The Punter's De-Brief: Fabulous Phil finally notches win number 43
After a fantastic week's golf, George Coetzee has won the Tshwane Open for a second time and 47-year-old Phil Mickelson is back in the winner's enclosure. Read our man's customary look back at all the action here...
“It had been a long time between drinks, so it wasn’t a surprise to see a couple of loose shots cost him after he’d hit the front and when Justin Thomas holed out for an eagle two to go two clear on the 72nd hole, it looked like Phil’s chance had gone.”
Pre-event favourite, George Coetzee, eventually won an eventful Tshwane Open after a few scares and a couple of weather delays but the drama in Pretoria was comprehensively eclipsed by a quite spectacular final round to the WGC-Mexico Championship, which went the way of Phil Mickelson after extra time.
Having been matched at [1.24] on Saturday, when he looked like putting daylight between himself and the field, Coetzee began the final round two clear and trading at around [1.8] but it wasn't long before he drifted right out to [5.1] after a typically nervy start.
George had been gambled down to [11.0] before the off but he gave his followers plenty of stress throughout the week and especially yesterday when he bogeyed both the third and fourth holes to lose the lead. Finland's Mikko Korhonen looked like the man to capitalise on George's demise and the pre-tournament [90.0] chance, who at 37 is still looking to get off the mark on the European Tour, hit a low of [1.71] to get his eagerly awaited first win but it wasn't to be.
Coetzee's short game was noticeably poor but his putter was red-hot all week and after a lengthy par save on ten, he birdied three in-a-row to retake the lead and the result was never really in doubt after that. Sam Horsfield birdied the last three holes to take second place but the day belonged to the local hero, George. This was his fourth European Tour title and his second Tshwane Open win.
Heading in to the final round in Mexico, the story of the week had been the performance of 21-year-old Indian, Shubhankar Sharma. Clear by two, he became the youngest player to lead a WGC event through three rounds but he missed a short putt for birdie on the first hole and largely struggled from that point on - eventually finishing tied for ninth.
As the youngest man in the field wilted in the spotlight, the eldest began to shine and after birdying the 10th, 47-year-old Phil Mickelson, who was looking for his first win in almost five years and 107 starts, went odds-on.
It had been a long time between drinks, so it wasn't a surprise to see a couple of loose shots cost him after he'd hit the front and when Justin Thomas holed out for an eagle two to go two clear on the 72nd hole (see below), it looked like Phil's chance had gone.
The market overreacted to Justin's brilliance and he was matched at just [1.15] soon after the hole-out but Lefty and Tyrrell Hatton battled back brilliantly to tie him. Phil birdied 15 and 16 and Hatton eagled the 15th and Thomas drifted right out to [5.0] when the trio were tied and Lefty and Tyrrell had two holes to play.
Lefty very nearly took the lead with an excellent birdie attempt at 17 before Hatton dropped out of the lead with a scruffy bogey on 18 and we had a two-man playoff to enjoy.
Thomas went odds-on again before extra time but he hit his tee-shot long on the first extra hole (the par three 17th) and for the second time that day, he finished-up bogeying the hole. Lefty again nearly holed for birdie but it mattered not that he missed it - the tap in par was enough to secure the win.
I had my doubts whether Phil would or could win again, so it was fabulous to witness and he was pretty chuffed himself.
"To have the belief that I was going to get there and finally break through and do it feels incredible. I believe that more is to come."
Having backed Coetzee before the off it's been another nice week. I layed him back in-running on Saturday and again yesterday at very long odds-on towards the end but I've no regrets about doing so. He's not the safest of conveyances.
I drew a blank in Mexico but I did eventually get involved last night. I'd written in the In-Play Blog that "If I had to choose one to back at this stage, and thankfully I don't, I'd plump for Thomas at [14.0]" so it was a bit frustrating to watch him start so well but I did back and lay him in-play. I took [4.5] after the turn when I thought it looked like a two-man race and I layed the stakes back at [2.2] shortly after.
I thought it looked a tough event to bet on from start to finish so I was cautious throughout. Possibly too much so in hindsight.
What Have We Learned This Week?
Yet again a well-fancied local won the Tshwane Open. We've now had six renewals and South Africans have won five times. And all four winners at this venue have been very well-fancied in the market.
I'll again concentrate on the South Africans but there is one small word of warning - all the greens are going to be re-laid before next year's renewal so that could just make a difference.
I've theorised that someone can win this tournament form way off the pace and Danie van Tonder briefly threatened to do so. Having been matched at a high of [1000.0], his priced dipped to a low of [9.0] after a run of six birdies in eight holes between seven and 14 but a bogey at 15 halted the charge and he eventually finished tied for fourth.
Over at the WGC-Mexico Championship, it was again noticeable how many European Tour players contended but for the second year in-a-row we finished up with an in-form American winning. An in-form American that had won majors and that had won at Riviera too...
Just like Riviera, Club de Golf Chapultepe's fairways are kikuyu and it's greens are a mix of poa annua and bentgrass so it's hardly surprising that that course appears to correlate nicely.
As we do at Riviera every year, we saw an awful lot of short putts missed and I really felt for Hatton on the 72nd hole. I know he's a moaner and that - that really irritates a lot of people, but his par saving putt jumped in the air after in hit a spike mark as soon as it came of the blade and it had no chance of finding the cup. Patience will get rewarded here and it's perhaps not surprising that the first edition went to the ultra-chilled out Dustin Johnson and the second to the oldest player in the field.
I found this a hard event to trade and with such funky greens, to a certain extent, a bit of luck is perhaps required but it's clearly possible to win from off the pace here - just look at the first three home...
Lefty was six back at halfway and tied for 14th, Hatton was tied 20th and seven adrift and Thomas sat in a tie for 38th, 11 shots off the lead!
Mickelson was matched in-running at a high of [120.0], having started the week as a [38.0] chance, Hatton, who hit a low of [2.48], began the week as a [60.0] chance and he hit [500.0] in-running and Thomas, who was a well-fancied second favourite before the off, was matched at [690.0] in-running!
Previous course form looks like it's going to be a plus given the first three all finished inside the top-ten last year and finally, I know Thomas came remarkably close to backing up his win at the Honda Classic seven days earlier but he's a truly exceptional talent and I fancy playing that event before coming here is a negative. All the others that contended in Florida struggled this week and Thomas was slow to get going. "I quite simply had nothing out there." Is what he said after round one.
Shubhankar Sharma will get a hero's welcome when he returns to his homeland for the Hero Indian Open on the European Tour this week and we've got the brilliant Valspar Championship to look forward to on the PGA Tour. I'll be back tomorrow with my previews.
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