The Punter's De-Brief: Synchronised success for a pair of popular vets
It's been another entertaining week with Lee Westwood coming from behind to win the Nedbank and Matt Kuchar holding on to win the Mayakoba. Our man reflects on the two victories...
"Westwood had last won on the European Tour on April 20, 2014, at the Malaysian Open. The very same day that Matt Kuchar won the RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour, which by coincidence was the 40-year-old Floridian’s last PGA Tour victory. And that wasn’t the only coincidence..."
The similarities between yesterday's European and PGA Tour winners, Lee Westwood and Matt Kuchar, were uncanny.
Westwood, a pre-tournament [55.0] chance, who was matched at [130.0] in-running, had begun round four of the Nedbank Golf Challenge trailing Sergio Garcia by three strokes but after a scintillating eight-under-par Sunday 64, he finished the tournament three in front of the Spaniard, four in front of Louis Oosthuizen and fully seven clear of Ross Fisher in fourth. It was Westwood's 24th European Tour title and it was arguably one of his most impressive. And judging by this interview, it was certainly an emotional one.
Ever wonder how much winning means to these guys?-- The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 11, 2018
This much... pic.twitter.com/Yjs27NfPOC
The 45-year-old Englishman may have won easily in the end but he was the third player to trade at long odds-on. Garcia, who had touched odds-on as early as Thursday, hit a low of [1.31] and home-favourite, Louis Oosthuizen, who looked the most likely to capitalize Garcia's slow start to round four, was matched at just [1.38] before he finished tardily, as Westwood played the final eight holes in five-under-par.
Along with David Frost, Nick Price and Ernie Els, Westwood has now won the Nedbank three times.
Having split with long-time caddie, Billy Foster, Westwood had his partner, Helen Storey, on the bag at Sun City and it wasn't the first time his form had blossomed with her on the bag. Storey had caddied for Westwood twice before, in Abu Dhabi and in Denmark in September and he traded at odds-on there too.
Westwood had last won on the European Tour on April 20, 2014, at the Malaysian Open. The very same day that Matt Kuchar won the RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour, which by coincidence was the 40-year-old Floridian's last PGA Tour victory. And that wasn't the only coincidence - like Westwood, Kuchar didn't play with his usual caddie either. John Wood was given the week off to attend a reunion so Kuchar used the services of local looper, David "Toucan" Ortiz, who was assigned to Kuchar by the tournament director. Ortiz, who caddies every day at El Camaleon Golf Club, was in tears after the victory as he rolled up the flag on 18 as a souvenir.
Unsurprisingly, given the similarities between the two winners, Kuchar's sentiments after the win were very similar to Westwood's.
"I've thought the other side. I've thought, man, kids are getting younger and stronger and it's more and more challenging for a guy that plays my style of golf to win and win multiple times."
And Kuchar's dead right about how much harder it is for the older guys on the PGA Tour. He and Tiger Woods are the only winners in their 40s since Ian Poulter won in Texas in the week before the US Masters.
It was a commendable victory indeed given back-to-back bogeys on 14 and 15 had seen Kuchar's lead reduced to just a solitary stroke and I couldn't help but admire the way he parred the last three holes to win under the utmost pressure.
Kuchar had begun the event as an [85.0] shot but he was matched at a high of [100.0] before the off.
I drew a blank in Mexico, and I was out of the reckoning there with a round to go, which was quite frustrating given a couple of pre-event picks, Patton Kizzire and James Hahn, were bang there halfway through the third round. Both finished round three appallingly though so the only silver lining there was that I didn't take on the winner with a round to go. Kuchar had once lost a four-stroke lead in Texas and, as highlighted in the In-Play blog, I was tempted to take him on.
The Nedbank proved to be a profitable event in the end and I'm satisfied with the result but that could have been a much better had I left it alone after the first day, or even after the first few holes yesterday.
I'd layed Garcia after the opening round at [2.1] but I reduced my potential losses on him by backing him back at odds-on before the final round. I then layed Oosthuizen in-running early on in round four at an average of [2.14] and if I'd have left it alone then it would have been a cracking result but with the Mexico result already known to be against me, I decided to lay Westwood at [3.0] as well. It's very easy to rue that now but I was happy enough to make a profit on the event to ease the burden of the losses in Mexico and I don't regret my decision.
What Have We Learned This Week
The first three at the Nedbank are all renowned ball-strikers and when I looked at the tournament this time last week, Oosthuizen and Garcia were the two most obvious contenders stats-wise given how well they ranked for Greens In Regulation and Scrambling, and I wrote this in the preview "Lee Westwood has long been regarded as one of the best drivers in the world and it's no coincidence that he's prospered here, winning the event back-to-back in 2010 and 2011."
Ross Fisher finished fourth despite playing the last four holes on Friday in eight-over-par so the first four home all had plenty of previous form around the Gary Player Country Club so maybe those three years between 2014 and 2016, when three debutants took the title will eventually be viewed as something of a blip and course form should be given much more credence than I gave it before the off?
Over at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, Kuchar was someone that I briefly considered before the off. His current form and lack of a recent win put me off given, but at 40, he was the right age and he had plenty of form at the Sony Open - the event I think correlates best of all. He's also a winner of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town and he's now the third player to win at both El Camaleon and Harbour Town.
The European Tour's Race to Dubai ends this week at the DP World Championship and we're off to Georgia on the PGA Tour, for the ninth renewal of the RSM Classic. I'll be back tomorrow with my previews.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter