The Qatar Masters appeared set for another thrilling finish as a trio of golfers shared the lead after the second round on Thursday.
South Africans George Coetzee and Branden Grace along with Austrian Bernd Wiesberger were on top on nine-under par 135 for a one-shot advantage over Argentinian Emiliano Grillo, South Korean An Byeong-hun and Scot Marc Warren.
Coetzee, winner of the Joburg Open late last year, shot a steady 67 in another day of calm conditions at the Doha Golf Club, while Wiesberger carded a 66 before Grace caught up with them with a 68.
Wiesberger, who started on the 10th hole, began in style, picking up five shots over his first seven holes, including four straight gains.
His only blemish of the day came at the par four seventh, but he compensated by ending with a birdie four for an impressive 66, a round of six under.
Coetzee too fared better on his outward nine, making four gains, but also had one blemish, his second bogey at the fifth hole this week.
Wiesberger, who shared sixth place at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship last week, said: "I feel comfortable. I haven't really expected it going into those two weeks, especially because I played quite poorly last year.
Grace, who has won five times on the European Tour, including this year's Alfred Dunhill championship, dropped a shot on the 14th hole but otherwise played steadily to put himself in contention.
Former winner Darren Fichardt of South Africa, Australian Richard Green and Spaniard Alejandro Canizares were tied in third place with 137, while overnight leader Oliver Fisher was on 138 with 11 others, including defending champion Sergio Garcia who won last year in a playoff with Finn Mikko Ilonen.
Ilonen, however, missed the cut this time along with Frenchman Gary Stal, the winner in Abu Dhabi last week.
Call it the modern French Revolution. As a nation, they are the flavour of the golfing world right now, with so many making news in recent times.
Obviously, we have got to start with the 22-year-old Gary Stal, who showed an exceptional ability to handle pressure in winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship last week.
It really wasn’t a case of Stal benefiting from Martin Kaymer’s largesse. There were others who could have taken advantage, including world No1 Rory McIlroy and the impressive 22-year-old Belgian Thomas Pieters, who was right behind Kaymer for the first three days.
There was also another Frenchman in the mix – the world No17 Victor Dubuisson. The 24-year-old showed once again why he is so special when he finished tied-fourth despite arriving in Abu Dhabi on Thursday morning and checking into his hotel only at 2am.
Apparently, Dubuisson had gone through stomach surgery and did not play golf at all for five weeks over the Christmas and New Year break. He started hitting balls the week before Abu Dhabi and played his first tournament round without the benefit of any practice round. Well…it took him just two rounds to get into the groove. Three-under par after 36 holes, Dubuisson then shot a 64 and 67 over the weekend.
Alexander Levy, who is now world No52, is the third young Frenchman who is making his presence felt. He won two tournaments on the European Tour in 2014 and is on the verge of breaking into the top-50 of the world rankings that would guarantee him starts in all four majors this year.
And then there is Romain Wattel, who closed his 2014 on the European Tour with eight top-11 finishes in his last nine starts and now sits just one place behind Stal at world No104.
It’s not just the main tour where they are looking good. At the Challenge Tour Grand Final, which was held last November at Al Badia Golf Club in Dubai Festival City, French players made it a 1-2 finish with Benjamin Hebert winning and Jerome Lando Casanova in second.
That’s not all, two of their compatriots – Cyril Bouniol and Edouard Espana – also finished inside the top 10. When that tournament finished, there were five Frenchman in the top 20 of the Challenge Tour ranking, thus securing their European Tour cards for 2015.
And with the 2018 Ryder Cup being hosted by the French, I don’t think this upward trend is going to dip anytime soon.
It’s a cynical world
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) January 18, 2015
Last week wasn’t a very good one for the physical well-being of professional golfers.
First, there was the shocking story of Robert Allenby being abducted, robbed and beaten up in Hawaii, and then Tiger Woods having his tooth knocked out while watching girlfriend Lindsey Vonn secure her record 63rd World Cup alpine skiing win in Italy.
