We witnessed two contrasting finishes on the European and PGA Tours this weekend and our man's back with his customary recap...
"Na hasn’t always been the most popular player on Tour and he’s had to work hard on trying to speed up his game but it was really good to see him recover from the disaster on 10 and it was impossible not to admire his tenacity."
Defending champion, Jon Rahm, was a warm 3/1 favourite to retain his Open de Espana title but halfway through the back-nine on Saturday, that price was starting to look huge.
The 24-year-old Spaniard had begun the third round trailing by two strokes and trading at [3.0] but after a brief stumble approaching the turn, when he made back-to-back bogeys at eight and nine, he caught fire on the back-nine. A birdie at ten was followed by four more in-a-row from the 12th to take control and he effectively put the event to bed with this brilliant eagle two at the 16th.
Rahm entered the final round leading by five strokes and once he'd eagled the par five fifth, the result was never in doubt. He went on to win by five, with fellow Spaniards, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Samuel Del Val, who was a pre-event [1000.0] shot, finishing second and third.
Over in the States, pre-event [120.0] chance, Kevin Na, who had led the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open by two with a round to go, moved four shots clear when he holed a lengthy birdie putt at the par four seventh and we looked like we might get to witness another cakewalk. His price dipped to just [1.27], having hit a high of [340.0] on Thursday, but just two holes later the tournament was blown wide open again when he made a triple-bogey seven at the 10th and the finish was far from boring.
Na got himself back on an even keel with birdies at 12, 13 and 15 but pre-vent [15.0] chance, Patrick Cantlay wasn't going away. The world number seven also birdied 12, 13 and 15 and when Na found water with his second shot at the par five 16th to record bogey, Cantlay hit the front with his fourth birdie in five holes.
Cantlay, who had touched odds-on during the third round on Saturday, was matched at a low of [1.15] as as he stood on the par three 17th tee with a one stroke lead but it was his turn to find water, this time from the tee. Na's tee-shot wasn't great either and from the greenside bunker he left himself 22 feet for par but he found the bottom of the cup yet again from distance and Cantlay could only make a four.
Cantlay very nearly holed his birdie putt at 18 but they both made regulation pars and we were into extra time. Cantlay again went heavy odds-on when he holed his birdie putt from ten feet at the first playoff hole but how's this for a response to stay alive!
Na wasn't going to go down without an almighty fight and there was an air of inevitability about the finish when Cantlay three putted from 43 feet at the second extra hole, leaving Na to hole from just inside four feet for par and the title.
Na hasn't always been the most popular player on Tour and he's had to work hard on trying to speed up his game but it was really good to see him recover from the disaster on 10 and it was impossible not to admire his tenacity. When asked how he was able to recover from the triple at the 10th, he had this to say after his win: "Experience. I've been in that situation before when I've lost the lead and I've failed many times. I've lost three playoffs. This was my first playoff win and I knew, I kept telling myself, this is a playoff that I'm going to win."
Na then choked up before delivering a passionate message in Korean. I didn't understand a word of it but it was magnificent.
My each-way pick, Mikko Korhonen, got to within one of the lead early on in round three in Spain but he fell away after that and that was as good as it got with the pre-event shots.
I'm kicking myself for not siding with Rahm at 2/1 on Saturday morning but I did manage to win a few pounds on Na, who I rated a fair price at [2.3] with a round to go.
Value short and value long
We've had a 3/1 favourite and a [120.0] outsider winning on the two main tours this weekend and they demonstrate perfectly how value can be found at both ends of the price scale.
Disregarding majors and World Golf Championships, Jon Rahm has now played in just 14 European Tour events, spanning a period of just over two years, and his record is astonishingly good. It began with a tenth placed finish in the Open de France in July 2017 and he could only finish 15th in the Italian Open a few months later. There have been a couple of missed cuts too, at the Andalucía Masters the week after his 15th in Italy and two weeks ago, at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship but after yesterday's successful title defence, if we take those four efforts out, we're left with form figures reading an incredible 1-1-1-5-4-4-2-1-2-1.
Even before last week's win, those form figures suggest he was a perfectly fair price at 3/1 and one could even argue he should have been even shorter. And at the other end of the price scale, Na at a triple-figure price was also very generously priced given all the evidence.
Prior to this week, Na had won two of his last 25 starts on the PGA Tour and his last victory, at the Charles Schwab Challenge, was only seven starts ago! I know this is all with the benefit of hindsight, but given he'd won at TPC Summerlin in 2011, and that outsiders have a great record here, he really was a massive price.
Na's stats were quite incredible last week. He had a negative Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green figure and his success was solely down to some quite remarkable putting. He set a new PGA Tour record for feet of putts made at an incredible 558 feet 11" and his Strokes Gained Putting mark was +14.176!
The problem with low-scoring events like the Shriners, is that the winner very often has a remarkable week with the putter and that it's impossible to predict who's going to be the one to do a Na. There's just no way of knowing so blindly backing outsiders with good course form and an excellent strike-rate is a great tactic for an event of this nature.
And finally, this year's Shriners result demonstrated very strongly how important previous course form is at TPC Summerlin is. Na is only the second man to win here more than once (Jim Furyk is the other) but the runner-up has course form figures reading 1-2-2 and he's traded at odds-on twice and been beaten, last year's winner, Bryson DeChambeau, finished tied for fourth and the 2014 winner, Webb Simpson, finished tied for seventh.
The European Tour moves from Spain to Italy for the Italian Open and the PGA Tour moves from Nevada to Texas for the Houston Open. I'll be back tomorrow with my previews.
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