The Punter's De-Brief: Westwood prospers in the East again and Grace wins in style

Branden Grace – the impressive winner at Leopard creek

Steve takes a look back at last week's golf in Thailand and South Africa where there were victories for Lee Westwood and Branden Grace...

“Branden Grace wasn’t at his best on Saturday but he put that behind him yesterday and never panicked. Whenever anyone got anywhere near his lead he just kicked-on again and he remains a player you can really trust in-contention.”


Lee Westwood recovered from a stuttering start to round four to win a thrilling Thailand Golf Championship for the second time, having won the inaugural staging four years ago.

With two holes to play Westwood had been tied with Martin Kaymer, who was matched at a low of 2.01/1 and third round leader, Marcus Fraser, who traded as short as 1.538/15 in-running but two pars for the Worksop Wonder were enough to see him home. Kaymer three-putted the par 17th and Fraser mishit his approach on 18 and failed to get up-and-down for par. 

Branden Grace powered to victory at Leopard Creek to become the first player to win the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Championship. My pre-event selection, Danny Willett, was matched at just 3.02/1 when he looked like getting to within one of Grace just after the turn but he finished very poorly and in the end Grace finished seven strokes clear of runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.


My Bets

It would have been nice to sign off for the year with a win but it wasn't to be. Willett never quite got to Grace and finished really tardily, suggesting last week's win eventually took its toll and my two in-play picks in Thailand, Anirban Lahiri (33/1) and Scott Hend (40/1), both failed to even place, despite looking likely to do at least that.
 
The pressure of winning the Asian money list and getting into the US Masters, as well as just winning the event, probably got to Lahiri who was matched at just 3.613/5 early on in round four before he tumbled out of the frame and Hend played the last four holes in one-over-par to finish fifth, just one stroke away from a payout.


What Have We Learned This Week?

When I first looked at the Thailand Golf Championship, I saw Westwood chalked up at 16/1 and thought that'll do for me. His record in Asia is simply superb - something I wrote about in detail back in April - and so I was a tad miffed when he took the title.

I was put off by how poor he'd been playing before the off and how poor his in-contention record has been of late but with the benefit of hindsight I should have just ignored all that and took what was a juicy price. That said, I still think he's one to be very wary of in-the-mix.

I'd written in the In-Play blog how poor his record has been when he's been in-contention but not in a clear lead (he'd been either one or two strokes behind with a round to go 21 times without winning before yesterday) and it looked for a long while as it would be 22 straight failures.

He bogeyed the first two holes, at one point trailed by seven strokes and would have been matched higher than the 15.014/1 he drifted to, had the event not been played out at such an antisocial hour. 

Those first two holes aren't tough and I suspect he started a bit nervously and that being so far off the lead helped him to relax. And we also have to bear in mind that he wasn't in the final group and that both Kaymer and Fraser dropped shots late on.

I don't want to sound as though I'm knocking him, he's a great player and a fantastic ambassador for the game but putting all that to one side and just concentrating on his ability to close out tournaments, even though he won yesterday, I'll still be looking to take him on in-running. He'll almost certainly be too short in-the-mix going forward.

As for the event itself, with question marks surrounding the fancied players' current form I plumped for three outsiders before the off but next time I'll be more inclined to overlook that. The cream very much rose to the top again and I'm going to concentrate on the market leaders, regardless of form, next time around. And if he turns up in any sort of form, I'll be very keen to get with Kaymer.

The German not only arrived in relatively poor form, he also had to overcome the disadvantage of playing the course for the first time. He putted well but his chipping around the greens was poor so he wasn't in tip-top form and yet he missed out by just a stroke.

It's no surprise that Westwood and Sergio Garcia have such good records at Amata Spring as they both have just the right long game required to prosper. The paspalum rough isn't long but it's notoriously difficult to play from and a missed fairway very often results in a bogey or worse so accurate driving is essential and given the course is almost 7,500 yards in length, a straight and long off the tee is a considerable advantage. 

I don't know whether Bubba Watson will make the trip again next year but he'll be worth taking on if he does. He has the length but perhaps not the accuracy and he most certainly lacks the patience required. There are some really tough holes here and mistakes are inevitable. The ability to stay calm and not get frustrated is essential and it's something Bubba appears to lack.

Wagers aside, it was great to see Grace win again, for the first time in two years, and who's to say he can't go on and win multiple events this year now. When he's on-song he's a terrific player and the huge plus with Grace is that he has the bottle to win.

He wasn't at his best on Saturday but he put that behind him yesterday and never panicked. Whenever anyone got anywhere near his lead he just kicked-on again and he remains a player you can really trust in-contention. 

Denmark's Lucas Bjerregaard had begun the day in second place and just a stroke behind Grace but he endured a horror day. I thought he might get a bit nervous but I hadn't expected him to shoot 50 on the back-nine! I know he's young and he'll learn from the experience but that was a shocking performance and he's one to be wary of. Yesterday's round will take a lot of getting over.

And finally, although he never really looked like winning, Oosthuizen's performance was most noteworthy. Although he'd finished second in this event in 2005 and he'd had also finished runner-up in the 2004 South Africa Tour Championship here, he'd missed five straight cuts at Leopard Creek before he withdrew in 2012, so his most recent course form was shabby to say the least.

He appears injury free now and he has a great record in South Africa. In fact, he's won there, in January, in each of the last four years, so if he lines up in the South African Open Championship next month he'll be worthy of close consideration.

The European Tour and the PGA Tour have finished for the year now so there'll be no previews until early January but I will be back with a couple of pieces looking forward to 2015 sometime over the festive period. 


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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