But what was even more shocking was the kind of scepticism that the media and fans showed to Allenby and Woods’ version of what happened to them. It seems being abducted and roughed up, and getting your tooth extracted by a hyperactive cameraman is not plausible enough explanation.
We really are living in a strange world. It’s just amazing how we refuse to take people at face value.
Perhaps it has got something to do with the fact that we have been lied to so often. In Woods’ case, all kinds of jokes are already doing the rounds, obviously inspired by the 2009 accident and all that happened in his past.
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) January 19, 2015
But Allenby has had a pretty clean record so far. His account of what happened that night is not the most lucid one, but the Australian suspected his drink in the bar was spiked and he had no clear recollection of what happened for almost two-and-a-half hours after that.
Allenby, who is still feeling the pain from concussions behind his head and scrape wounds on the face, has withdrawn from this week’s Humana Challenge, but is feeling more hurt because so many are not believing his side of the story.
In a text message to the Golf Channel, he rued: “It’s such a shame that people are focusing on whether the story is true. I say you only have to look at me to see the truth.”
As for Woods, he has maintained his silence, but conjecturing is being done on the basis that the former world No1 did not report the incident to the Games organisers, and there was no sign of blood on him after the incident.
Quote of the Week
“Passionate. Determined. A fun-loving guy who loves his family and hanging out. I’m confident and have a belief in myself and if you don’t have that belief, you’re never going to succeed. Off the course I am completely different. I’m a jokester. I pull a lot of pranks on my mother-in-law. She’s an easy target.”
– Patrick Reed, when asked to describe himself.
Sport360 brings you a light-hearted look at the world of golf; this week, Martin Kaymer beats Martin Kaymer, Tiger Woods’ does his best Captain Jack Sparrow impression and an underwater hole-in-one.
When Martin Kaymer—and not just Martin Kaymer, but Martin Kaymer in full-on destroy-the-field-mode—throws away a tournament, it’s time to reconsider a few things you previously assumed to be certainties.
Next thing you know a 12-point lead with three minutes left won’t mean anything in the NFL, for example, or perhaps Arsenal will just go ahead and beat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.
As if. These things just do not happen.
Except, on Sunday, they all did, with Kaymer’s collapse the first to unravel before our disbelieving eyes. It took five holes of the final round at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship for the German, who already held the lead, to reach 24-under par—as low as any player has ever gone in the tournament (and that was Kaymer as well). All the German had to do was hold the club at the right end for the rest of the round and he would win, or so it seemed, until a couple of bad shots cost him dearly, and suddenly down the stretch his swing deserted him entirely.
A run-in with a bush around the turn saw him scatter a few shots, and suddenly his iron play became not quite so precise and his putting uncharacteristically tentative. By the time he reached the 18th his demeanour gave the game away—a tournament that seemed his from sometime around Thursday afternoon had slipped from his grasp.
“I don’t really know how to put it into words,” Kaymer said afterwards, having shot a final round 75 that was about five shots worse than the average for the day. “It was very, very surprising today. I started off well and hit a couple bad tee shots and cost me double‑bogey and a triple‑bogey.
“Twice I missed the grass and I was in a bush. Had to drop it in the sand. I haven’t done that all week long. Unfortunately I did today, and therefore, it cost me the tournament.”
The beneficiary of Kaymer’s collapse was not Rory McIlroy, who incorrectly assumed his chance of victory had gone after a round of 71 on Saturday (what Kaymer would have given for that score 24 hours later!). Instead it was world No. 357 Gary Stal who (barely) held his nerve to claim the title, far and away the biggest of the young Frenchman’s career.
Stal was clearly, and rather endearingly, overwhelmed by the moment, breaking down in tears even before he had signed his scorecard.
“I thought about all the people that were looking at me,” Stal said later. “I thought about my mother, Christine, who died in May while I was playing Wentworth [at the BMW PGA Championship]. She passed away while I was playing, and I thought about her a lot, obviously.”
