Little-known rookie MacKenzie Hughes headed into the final round of the RSM Classic holding a one-shot lead over his veteran playing partners, Camilo Villegas and Billy Horschel. Many expected the young Canadian Hughes to falter, but he showed the moxie of a champion, shaking off a couple of early bogeys to hold the lead most of the day. Villegas and Horschel made their moves late as Horschel birdied 14 & 15 to pull into a tie with Hughes at 17-under, and Villegas birdied the 16th & 17th to head into 18 in a deadlock.
The final trio weren’t the only ones who had thoughts of a season-finale win as playing ahead of Hughes two youngsters made a charge. Former Augusta St. standout Henrik Norlander and Auburn graduate Blayne Barber both went low with rounds of 65 and 66 to get to 17-under par in the clubhouse leaving Hughes, Horschel and Villegas needing a birdie on 18 to win. Each of the final three had a look, but none could convert it making a rare 5-man playoff!
The quintet tee’d it up on the 18th for the 1st playoff hole and each found the tough par 4’s green in regulation with Villegas with the best chance for birdie and a win. No one could convert their look, leaving tap-in putts all around. Shockingly, Horschel missed his short putt, ejecting himself from the playoff. Simply put, Horschel choked.
With Horschel out, the final four men headed back to the 18th tee to fight the looming darkness. Once again, all four players hit the green in regulation. This time, Villegas and Hughes were in close for birdie. By the time the players reached the green it was nearly pitch black, making reading the green difficult. Unsurprisingly, all missed their putts forcing everyone to come back for more playoff golf on Monday morning.
This morning saw temperatures in the low 40s and the remaining four headed to the tough par 3 17th. All four missed the green in regulation leaving challenging up-and-downs to make par. None of the players hit a great chip shot, and Hughes was the first to play his 3rd. He drained his 20’ downhill par putt, placing the pressure squarely on each of the remaining three par putts. Barber, up next, missed from 15’, then Norlander missed from 8’ and finally Villegas missed from 5’ leaving Hughes the champion and $1 million richer.
An English showdown
Sunday saw two of England’s brightest young stars in a duel for the European Tour’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship, each looking for their 2nd title of 2016. 25-year-old Tyrrell Hatton headed to 18 with a one-shot lead over 22-year-old Matt Fitzpatrick, but his tee shot found the water leading to his first bogey of the day and an opening for Fitzpatrick, who took advantage. Fitzpatrick’s 2nd shot on the par-5 18th found a greenside bunker where he made a marvelous up-and-down to win the biggest event of his career. With the win, Fitzpatrick earned his first multi-win season and moved back within the world’s top 50. In Fitzpatrick and Hatton, England has two bonafide young stars who could each win multiple major championships in years to come.
The other prize…
While Fitzpatrick’s thrilling win was the main show, the other storyline was the conclusion of the European Tour’s season-long Race to Dubai. Entering the week, 4 players had a chance to win the season-long title, but the leader, Henrik Stenson, was able to cap off a career year. Taking home the hardware after a final-round 66 moved him into a tie for 9th at the DP World Tour Championship. It’s Stenson’s 2nd career Race to Dubai honor, but his 2016 season will be remembered by his epic final-round 63 at Royal Troon to win the Open Championship and his first major championship of his illustrious career.
2 for 3
American superstar Jordan Spieth started Sunday’s final round of the Australian Open two shots back of Aussie legend Geoff Ogilvy, Spieth was looking for his third title of the 2016 season and 2nd Australian Open title in 3 years. Spieth surged early, making birdies on the first two holes to pull even with Ogilvy, who faded on the back 9 leaving Spieth to fend with Ash Hall and 2nd-year PGA Tour player Cameron Smith. The trio ended regulation in a tie and headed to a sudden-death playoff.
On the first playoff hole, Spieth knocked his 2nd shot to 10’, and Hall responded by hitting it closer. The superstar did what he does best, rolling in the clutch birdie putt and placing the pressure squarely on Hall who couldn’t respond, giving Spieth the win and some much-needed momentum heading into 2017.
Quite the week
One of the best stories of the week was struggling Australian professional Ash Hall, who admitted that he had been looking at 9-5 jobs prior to his stellar performance in the Australian Open. With his playoff loss, Hall earned some much-needed confidence, a nice check, an exemption into next year’s Open Championship, and has decided to stick with his current job as a golfer.
Rory gets grilled in an interview with a kid named Billy.
Koepka fends off a final-round 61 from Ikeda to win by 1 in Japan.
Hull wins the LPGA finale, but Jutanugarn wins Player of the Year & money title.
Pick your winner
It’s down to the final two in this year’s Saucies. Make your pick for who should take home the prestige and hardware between Thomas Pieters’ club snap and Jordan Spieth’s smooth one-handed club twirl. Cast your vote here.
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