Our man looks back on the simplest of wins for Lee Westwood in Malaysia and on the dramatic final round in South Carolina where his pre-event pick, Luke Donald, was denied the chance of victory by some bunker magic by Matt Kuchar...
“Obviously, I’d have preferred Luke to have won and I think on balance he deserved it but there’s something very satisfying about making a profit when things have gone against you and so I went to bed happy.”
With the 'challengers' falling by the wayside very tamely, Lee Westwood was able to saunter to a very comfortable seven-stroke wire-to-wire win at the Malaysian Open - his second win in the event, 18 years after his first.
It looked as though fellow Englishman, Luke Donald, who traded as low as 1.558/15, might finally win at Harbour Town when Matt Kuchar three-putted from around three feet on the 17th but the American then did this for birdie from the greenside bunker on the final hole and it was merely more Heritage heartache for Luke who has now finished runner-up in the event three times.
I should have backed Westwood, who I quite fancied before the off, and I'm still a bit frustrated I didn't but I'm not going to complain about the outcome in the States, even though I was on the luckless Donald from the start at 26.025/1.
Having not had an opportunity to lay any of my Donald wager back early on - he traded no lower than 2.526/4 for much of the final round - I spent most of last night bemoaning my luck but when Kuchar finally cracked and made a complete and utter mess of a glorious chance to win on the penultimate hole I took my chance, laying Donald at 1.84/5 and backing Kuchar at 2.77/4.
Obviously, I'd have preferred Luke to have won and I think on balance he deserved it but there's something very satisfying about making a profit when things have gone against you and so I went to bed happy.
Get on Lee whenever he heads out east
Given the Worksop Wonder's family name is Westwood it's somewhat ironic that he fares best when he heads out east. He's now won twice from six appearances in Malaysia, has four victories from 12 starts in Japan, has one victory from just four outings in Thailand and he took back-to-back Indonesian Masters titles in 2011 and 2012, to make it two from three there. And he's only been to Macau and Korea twice but he's won once in both countries! He clearly enjoys being a big fish in a small pond and we should take the hint next time Westwood goes eastwards.
What have we learnt for next year?
With Westwood wining from flag fall, yet again the Malaysian Open was one by a class act from the front but the most bizarre pointer has to be the US Masters link. Rory McIlroy traded at odds-on in this event, just one week after blowing a golden opportunity at Augusta and Louis Oosthuizen cruised to victory, seven days after losing a playoff to Bubba Watson in the 2012 US Masters.
Westwood didn't come anywhere near that close to victory in this year's renewal but he was certainly in with a shout at Augusta. It almost defies logic, but what we need to be looking for is a top quality player that was heavily involved in the year's first major on the other side of the globe!
At the RBC Heritage, it wasn't an outrageous hole-out by Kuchar at the final hole that did for Luke Donald; it was his relatively poor scrambling. It's always one of the most important stats at Harbour Town and the fact the Luke ranked just 52nd compared to Kuchar's 11th for scrambling was the difference between the two as much as anything else.
It's always very important to hit plenty of greens at Hilton Head too - Kuchar ranked 1st for greens in regulation and Donald 3rd.
What next for Matt Kuchar?
I dread to think what sort of state Kuchar would have been in mentally had he not holed from the bunker and gone on to win. With the pressure arguably off a bit, trailing by four, he was able to freewheel early on in round four and birdie putt after birdie putt found the bottom of the cup.
He played some scruffy stuff once he'd hit the front on the back-nine but to his credit, brave pars were made at holes 12, 15 and 16 to keep his nose in front and when he hit it to inside four feet on the par 3 17th to set up a birdie chance to win, having crabbed his in-contention play for the last three weeks, I was about to put the humble pie in the oven, but I was soon chucking it in the bin instead.
Incredibly, he missed both the simple birdie chance AND the return putt from inside three feet. It was ugly in the extreme and when he found sand with his approach shot on 18, unsurprisingly, Luke Donald was a warm order.
Kuchar said afterwards that he'd have preferred to have holed the birdie putt on 17 and made a straightforward par up the last to win and I'm not surprised. He may well have won the title that his exceptional overall play over the last month arguably deserved but he's exercised few demons with such a calamitous finish and he remains a player to oppose in-the-mix. He twice went down to around 1.21/5 and back to odds-against last night and the record books will show that he shot 64 on Sunday to win, it was not as straightforward as it appears on paper.
We've a really busy week to look forward to this week with lots of live golf to enjoy. Bernd Wiesberger attempts to defend the Indonesian Masters on the Asian Tour and there's a fair field assembling on the European Tour, where the likes of Henrik Stenson, Jason Dufner and Ian Poulter attempt to win the Volvo China Open, and in the states, we move on to Louisiana for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. I'll be back later today or tomorrow with a preview of each event.
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