The Punter's De-Brief: Closers claim the spoils
Justin Harding has got off the mark on the European Tour and Francesco Molinari has claimed his tenth title. Our man looks back at all the action here...
"Rory has been in the final group without winning nine times since he won the Irish Open when three clear with a round to go in 2016 and he remains one to take on in-the-mix. The market absolutely loves him and he’s backed strongly despite the ever-extending run of disappointing finishes."
Both events were won from off the pace yesterday. Pre-event [60.0] chance, Justin Harding, who was matched at a high of [95.0], trailed by three in Qatar with a round to go, with nine men ahead of him, but a six-under-par 66 was enough to see him win by two strokes over nine players tied for second.
A few players struck the front early on but Nacho Elvira, a pre-event [350.0] chance who had missed his last six cuts, was the only other player to really look like winning. The Spaniard hit a low of [2.62] after birdies at 10 and 12 but he bogeyed the 13th and 17th and that was that.
Harding had started the final round well with three birdies in his first four holes but he looked like he may have blown his chance when he bogeyed the sixth and seventh holes and he turned for home with plenty on his plate still. Birdies at 10 and 12 gave him a squeak before he finished with a flourish, birdying 15, 17 and 18 to post a target of 13-under-par that nobody ever really threatened to match.
Over at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Francesco Molinari's victory came from even further back and his win was never really in doubt either. Having opened up at [50.0], the Open Champ drifted out to around [70.0] before the off and he went right out to [150.0] on Thursday before he made a hole-in-one at the seventh to get back to level-par for the tournament.
Trailing by five with a round to go, the Italian was a [130.0] shot yesterday morning (touched [180.0]) but he soon got going, with birdies at holes one and three. A further two followed at six and eight before he rattled home on the back-nine, birdying 12, 13 and 16 before doing this on the iconic 18th.
That was the longest putt made on 18 all week long and Molinari made 146 feet of putts yesterday in total. He described the round as, "probably the best putting round of my career." Going on to say, "I made some really good putts from the start, for birdies and for par. Just a magical round."
I was getting very frustrated watching pre-event pick, Erik Van Rooyen, miss putt after putt yesterday but all's well that ends well and having backed Harding after round two at 8/1, and Molinari after round one at [27.0], it finished up being a decent enough week.
I'm a tiny bit irritated that I didn't press my bet on Molinari yesterday as I've played him a number of times at a big price after three rounds. This wasn't the first time he'd finished well from off the pace and I suspect it won't be the last but I can't complain, it's been a good week.
What Have We Learned This Week?
Last week's Honda Classic winner, Keith Mitchell, who finished tied sixth after a sensational 66 in round four, was the only American inside the top-nine places and Francesco Molinari was the fourth non-American winner of the event in-a-row. Tiger Woods apart, Matt Every is the only other American to win the event in the last 14 years and it's quite clear the tricky set up suits those that have learnt their trade on the European Tour.
This was the first time since the 2010 Open Championship that no Americans were in the top-five in a PGA Tour event and according to Justin Ray on Twitter, it was the first time in at least 15 years that no American finished inside the top-five in a PGA Tour event on American soil.
Americans look worth swerving in the Arnold Palmer Invitational but South Africans need to be followed in Qatar. Justin Harding, who didn't have a European Tour card before yesterday, was the fifth South African to win the Qatar Masters and Branden Grace has won the event twice. In addition to Harding's fine performance, three South Africans, George Coetzee, Christiaan Bezuidenhout and the aforementioned Van Rooyen, finished tied for second. The windy, links-like conditions and the Bermuda greens seem to suit them nicely.
Harding had missed the cut in Oman last week but playing the week before appears vital. All 22 winners of the Qatar Masters have teed it up the week before they've gritted it out in Qatar.
As was the case in Oman last week, it was a typically nervy European Tour finish and we finished up with a winner that had been reasonably prolific of late. Harding won twice on the Sunshine Tour and twice on the Asian Tour last year whereas the vast majority of those in-the-mix were in search of their first wins. The same thing happened last week with recent Mauritius Open winner, Kurt Kitayama, drawing on that victory to get the job done in Oman.
And talking of the Mauritius Open, we can now add that event as one to look at for Qatar clues. Kitayama contended again in Qatar, Harding led the Mauritius Open before finishing fourth in December. The 2017 Qatar Masters winner, Jeunghun Wang, won the Mauritius Open a year earlier and George Coetzee, the inaugural Mauritius Open winner, has now finished second in Qatar twice. And the man he beat in a playoff, Thorbjorn Olesen, has also finished runner-up at the Qatar Masters.
They've used two different venues in the four years the Mauritius Open has been staged but the test has been very similar and just like in Qatar the field encounters windy conditions and Bermuda greens.
Rory Flops Again
A birdie at the par four third saw Rory McIlroy draw alongside third round leader, Matthew Fitzpatrick, yesterday and his price dipped to just [1.82] as a result but not for the first time in-contention of late, he was disappointing after that.
Rory has been in the final group without winning nine times since he won the Irish Open when three clear with a round to go in 2016 and he remains one to take on in-the-mix. The market absolutely loves him and he's backed strongly despite the ever-extending run of disappointing finishes.
The European Tour visits Kenya this week for the Magical Kenya Open and we've got the so-called fifth major to enjoy on the PGA Tour with the Players Championship at Sawgrass. I'll be back this afternoon or more likely tomorrow with my previews.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter