes still to play and, although he failed to pick up another stroke coming in, none of his closest rivals put in a challenge.
Lee bogeyed 14 and 15, Laporta, like Hansen, could only par his way in, the defending champ, Antoine Rozner, double-bogeyed the 15th to kill off his defence, and Kalle Samooja played his last five holes in one-over-par.
I had valid reasons to take on Hansen (see below) but to his credit, he held on nicely, although I couldn't help but feel aggrieved that nobody other than Wiesberger, who was just too far back, put any real heat on him.
The result in Texas was far better fortunately and it more than made up for the Dubai debacle. I'd backed Trainer at halfway so when Kokrak, who I backed yesterday at 14.0013/1, moved alongside him, I was always confident of a good outcome.
With hindsight, I wish I'd layed Scheffler at odds-on but I was effectively doing that with Trainer and Kokrak onside anyway and I should have gotten something out of my Cameron Tringale wager.
Keep tabs on Tringale for trading opportunities
As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I backed Tringale at 80.079/1 and he was matched at 9.28/1 after a fast start to round four so once again he proved an excellent trading vehicle. I backed him 12 months ago in this week's event, the RSM Classic, at 130.0129/1 with a round to go and I layed him back at as low as 6.05/1. He's a fabulous talent but he gets very nervous so off the pace is the best way to play him.
Conversely, Tringale provided plenty of profits at the Sanderson Farms Championship a month ago when I layed him in the place markets at odds-on when he sat second with a round to go. His disappointing one-under-par 71 on Sunday saw him slip outside the top-10.
Late bloomers strike at both events
It's almost exactly a year since Hansen got off the mark on the European Tour when he parred the last two holes of the Joburg Open to get the better of the nervy young South African, Wilco Nienaber.
Nienaber had extended his lead to three strokes as he made the turn and he was matched at a low of just 1.121/8 but, despite a fairly-ragged long game, Hansen reeled the youngster in with birdies at 10, 12 and 14 to draw alongside before the youngster cracked with a wild tee-shot at the par three 17th that led to a bogey four.
Hansen was calm enough there but, having backed him at the Alfred Dunhill Championship just a week later, I watched with horror as he recorded a quadruple-bogey at the par four 11th when leading in round three. I had to sit and suffer as he shot a five-over-par 77 on Sunday to finish tied for 22nd!
That finish left me wondering just how much his first win was down to Nienaber's collapse on the back-nine in Joburg. It was one of the reasons I was more than happy to take him on yesterday but he wasn't the only player to show that, with age and experience, in-contention play can improve immeasurably.
At 36, and five years Hansen's senior, Kokrak had to wait even longer for his first taste of success on the big stage. The Canadian-born American, who on numerous occasions had been particularly poor in-contention, took 233 starts to get off the mark before finally winning the CJ Cup at a venue he was familiar with (Shadow Creek) last October. But he's now won three times in 24 starts on the PGA Tour.
Kokrak was excellent yesterday and the penny has most definitely dropped. Having been one to avoid like the plague he's now someone to rely on. With recent form figures in the State reading 7-3-1-1, he's a force to be reckoned with in Texas.
Kokrak boosts the Riviera angle in
One of the occasions Kokrak fell short was in the 2016 edition of what's now called the Genesis Invitational where he finished second after trading at a low of 1.645/8. Following last year's result of the Houston Open, when Memorial Park was used for the first time in the modern era, plenty of Riviera form came to the fore, so Kokrak's second there five years ago is another endorsement. That looks a solid angle in, if and when we return to the tricky track.
Concentrate on the frontrunners in the desert
The magnificent Memorial Park offered up the potential for much drama but whenever we visit a low scoring desert track like we did last week, leaderboard volatility is a bit of a rarity and up with the pace is the place to be.
Hansen led after the opening round and was never outside the top-two places. Jazz Janewattananond was the only player to finish inside the top-eight places to be any further back than 11th and four off the lead after round one.
That's something to bear in mind this week at the DP World Tour Championship. We return to Sea Island for the RSM Classic on the PGA Tour this week and I'll be back later today or tomorrow with the previews.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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