The Punter

The Punter's De-brief: Irish pair claim the spoils in New Orleans

Golfers Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry with the Zurich trophy

Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry have won the Zurich Classic in extra-time and Yuto Katsuragawa has won the ISPS Handa Championship. Steve Rawlings looks back on their victories here...

The pre-event 9.89/1 second favourites, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, began the final round of the Zurich Classic trailing by two and trading at 3.8514/5 but it didn't take long for them to drift.

Having backed them before the off on Monday at 9.28/1, prior to them drifting steadily, I wasn't entirely confident that the pair would kick on and win.

Lowry hadn't looked at his best, especially on the greens, and my confidence waned further after he hit his opening tee shot into the trees.

The tournament has an interesting format with the teams playing four ball better ball in rounds one and three and foursomes on Friday and Sunday, so if one of the partners is struggling, there's no place to hide in round four.

Bogeys at one and three (sandwiching a birdie at the par five second) saw McIlroy and Lowry trailing by five after they'd played six holes and they touched a high of 26.025/1. But a par save by Lowry at six kicked off a decent stretch that saw the pair birdie four of the next five holes.

Pre-event 410.0409/1 chances Chad Ramey and Martin Trainer, who had begun round four trailing by seven, tied the foursomes course record of nine-under-par to post -25 and they were sitting in the clubhouse while the 54-hole leaders still had two thirds of the course to play.

It really didn't look as though that was a strong enough target but with the wind picking up, and with some inexperienced outsiders chasing down their target, the market moved in favour of them as the day wore on and the pair were matched at a shade of odds-on.

McIlroy and Lowry were matched at just 1.855/6 after their birdie at the 11th but a run of four pars after that looked like costing them before they eventually birdied the last to draw alongside the Ramey and Trainer on -25.

The third-round leaders, Patrick Fairburn and Zac Blair, looked the most likely to hunt down the clubhouse leaders and they were matched at a low of 1.715/7 but a calamitous double-bogey at the par three 17th and a par at the final hole saw them fall one short.

Having been matched at 1000.0999/1 before the final round, Ramey and Trainer hit a low of just 1.715/7 before the Irish pair birdied the last in regulation pl.ay But they were no match for the more experienced pair in extra-time.

After a poor drive, they were always up against. Lowry holed out for par, poor Fairburn missed his par putt and that was the end of that.

Irish pair highly likely to defend

McIlroy and Lowry clearly enjoyed the week, especially the celebrations afterwards, so they're highly likely to return next year to defend the title. They might prove hard to beat.

Lowry wasn't at his best this year and Rory took to TPC Louisiana like a duck to water.

It wasn't really a surprise as the world number two is something of a Pete Dye design specialist.

In addition to his victory here, McIlroy has also won the US PGA Championships at Kiawah Island and the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick. He's played well repeatedly at Austin Country Club, and he's also won the Players Championship at the Dye-designed Sawgrass.


Look to Puerto Rico for longshots

It was striking how many low profile players, who have played well at both the Puerto Rico Open and the Corales Puntacana Championship, contended this year.

The 2013 Puerto Rico Open winner, Scott Brown lost a playoff alongside Kevin Kisner on the first occasion that the Zurich Classic was played as a pairs event and Puerto Rico Open winners, Chesson Hadley, Martin Trainer, Ryan Brehm and Nico Echavarria all contended at this year's renewal.

Trainer's partner, Ramey, won the Corales Puntacana Championship two years ago and this year's winner of that event, Billy Horschel, has won in New Orleans twice.

He won on his own back in 2013 before winning the tournament's first year as a pairs event with Scott Piercy as his partner in 2018.

The tournament tends to go to a well-fancied pair but 1000.0999/1 chances Fariburn and Blair and 410.0409/1 shots, Trainer and Ramey, traded at odds-on this year so a longshot pairing taking the title is perfectly possible.

Finding a pair with form in Puerto Rico and/or the Dominican Republic (where the Corales is staged) might be a good way to play the event next year.


Yuto doubles up in his homeland

Frontrunners have a fabulous record in the Taiheiyo Masters on the Japan Tour at Gotemba - this week's host course for the ISPS Handa Championship - but the final three-ball endured a torrid time in round four there on Sunday.

The 54-hole leader, Casey Jarvis, was the only one of the trio to make a single birdie all day (at the 18th) and all three were soon out of the reckoning.

Jarvis fell from first to tied 18th, Yannik Paul tumbled from second to tied 36th and Haotong Li fell from tied third to tied 18th!

Yuto Katsuragawa wins ISPS Handa 2024.jpg

At one point early on in round four, as many as 13 players were separated by just a single stroke but what had looked almost certain to be a close finish, turned into a procession for the 2022 winner, Yuto Katsuragawa, who had begun the final round trailing by three and trading at between 40.039/1 and 50.049/1.

Katsuragawa, who won the inaugural edition at Ishioka Golf Club, when it was solely a Japan Tour event because of the pandemic, went off at 180.0179/1. But he belied those odds in style on Sunday, firing an immaculate seven-under-par 63 to win by three over the well-fancied Swede Sebastian Soderberg and by five over the rest.


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*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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