4 out of 5
Heading into the week, Hideki Matsuyama’s hot play was overshadowed by Tiger Woods’ return. Similarly, when Matsuyama was growing up in Japan, he was relegated to a second fiddle status next to Japanese phenom Ryo Ishikawa. Eventually, Matsuyama rose to become Japan’s prominent golf star, and this week his stellar play stole the show at the Hero World Challenge as he earned his 4th win in his last 5 starts.
Matsuyama’s win came thanks to his near mistake-free play through 3 rounds, which opened up a 7-shot lead through 54 holes. Sunday didn’t see Matsuyama play with the precision and focus of earlier in the week, but he did just enough to hold off a late-charging Henrik Stenson to win by 2 shots. The 24-year-old atusyama made a clutch up-and-down on the 72nd hole to shut the door on Stenson and earn his 5th win of 2016. The breakout season has planted Matsuyama firmly in the discussion of the game’s best players at number 6 in the world.
Midway through Saturday’s third round, it looked as though Tiger Woods was playing himself into a Sunday final pairing with Matsuyama. After a bogey-free Friday 65, Woods opened up the third round on fire, shooting a front-nine 32 that moved him into the top 3 of the tournament. Unfortunately, Woods’ erratic driver from Thursday’s opening round returned on Saturday’s back nine, and big numbers followed, with Woods settling for a 2-under-par third round and an 11-shot Sunday deficit.
On Sunday, Woods looked gassed from the week, and his play showed it. Doomed again by poor tee shots and sloppy play, Woods closed with a Sunday 76 and finished in 15th place out of 17 players at 4-under-par.
Despite the disappointing finish, it was a great return for Tiger Woods, who proved that he belongs with the world’s elite golfers. A telling statistic from the week was Tiger co-leading the field (with Matsuyama) for the most birdies and eagles made at 24. Tiger’s week was foiled by poor drives and mistakes, something that is understandable for a player in their first competitive rounds in over 15 months.
Personally, I was blown away by Woods and found myself amazed that I had somehow forgotten how great of a golfer Tiger Woods is. His iron play and putting are world class, and now the question that remains is whether the star can remain healthy for a sustained period of time. If he is able, I expect Woods to find the winner’s circle at least once in 2017, potentially becoming the game’s best player once again.
1 week, 2 champions
The European Tour’s 2017 season kicked off with not one, but two tournaments, the Australian PGA Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.
In Australia, a young American earned his first professional victory just one year after a final-round heartbreak in the same event. Last year saw Harold Varner III enter the final round of the Australian PGA with a share of the lead before eventually falling in a playoff, but this year, things were different. Varner entered the final round 2 shots off the pace set by Andrew Dodt but surged past the incumbent, firing a brilliant final-round 65 to win the championship.
Meanwhile, at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa, another promising young player found the winner’s circle as 23-year-old Brandon Stone took home his second victory of 2016. Stone blew away the field, finishing at 22-under-par to win by 7 shots over his nearest competitor, Richard Sterne. Finishing in third was European Tour rookie and former University of Illinois standout, Thomas Detry.
Pure Flynn: Rolling Green Golf Club
For our latest golf course review, we head back to the city of brotherly love and look at another gem from storied Golden Age architect William Flynn. Rolling Green Golf Club, host to this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur, is a great example of Flynn’s routing and design genius. Read more and tour one of Philadelphia’s finest golf courses.
Was it worth it?
NLU contributor Robbie Vogel does a deep dive into all of the PGA Tour players who made a major equipment switch in 2016 to see if any helped or hurt. Read more here.
Don’t call it a comeback
The latest from NLU nods to Tiger’s successful comeback over the weekend. Own the latest Tiger t-shirt from NLU by ordering here.