It was impossible not to feel at least some sympathy for luckless Kansan, Gary Woodland. The pre-tournament 40.039/1 chance led at the halfway stage of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii by three strokes, after a pair of six-under-par 67s, and after he'd heard the news that his grandmother had passed away, he then shot 68 to maintain his advantage after the third round before shooting another five-under-par 68 on Sunday, but it wasn't enough to take the first title of 2019, thanks to a remarkable final round by Xander Schauffele.
Pre-event 30.029/1 shot, Schauffele, began the tournament with a lacklustre one-under-par 71, which say him sit tied for 19th and six off the pace. A second round 67 saw him close to within five and he was still five adrift with a round to go.
Matched at a high in running of 390.0389/1, the 25-year-old Californian looked to have spurned any slight chance he may have had with a bogey at the first in round four but a kick-in birdie at the third restored parity and having found the par five fifth green in two, he made up for a poor first putt by draining his ten footer for birdie and that seemed to park him in to life.
He birdied the next two before eagling the par five ninth and just as it looked his challenge might flitter out, he did this at the 12th!
Xander almost topped his drive at the 13th but a two-putt par from 75 feet kept him on track before he birdied four of the last five holes to shoot a course-record equalling 62.
Poor Woodland, who was matched at a low of 1.241/4, did very little wrong. He shot a bogey-free five-under-par 67 playing alongside Rory McIlroy in the final round and when he knew he needed to respond to Xander's remarkable finish, he managed a birdie at the tricky 17th, but he missed his ten-footer for birdie at the last and the title had cruelly slipped through his fingers.
Woodland was the sixth player to lead by three strokes or more with a round to go at the Plantation Course and he was the first not to convert.
It's been a gentle but ultimately fruitless return to the fray. Pre-tournament picks, Bryson DeChambeau and Webb Simpson, both contended at various stages and eventually finished seventh and eighth and my only in-play pick, Justin Thomas, finished third but in truth, he was largely disappointing before finishing the event well.
I had a nagging feeling that I'd been too dismissive of Woodland after round one (as highlighted in the In-Play Blog, he was 15.014/1 after the opening round, despite being only a stroke off the lead) and I'd have played him at halfway at 3.7511/4 had I not already backed Thomas. I felt he was a very fair price yesterday at a shade of odds-on after round three too. I'd have been kicking myself a bit if he'd have won so although I've drawn a blank, it could have been worse.
Should we be worrying about Rory?
Without a major since 2014, last year's Arnold Palmer Invitational is Rory McIlroy's sole success since he won the Tour Championship in 2016, but it isn't as if he hasn't given himself chances.
McIlroy took a little while to learn the art winning but after he'd scrambled home to claim his first European Tour title at the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009, and flew home at Quail Hollow to win for a first time on the PGA Tour the following year, he matured in to something of a reliable and almost ruthless closer but one could argue that question marks about his dependability in-contention are emerging again, looking at Justin Ray's tweet below.
Rory was matched at a low of 2.245/4 in-running and he got to within two of Woodland when he birdied the third hole yesterday. He matched Woodland's birdie at the easy par five fifth to remain two adrift but played the remainder of his round in one-over-par, failing to pick up any more birdies. It was a very disappointing performance in-contention and he may even be one to oppose until his record in-the-mix improves.
The PGA Tour hops from Maui to Oahu for the Sony Open this week and I'll be back later today or tomorrow with my preview but if you want to make a start on narrowing the field down, here's a little snippet - 14 of the last 20 Sony winners have warmed up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions so concentrating on those that played last week may be the way to go.
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