In its 10th year as an event, we would say that having an unknown player like Stal come through and steal the victory completes a sort of rite of passage for the tournament … except Robert Rock already beat McIlroy and Tiger Woods to win the event three years ago (that’s slightly unfair on Rock, who already had the best hair in the sport long before he won the biggest tournament of his career). But it did at least make a refreshing change, with Kaymer previously threatening to make the event his personal moneymaker as McIlroy, for once, trailed in his shadow.
This was another example of the fine margins and complex psychology involved in golf at this level: Kaymer thought he had things under control and then, tapped off course by the vagaries of fate, one unfortunate bounce sent things spinning off in another direction.
Stal, on paper at least, was one of the least likely competitors to capitalise on that misfortune—inexperienced at this level and not used to competing down the back nine on Sunday, especially against some of the world’s best—yet, precisely because he thought he had no chance to win the tournament, he blindly played his way into a position where, as long as he held his nerve, he would not be caught.
“This morning, I thought about second place, I didn’t think about first place. When I saw the leaderboard at the 5th hole, I saw Martin Kaymer on 24‑under, and I said, ‘it’s not possible to win,’” he acknowledged. “But when I saw the leaderboard on the 16th green, I saw Martin Kaymer and 17‑under, so in my head, I said, ‘it’s possible, you can do it.’”
And do it he did, endearing himself him in his post-round press commitments with his stuttering English (our favourite line being: “My favourite golfer when I was young was Tiger Woods … but now, too, it’s Tiger Woods”).
He has a long, long way to emulate his favourite golfer. But this was a memorable start and, as Kaymer’s collapse conclusively proved, anything in this game is possible.
Legendary skier Lindsey Vonn completed a remarkable turnaround on Sunday, overcoming some remarkable obstacles to equal a long-standing record that has always been her target. We cannot fathom why that might be a storyline that would resonate with Vonn’s boyfriend, Tiger Woods, who surprised his other half by turning up at the event to celebrate her crowning moment—surpassing a 35-year-old World Cup downhill record with her 63nd win, having overcome two separate serious knee injuries to do so.
Tiger had a surprise of his own on Sunday, as a couple of photos that emerged from the post-race celebrations revealed that he has recently lost his left front tooth. In other photos the missing canine was covered by a bizarre skeleton bandana, a grinning visage covering the lower part of his face. Considering the conditions it initially seemed the bandana was a rather bizarre fashion statement to combat against the cold, but in light of the missing tooth it seems it might, just might, be a little joke—even if he did not plan for the missing tooth to be caught on camera.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 20, 2015
Long-time, borderline obsessive observers of Mr. Woods (*stands up, waves to the galleries*) will be aware that Tiger’s left canine has long been a “dead” tooth (indeed almost every since he turned professional) the discolourment obvious even as the American went on to have his teeth whitened as his career earnings started to allow for that sort of extravagance. Perhaps this was the natural next step, then, to have the old tooth removed and replaced by one that matches the rest of the colour palette.
Not so, according to Woods’ agent, who claimed on Monday that the tooth—which he seemed to suggest was already false—had actually been knocked out by a rogue camera during the melee after Vonn’s triumph.
That does seem more plausible than the idea that Woods has a sense of humour (or would willingly go out in public with a missing tooth), although still does not completely convince—surely another camera would have caught the incident or its aftermath, and surely Woods would not have been looking so unaffected by things (would there not also have been some blood?!).
Regardless, attention now turns to what will fill the gap. Maybe Tiger is going to surprise us all. Personally we would love to see him get a gold tooth—a la Captain Jack Sparrow—or maybe he’ll just leave it be, becoming a walking advertisement for bleeding gum disease awareness. We can only hope.
There were four holes-in-one during this week’s Abu Dhabi Championship, including a first for Rory McIlroy. In that spirit, then, this week we leave you with a video that will make you feel especially sad if you have never had an ace.
And even if, like McIlroy, you have tasted the sweet joy of scoring an ace you will still probably feel a little sad watching this, considering you almost certainly did not get it on an underwater hole.
The makers of this video believe it to be a world first. We believe them to be right, if only because surely no one else has gone to such lengths to attempt it before…