Nobody really knew what to expect from brand-new venue, the International in Amsterdam, but it proved to be a cracking course that produced a very enjoyable 100th edition of the KLM Open. Pre-event 19.018/1 chance, Sergio Garcia, playing in his very first KLM Open was the eventual winner, but there were plenty of twists and turns before the Spaniard was crowned champ.
Garcia began the final round tied for the lead with England's Callum Shinkwin and the pair went toe-to-toe for nine holes. Both birdied the first before Sergio bogeyed the second and we saw the first significant swing on the third when Sergio was fortunate to find the par five green...
Sergio missed the eagle putt but he followed his birdie at three with two more at four and five to go two clear. Matched at 1.341/3, it looked like the experienced Spaniard would assume command but pre-event 190.0189/1 chance, Shinkwin, birdied the sixth and Garcia bogeyed six and seven and the Englishman was matched at a low of 1.9420/21 when stood over a ten foot birdie putt at nine that would have seen him go two clear.
That miss proved to be another big turning point as Shinkwin made a double-bogey at the 10th and Sergio birdied 11 to kill off the Englishman's challenge. It wasn't a done deal, however, as Matt Wallace got to within a stroke of the lead and was backed at a low of 4.03/1, having been matched at 1000.0 in-running, but the real surprise package was pre-tournament 1000.0 shot, Nicolai Hojgaard, playing in just his seventh European Tour event.
The 18-year-old Dane drew alongside Garcia when he birdied the 14th and he was matched at a low of 2.6413/8 but he failed to birdie the par five 15th before bogeying the 16th and Sergio pounced with birdies at 15 and 16. Hojgaard birdied the last to get to within one but Garcia was able to coast home for victory.
Although (only just) still in his 30s, Garcia is now a veteran of the European Tour. This was his 16th ET victory and it came more than 20 years after his first - at the Irish Open in July 1999.
Garcia had begun the final round trading at around 2.0421/20 and over in the States, 20-year-old Chilean, Joaquin Niemann, a pre-event 29.028/1 chance, began round four of the Greenbrier Classic trading at around 2.47/5.
With a number of players making a move from off the pace, Niemann drifted back out to around 3.412/5 early on in round four but a birdie at the fifth settled the nerves and he moved two clear with another at the eighth. Most of the challengers soon wilted in the heat of battle and the main threat came in the shape of Ricky Werenski, but he couldn't keep up the pressure either.
There was a two-stroke swing at the ninth, that saw Werenski level with Niemann but the event was all done and dusted following the next three holes. Niemann edged ahead again with terrific birdie at the 10th but he then hit a poor drive at 11 and Werenski was matched at a low of 3.02/1 when a two-stroke swing looked likely. Werenski hit his approach to seven feet while Niemann was left scrambling for par from the fairway. The youngster hit a nice enough chip but he was still left with more than six foot for par and he missed and Werenski made, the lead would have flipped. Werenski putting first and missing was a huge turning point and Niemann stepped up calmly and made his for par.
Werenski hit a poor drive at the par five 12th after the disappointment but then struck a sublime second to set up an eagle putt form just 23 feet and with Niemann missing the green with his approach, and chipping to nine feet, we were set for another possible two-stroke swing. Werenski again shortened up but he left his eagle putt to take the lead three feet short, Niemann drained his birdie putt form nine feet and Werenski missed his from three! All of sudden it was game over. What had looked like developing into a terrific tussle over the back-nine turned in to a cakewalk and the extremely impressive Niemann cruised to six-stroke victory.
Niemann was born just seven months before Garcia got off the mark on the European Tour in Ireland and at the age of 20, he became just the third player since WWII born outside the USA to win on the PGA Tour before the age of 21, joining the illustrious pair of Seve Ballesteros and Rory McIlroy.
As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I set about taking on the fancied runners at both events this week so neither result was good.
I made the decision from the get-go to keep the meddling down to a minimum and with the benefit of hindsight, with two short-priced players winning, that transpired to be a mistake.
I could have made things potentially worse by laying Garcia at long odds-on after just five holes yesterday and if I had done, I'd have then layed Shinkwin again when he went odds-on. And of course, I could have made the loses much smaller if I'd layed Hojgaard but I took the gamble of waiting to see if he'd birdie the par five 15th. He'd birdied three of his previous five holes so another one there was far from out of the question but it wasn't to be and it was similar tale at the Greenbrier, where again, I didn't get as involved as I should have done.
It's always easy to regret decisions made after the event and if I'd have invested more money in the two markets, I'd have been more proactive than I was so I've got no regrets. I fancied Sergio might get the job done but I was more than happy to take on Niemann yesterday.
What Have We Learned This week?
Niemann was the shortest priced winner of the Greenbrier and having been tied for the lead at halfway, before leading by a stroke through 54 holes, he was the first man to win the tournament having held or shared the lead in the first, second or third rounds, but one trend that did continue was the strong performance of players with a decent record at Waialae Country Club - the host course of the Sony Open.
Like the Greenbrier Old White, Waialae was designed by Seth Raynor and the courses clearly correlate. Tom Hoge eventually finished runner-up to Niemann and in four years on the PGA Tour, that was his best performance. His previous best had been his third place at the Sony last year. Brian Harman, who finished tied third, was fourth at Waialae two years ago and between 2013 and 2015, Harris English, who finished alongside English yesterday finished ninth, fourth and third in the Sony.
The Greenbrier is a tricky event to evaluate as it tends to be a putting competition and trying to work out who's going to putt well from one week to the next is notoriously tricky. The eight Greenbrier winners before Niemann had ranked third, 44th, second, second, fifth, seventh, sixth and second for Strokes Gained Putting and Niemann ranked number one for the week. He ranked 141st for SGP last season!
There's little point in looking at the International in Amsterdam as this year looks like a one off. The next three renewals are to be played at Bernardus Golf in Cromvoirt. And that's another new venue for us to get to know. Fortunately, we know all about this week's venue on the European Tour as we're off to Wentworth on Thursday for the BMW PGA Championship. I'll be back with the review tomorrow and I'll also preview the Sanderson Farms Championship on the PGA Tour.
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