With two monster-priced first-time winners taking the titles on the European and PGA Tours, it's been a tough week for golf punters. Steve looks back on all the action here...
"It goes without saying that I’ll be taking Kuchar on again. He was matched in-running at just 1.051/20 and hot on the heels of last week’s disappointing finish at the Valero Texas Open, he never got going in round four after bogeying the first hole and the two approach shots he played up 18 were woeful."
In a week of shocks, Marco Crespi, who came through Qualifying School at the 11th time of asking last November, has won the inaugural NH Collection Open in Spain. The 35-year-old Italian was matched at 260.0259/1 before the off and I don't expect many that decided to swerve the non-televised weak event are ruing their decision to do so.
And at the Shell Houston Open, pre-event 200.0199/1 shot, Matt Jones, beat Matt Kuchar at the first playoff hole when he hit this spectacular chip-in for birdie on the tough 18th after he'd holed from 46 feet for birdie there in regulation.
I drew a complete blank in Spain, where mercifully I didn't get too involved and things weren't looking good in Texas either but I did manage to tidy things up a bit with a few trades late on, although I'm a bit cross with myself for trying to be too clever again...
I laid Kuchar at 1.141/7 and backed the winner at 8.415/2, as Kuchar was playing the last hole in regulation and that saved the week somewhat. The final hole is a tough one and Kuchar had already bogeyed it on Friday and Saturday so the market looked just plain wrong to me, even though he'd hit the perfect drive.
Kuchar hit this shocking second shot that found the water and Jones' price plummeted to 1.222/9, which looked like another over reaction. I laid the Aussie at 1.330/100 to square things up a bit and when Kuchar bravely got up-and-down for a bogey to take it to extra time I was glad I had.
I didn't do anything further in the playoff and was happy enough with the result but for the second time in two weeks I was irritated by the fact I'd been too picky.
At the Arnold Palmer Invitational a fortnight ago, instead of just laying Adam Scott, who had led by three with a round to go, I'd set about backing a few likely contenders but had left out the winner, Matt Every, and I went and did exactly the same again here! As detailed in the In-Play Blog, I left out Jones on account of his previously poor in-contention record.
Players to swerve
It goes without saying that I'll be taking Kuchar on again. He was matched in-running at just 1.051/20 and hot on the heels of last week's disappointing finish at the Valero Texas Open, he never got going in round four after bogeying the first hole and the two approach shots he played up 18 were woeful. The first one that found a watery grave was inexcusably poor but the one in the playoff, again from position A in the fairway, wasn't much better. He was unlucky that Jones birdied 18 twice but even if he'd have managed to scrape home he would be one to avoid going forward.
Over in Spain, with the benefit of hindsight, I really should have layed the three men tied for the lead at halfway - Bradley Dredge, Marc Warren and David Horsey. Dredge's third round 78 was excusable given he hadn't been in the heat of battle in years but Horsey's 73 and Warren's 75 were poor efforts for quality players but neither round came as a surprise. They're both poor in-the-mix and it was definitely a chance missed.
Who's glad they played the Shell and who wishes they hadn't bothered?
With the US Masters starting on Thursday, to play or not to play the week before was the question most pros were asking ahead of the Shell Houston Open. The likes of Adam Scott, Jason Day, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Zach Johnson and Brandt Snedeker all stayed away and the likes of Keegan Bradley, Ian Poulter, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson probably wished they had too. And heaven knows how Kuchar feels today!
Of those that had a disappointing week, Bradley lost his way badly after a decent start, both Poulter and Spieth missed the cut and Dustin Johnson withdrew after shooting 80 in round one! DJ's withdrawal comes 12 months after Rory McIlroy's ludicrous withdrawal at the Honda Classic, when he cited toothache as the reason and a few weeks after Bubba pulled out at Bay Hill because of 'allergies' after shooting a first round 83.
Johnson said his WD was because of a stiff back but it's worth pointing out that it came on the same day that Golf Digest published their May issue with DJ's scantily clad fiancé, Paulina Gretsky, controversially splashed across the cover. Whatever the reason for his withdrawal, it can't possibly be viewed in a positive light ahead of the year's first major.
Hunter Mahan, Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel, Phil Mickelson and especially Lee Westwood enjoyed nice warm ups and Sergio Garcia will be happy enough too, despite the disappointment of defeat, but the real eye-catcher was Rory McIlroy, who after bobbling along for three days unspectacularly, shot the lowest round of the week in round four, a bogey-free seven-under-par 65, to move up to tied 7th. He struggled with the slow pace of the greens to start with but with a finish like that he has to be feeling good about next week and he sounds as though he is. He tweeted this after the event. "Excited going to Augusta after a productive week in Houston! Capped off with a 65 today in tough conditions."
Don't dismiss the first-timers
Matt Jones winning not only boosted the fine recent record of Aussies in Houston and on the PGA Tour this year, but it also extended the run of first-time winners to three in-a-row or four in five weeks and I don't believe that's coincidental. As each one breaks his duck, others looking to break theirs gain inspiration and I've got to stop dismissing the non-winners when trading in-running. Whatever next, a win for Graham DeLaet maybe?
I'll be back shortly with my US Masters preview.
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