Joy of Golf: Stars win in style

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Winning in style: Jordan Spieth.

As fans of the game, there are players who you want to see winning a tournament in a certain style. Very few players are able to create a signature finish, but when they do, it is a special moment for the spectators.

Take Seve Ballesteros for example. The dream final hole from the legendary Spaniard would include a wild hook into an almost unplayable position, and then him hitting the most outrageous second shot from in between the trees to 15 feet for a birdie.

With Tiger Woods, there would be no such dramas. You expected him to start the final day with a lead, and play spectacular shots without letting anyone come within sniffing distance of the trophy.

We really have been very lucky in this regard the last two weeks.

Jordan Spieth’s win at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational on Sunday, and Rory McIlroy’s the week before at the K Club in Dublin, were just the finest examples of signature finishes in golf.

Spieth, trailing by three shots at the turn on Sunday, completed the back nine in just nine putts – draining a 25-footer curling putt for birdie on the 16th and then dropping a 34-foot bomb for another birdie on the 18th.

In between, he chipped in on the 17th for another birdie. That’s how you want the world’s best putter to win a tournament.

McIlroy did it in similar fashion at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open. By coincidence, he also chose the exact holes which Spieth decided to show his brilliance on.

McIlroy smashed two stunning tee shots on the 16th and the 18th, and followed it with a three-wood shot to the heavily protected 16th green, and a five-wood shot to two feet on the 18th hole. To finish with an eagle is always great, but that is exactly how you want McIlroy to set it up and win.

Incredible runs

It seems everybody is making a Tiger Woods-like run these days in professional golf.

It started with Adam Scott winning The Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship in back-to-back weeks, and that was followed by his Aussie compatriot Jason Day triumphing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC-Dell Match Play.

You then had the remarkable run of Thai youngster Ariya Jutanugarn. By winning the LPGA Volvik Championship on Sunday by five shots, she claimed three wins in three weeks in the month of May.

The feat is unprecedented in the history of LPGA, although the record for win streak (despite missing tournaments in between) is five – by Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sorenstam (2004-05).

But even Ariya’s effort fades in comparison to what Matt Wallace has achieved on the Alps Tour.

The London-based professional has played all six tournaments on the feeder tour. He finished tied third and second in the first two, and thereafter, he has won the last four.

Alps Tour is recognised by the Official World Golf Rankings, and Wallace has climbed to No. 301 in the world. These really are outstanding efforts because any professional will vouch for the fact that going on a winning run like these is the most difficult thing to do in golf.

Class acts of the week

Tony Finau: The American is known for his power game on the PGA Tour and a fan, Elisa Butler, faced the full fury of his tee shot during the third round of the Dean & DeLuca Invitational at the Colonial.

The ball hit her on the head and she needed a few stitches. Finau was concerned for her well-being on the golf course as she lay there bleeding, but he did something much more meaningful than a signed glove.

That evening, Finau showed up at Butler’s door with a get well soon card, flowers and a box of chocolates.

No wonder he has earned a fan for life.

Jack Nicklaus: The pre-tournament press conference at The Memorial was another example of why the players of yesteryears are such a hit with the media and rarely receive bad press.

You can say Jack Nicklaus is the tournament host and he doesn’t have to bother much for practice rounds etc, but the Golden Bear held a press conference of 45 minutes, and then hung around for another 45 minutes in the media centre talking to individual journalists.

Considering most player-managers today force the Tours to curtail the press conferences to 10-15 minutes maximum, it really was a grand gesture from the most successful golfer of all time.

Quote of the week

“He’s only 21 years old and he’s taking on these veterans and showing that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can still put in the effort and do well.” – 13-year-old American Spelling Bee champion Jairam Hathwar reveals why world No. 2 Jordan Spieth is his inspiration.

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Chris Wood plays himself into Ryder Cup contention

Phil Casey 30/05/2016
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Last round success: Chris Wood.

England’s Chris Wood produced a record-equalling performance to claim the biggest win of his career in the BMW PGA Championship and get within touching distance of securing a Ryder Cup debut.

