The Punter's De-Brief: Hovland defends and Pieters plunders the pot in Portugal

Golfer Thomas Pieters
Thomas Pieters with the spoils in Portugal

We witnessed two well-fancied winners on the European and PGA Tours this week and our man's back with his customary look back at all the action here...

"Pieters ranked sixth for Putting Average so the last ten winners have now ranked inside the top-seven for PA and the first four home this year ranked inside the top-ten for that stat."

The final round of the Portugal Masters was a scrappy affair. Pre-vent 27.026/1 chance, Thomas Pieters, and 150.0149/1 shot, Matthieu Pavon, began the day tied for the lead and four clear of the rest but Sky's Tony Johnstone summed it up perfectly four holes to play when he described it as like a game of Pass the Parcel, with neither man seemingly keen on keeping hold of the trophy.

Pieters started the day with a bogey five but he was under-par for the day standing on the sixth tee following a somewhat fortunate eagle three at the par five following a poor drive and a chip in from off the green.

Pavon had started nicely, playing the first seven holes in two-under-par and when he and Pieters both birdied the par three eighth it looked like being a straightforward shootout between the pair. Pavon stood on the ninth tee with one-stroke lead over Pieters, with a gap of back to the Danish pair tied for third - Lucas Bjerregaard and Nicolai Hojgaard.

Pavon doubled his advantage with a birdie at 10 and with Pieters pulling a couple of short birdie putts at 10 and 11, the Frenchman was matched at a low of just 1.331/3 but disaster struck at the par five 12th when he found water twice on his way to making a triple-bogey eight!

To his credit, Pavon bounced back with a birdie at 13 and it was Pieters' turn to be wet on the 14th when he drove into the water off the tee. It wasn't pretty and with the front two messing around, Hojgaard, who himself missed a very short birdie putt on 15, was matched at a low of 3.02/1.

Pieters finally asserted command with a straightforward two-putt birdie on the par five 17th, as Pavon once again found water, and the 29 year-old Belgian finally sealed the deal with a 20 foot par save on 18, winning the event by two over Pavon, Hojgaard and an emotional Bjerregaard, who's high finish saved playing privileges.

The final round of the World Wide Technology Championship wasn't anywhere near as dramatic. The defending champ, Viktor Hovland, began the day with a two-stroke lead and with all his closest rivals struggling to varying degrees, defeat never looked likely and he was trading at 1.011/100 with five holes to play!

Pre-event 80.079/1 chance, Talor Gooch, birdied the fourth to get within a stroke of Hovland and he was matched at a low of 3.65 before finishing poorly (tied 11th), and Sergio Garcia birdied the three of the first five holes (matched at low of 10.09/1) but once Hovland had birdied the two par fives on the front nine (five and seven) the event was as good as finished.

Carlos Ortiz birdied five of the last six holes to pinch second ahead of Justin Thomas, who never got going on Sunday, but Hovland, who was well backed from 25.024/1 to 21.020/1 before the off, ran out a very easy winner by four strokes.

My Bets

Pieters was once again far from convincing in-contention and no stage looked a value play so I drew a blank in Portugal but the Mexican result more than made up for that.

Pre-event pick, Justin Thomas, had a strange week. He was dead last after playing his first 11 holes in three-over-par on Thursday morning but having drifted out to 490.0489/1, he was matched at a low of 2.829/5 on Saturday before Hovland finished with back-to-back birdies to move clear.

I was out on Saturday evening so couldn't trade but backing Hovland at halfway at 8.07/1 (see In-Play Blog) more than saved the week.

Putting the secret to victory in Portugal

Pieters edged ahead of the rest thanks to his play on the long holes. He eagled the 12th on Saturday and the fifth on Sunday and only three men bettered his score on the par fives for the week.

Pieters ranked 24th for Driving Distance and that was the worst ranking of any of the top-six, so length was clearly a plus but this is basically a birdie-fest where strong putting is key. Pavon made more birdies than anyone in the field with Pieters and Hojgaard ranked tied second for Birdies and that was all down to the putter getting hot.

Pieters ranked sixth for Putting Average so the last ten winners have now ranked inside the top-seven for PA and the first four home this year ranked inside the top-ten for that stat.

Cream rises to the top in Mexico

Outsiders and veterans used to have a cracking record at the World Wide Technology Championship but as the field strengths have improved over the last couple of years, so have the leaderboards.

Hovland set the lowest four-round score in the events history with his -24 total and the tournament is going from strength to strength.

Accuracy off the tee the key in Mexico

The big difference between Hovland and his rivals was his ability to find the fairway time and time again off the tee and that's something Thomas needs to improve on if he's going to eventually claim the title.

Hovland joked as he was finishing up that he needed to give 10% to his caddy and 10% to James Hahn because it was strange twist of fate that helped the Norwegian defend.

Danny Lee, who finished tied for seventh, broke Hovland's driver on the range before the off when the two were messing about speed testing but with no manufacturers on site, Hahn came to the rescue - lending Hovland a shaft that was ½ an inch shorter than the one he usually uses.

It certainly didn't hamper him and he had this to say about it at halfway.

"It almost helped me this week because it's a little shorter. It probably goes 10 yards shorter, but I just felt like I could really hit it a little lower and a little straighter. So I'm hitting that thing really well."

Hovland is now the fifth consecutive overseas winner on the PGA Tour so the Americans need to bounce back when we visit Texas this week for the Houston Open and we're off to Dubai on the European Tour, for the second edition of the Golf in Dubai Championship. I'll be back with the previews tomorrow.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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