South Africa's ten year wait for a home winner of the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City came to an end yesterday when Branden Grace delivered an immaculate bogey-free six-under-par 66 to win by a stroke over the resolute Scott Jamieson and by two over long-time leader, Victor Dubuisson.
Dubuisson, who had led after rounds one and two, regained the initiative after a birdie at the tenth and he was matched at just 2.01/1 before he was caught when he failed to birdie the reachable par five 14th. After he bogeyed the 15th to lose the lead, Grace and Jamieson went to the par three 16th tee tied for the lead and that was where the result was decided.
I was very dismissive of 410.0409/1 chance, Jamieson but he was almost faultless. He made a mess of the par four eighth hole before birdies at 10 and 14 put him back on track but he looked to have blown his chance with the wildest of tee shots on 16. He sliced the ball so badly it looked like he'd shanked it but it bounced back off the hospitality tents and in to the rough. He very nearly pulled off a miracle birdie two but it was Grace that made the birdie to take the lead.
The three main protagonists parred their way in and Grace, who was a well-backed 18.017/1 chance before the off, sealed the deal comfortably. It was an impressive victory and one that looked extremely unlikely on Friday when he hit 85.084/1 after playing the front-nine in six-over-par!
Over at the OHL Classic of Mayakoba, pre-event favourite, Rickie Fowler, hit 1.454/9 after he'd hit the front during round three but it was 85.084/1 chance, Patton Kizzire, that eventually took the spoils.
The weather had played havoc with the tournament and the halfway leaders had to play two rounds on Sunday on a rain-softened soft course in wind-free conditions. Rickie looked to be taking control as the third round drew to a close but a Fowler bogey and a Kizzire birdie at the 17th hole saw the latter take a one-stroke lead into round four.
Kizzire opened up a gap earlier on in round four but birdies by Fowler at the tough 16th and 17th holes made the finishing hole tougher than expected. The lead was back down to one but Patton kept his calm brilliantly and when Fowler left his lengthy birdie putt short, he was able to tap in for par and his first PGA Tour title.
As highlighted in the final post on the In-Play Blog, I quite fancied Grace to be the man to win with a round to go in South Africa but I finished up making a bit of a hash of it. I ended up backing him only modestly and at a much shorter price than he was trading at on Saturday morning so it wasn't my finest piece of trading.
My other bets there all disappointed and my lay of Jamieson to finish inside the top-ten now looks ridiculous but I fared a bit better in Mexico where a back of Kizzire at 4.216/5 towards the end of round three was swiftly following by a lay back at odds-on. That provided a stress-free watch and a small profit.
What Have We Learned This Week?
As hugely talented as Rickie Fowler is, he isn't one to side with at short prices. He was being backed during rounds two and three in Mexico with plenty of confidence but it simply isn't warranted and once again he failed to deliver.
I'm sure there will be plenty of people ready to defend him, pointing to the fact that he birdied 16 and 17 to put the pressure back on Kizzire but it was all too little too late and it was notable how heavily he was breathing after he'd driven off on 18. Rickie clearly feels the pressure that fraction more than others do.
The margin between elite golfer and elite winning golfer is wafer thin but when it comes to getting the job done with regularity, Rickie falls well short and he remains one to take on in-contention. I know he's still only 28 but considering his enormous and unquestionable talent, it's quite incredible that he's only ever won four PGA Tour titles. That's a reasonable return for most PGA Tour players but should a player of Fowler's ability still have less wins that the likes of Jonathan Byrd, Ben Crane, Carl Pettersson or Mark Wilson?
In contrast, Si Woo Kim looks one to keep following. He's very in-and-out and his form is very hit-and-miss but when he's on he's a fantastic talent and I suspect we'll see him go in again this season at some point. The market continues to underestimate his talent and he's the sort of player you can back blind week after week and expect to show a healthy profit.
Both winners could have been found beforehand and many of the expected angles in were reinforced at both tournaments but one new possible course correlation emerged at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Last year's first and second at the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.Com Tour, Martin Piller and Brandon Harkins, both contended this week in Mexico, as did the 2015 winner, Si Woo Kim.
There is an undoubtable link between the OHL Classic and the Puerto Rico Open so the 2014 result, which saw Tony Finau beat Fabián Gómez, sticks out like a sore thumb and El Camaleón specialist, Russell Knox, was runner-up at the Ellie Mae Classic in 2011.
And finally, whatever happens going forward this season, Kizzire looks like one to side with early on in future seasons. In addition to yesterday's victory, he finished second at the Safeway Open this time last year and he finished runner-up to his good friend, Smylie Kaufman, in his very first PGA Tour start following graduation from the Web-com Tour two years ago. That's three top-two finishes in three separate events in each of the last three years.
The PGA Tour moves to Sea Island in Georgia for the RSM Classic this week but the big event to look forward to is the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. The European Tour' season finale begins early on Thursday morning and I'll be back tomorrow with my previews.
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