Wood carded a closing 69 at Wentworth to finish nine under par, a shot ahead of Sweden’s Rikard Karlberg, whose 65 included a hole-in-one on the second.

The 28-year-old from Bristol started the day three shots off the lead held by Australia’s Scott Hend, but fired an eagle and four birdies to race to the turn in 29 and match the tournament record set by Masters champion Danny Willett on Friday.

And despite almost letting slip a four-shot lead with a nervy back nine of 40, Wood held on to earn the first prize of £637,000 (Dh3.4m) and move into the automatic qualifying places for Hazeltine, as well as climbing from 54th in the world to a career-high position inside the top 25.

“It’s so hard to put into words at the moment,” said Wood, who led by two shots after 54 holes on his debut in 2010 but shot a closing 77. “I’ve got my best friends, my fiancee, my family here and it is so, so special to win in front of them.

“I came here when I was 12 or 13 to watch with my dad. I was not really thinking I could beat those players one day – I just wanted to be on that stage and so to come down the last with the lead and win the tournament is pretty surreal.

“It’s hard to win, as I’ve proved. I did not look at a leaderboard all day but when you are making lots of birdies on a tricky day you know you are there or thereabouts.

“On the 18th I had 196 yards to the front and I immediately thought six iron, but my caddie said ‘Do you want to know the situation?’ As soon as he told me to lay up, I knew probably five was enough. I can rest easy now and enjoy it now.”

Wood admitted the victory of his contemporary Willett in the Masters had provided a “kick up the ****” after a relatively poor start to the season, while the videos played by captain Darren Clarke ahead of the EurAsia Cup win in January gave him “goosebumps”.

A place in the Olympics is also possible after closing the gap on Willett and Justin Rose, although Wood joked: “My stag do is the week of the Olympics. We could possibly postpone that but not the wedding which is the week after.”

Karlberg recorded an ace in the opening round of the Volvo China Open at the end of April and fittingly won an XC90 from the tournament sponsors which is built near his home city of Gothenburg.

There was no prize for holing out with a nine iron from 154 yards at Wentworth, but it did kickstart a front nine of 30 and a brilliant final round which almost proved enough for victory as Wood wobbled down the stretch.

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Dubai Duty Free Irish Open: Top-10 in pictures

Sport360 staff 22/05/2016
McIlroy won as host of the event.

McIlroy had seen his three-shot lead turned into a one-shot deficit with three holes to play as Scotland’s Russell Knox carded four birdies and an eagle in a final round interrupted twice by hailstorms and torrential rain.

But the world number three then birdied the par-five 16th as Knox three-putted and, after lipping out for birdie on the 17th, fired a stunning approach from 252 yards to within three feet of the hole on the 18th for a closing eagle.

The resulting 69 meant McIlroy finished three shots clear of Knox and Wales’ Bradley Dredge to claim the first prize of £515,000, which he will donate to his own foundation which hosted the tournament for the second year.

Dredge surged through the field with a 66 to secure the biggest pay-day of his career, with Knox returning a 68.

McIlroy had missed the cut in his home event for the last three years, but completed an error-free 70 in the weather-delayed third round on Sunday morning to claim a three-shot lead over Masters champion Danny Willett.

And, although Willett’s challenge stalled in the final round with 13 straight pars before he collapsed to a closing 77, Knox ensured McIlroy would not have things all his own way.

After a delay of 69 minutes following the first deluge, McIlroy edged two shots clear with a birdie on the 10th, only to three-putt the 11th and then see Knox draw level with a birdie on the 14th before play was temporarily halted again due to another spell of hailstones.

McIlroy did well to make par on the 15th after driving into the trees and charging his long birdie attempt four feet past the hole, but still found himself relegated to second place as Knox holed from six feet for birdie.

However, McIlroy’s length off the tee gave him the upper hand on the par-five 16th (above) and he took full advantage with a stunning approach from 270 yards to set up a two-putt birdie, while Knox found sand off the tee and three-putted for a costly bogey.

McIlroy’s birdie putt from six feet on the 17th lipped out, but it did not matter thanks to a magnificent approach to the 18th which ensured he could enjoy the walk to the green and take in the cheers of the crowd.

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