My appetite for sleep deprivation has been waning for a few years now so with no financial interest in the ZOZO Championship I didn't stay up to see any live action from Japan, which is quite a shame given how historic the event transpired to be with pre-event 50.049/1 chance, Tiger Woods, winning to tie Sam Snead's record of 82 PGA Tour titles.
Woods won wire-to wire so he now has a greater than 50% strike rate when leading or co-leading after 18 holes and a greater than 85% strike rate when holding a clear lead at halfway. This was the 25th time in his career that he'd led by three with a round to go and he has a 100% record. The PGA Tour average over the last 20 years is 66%. This was also Tiger's third win in 14 starts. Why was he 50/1 I hear you ask?
Over at the Portugal Masters, 32-year-old Englishman, Steven Brown, began the week ranked 150th on the Race to Dubai standings. He hadn't bettered a round of 68 all season in any event and unsurprisingly, he was an almost unconsidered 320.0319/1 shot before the off and for much of the week, victory had looked extremely unlikely.
Trailing by six after rounds one and two, Brown closed to within three with a round to go after a six-under-par 65 on Saturday but when overnight leader, Brandon Stone, birdied three of his first five holes, just keeping his card had looked unlikely. Stone was matched at a low of 1.331/3, having begun the week as a 120.0119/1 shot and as well as Brown played, the South African will feel that this was one that got away.
Brown looked like having far too much on his plate as he approached the turn but birdies at nine and 11 were followed by what Brown described as the best shot he'd ever hit at the par five 12th and all of a sudden he was bang there.
Brown would tap in for eagle at 12 but he could only par his way in after that and Stone really should have won. The South African failed to birdie the par five 12th, bogeyed the par three 13th, missed a very makeable birdie putt at the drivable par four 15th, three-putted the 16th from about 15 feet to record a bogey four, and then failed to get up-and-down at the par five 17th for birdie, when he simply didn't engage his brain.
Stone's second shot finished in the rough at the back of the green but right next to a sprinkler. Had he, or his caddy, been thinking clearly, he could have taken a free drop that would have seen his ball moved on to the green, from where he would have been highly likely to make a two-putt birdie but instead, with his stance clearly impeded, he hit a poor chip and missed the birdie putt.
And Stone wasn't the only player to feel he may have won. Justin Walters was delighted to keep his card but he bogeyed both 16 and 18 and lost by just a stroke, having been matched at a low of 4.03/1.
Following on from last week's horrible finish in Europe, when two pre-event picks, Kurt Kitayama and Jamie Donaldson, had been tied for third with a round to go but out of it completely after two holes on Sunday (Kitayama made a quadruple bogey on the second hole and Donaldson made a quintuple bogey), I've endured another utterly miserable Sunday on the European Tour.
Huge outsiders, Jeff Winther and Ben Evans, both missed the cut but my other four pre-event picks all finished inside the top-eight and I'd backed Stone to win at halfway. I did manage to scramble a very small profit by backing Brown in-running but it was largely a horrible result.
With Stone and Fisher starting well and dominating the market, I was very confident of a really nice week, but naively, I didn't lay either player back. Why lay Fisher (backed at 170.0169/1) at 4.03/1 when I also had the 1.42/5 shot leading on my side I thought?
Instead of just laying the two leading, I decided to be clever and go about backing the dangers as they appeared. That meant I backed Walters at over 20.019/1, so him winning would have been fine, but it did leave me exposed should anyone do something miraculous - like stiffing their second shot on a par five to three feet! Brown's price plummeted from around 14.013/1 to 4.03/1 in seconds and I was left bemoaning his brilliance.
What Have We Learned This Week?
The first four home were all outsiders in Portugal and Lee Westwood remains the only well-fancied winner in 13 renewals.
Brown is the sixth Englishman to take the title but it's the seventh time we've witnessed an Englishman taking the title as Tom Lewis, who contended again this year, had won it twice previously. The English seem to thrive here and eight of the top-13 were English but the it was also very noticeable how many South Africans contended this year. A South African has never won the Portugal Masters but the wide-open links-like course with its fast greens (they were set at 13+ on the stimpmeter this year) clearly suits them and it's only a matter of time before one makes the breakthrough.
Walters was finishing second for a second time and course form stands up well here. I backed Eddie Pepperell and Andy Sullivan because of their course form and they'll be on the shortlist again next year. They weren't in brilliant form coming into the event but they still managed to finish sixth and eighth.
We're off to China this week for the WGC-HSBC Champions and the PGA Tour also stages the inaugural edition of the Bermuda Championship. I'll be back tomorrow with the previews.
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