Bogey blues for Rory McIlroy as Bubba Watson finds groove
Published 22/02/2016 | 02:30
The Northern Trust Open resembled a harum-scarum Grand National start with so many contenders bunched together in the final round at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles yesterday.
But when the dust settled on a dramatic day, this prestigious tournament evolved into a sprint finish before Bubba Watson held off the gritty challenge of Australia's Adam Scott and journeyman pro Jason Kokrak.
Kokrak, 30, who has never won on the PGA Tour, gave his all, but neither he nor Scott could deny a determined Watson, who birdied the 17th to go one shot ahead at 15-under par and sealed the deal with par on the last for 68.
Watson had won the tournament in 2014 and called on all his experience to once again head the leaderboard.
Scott (67) did brilliantly to birdie the last two holes but stalled on 14-under, while Kokrak shot 68 and had to settle for joint second place on that mark.
"It means a lot. For me to come back and win, and pull one out in a tough way, it's very special and it means a lot to me and my family especially," said Watson.
Sadly, there was no joy for Rory McIlroy or Padraig Harrington.
It was a big disappointment after a great start as McIlroy struck an early blow when he eagled the par-5 first hole.
A 304-yard drive, followed by a 191-yard strike to the putting surface was nicely rounded off by McIlroy holing from 23 feet for his three.
Spectators began to brace themselves for a Rory charge, but instead the European Tour's 2015 Race to Dubai winner spluttered and stuttered over his front nine with bogeys on the fourth, sixth and seventh holes.
Out in 36, one-over par for the nine, McIlroy's relevance in the tournament was plummeting, and it got worse.
Further frustration followed on the par-5 11th , where he got out of position with his drive, and instead of a birdie opportunity, McIlroy chipped and two-putted for a bogey six to drop to eight-under.
After 14, the fizz was well and truly gone out of McIlroy's game with two additional bogeys that left him at four over par for the day and six-under for the tournament with five holes to play.
He also bogeyed the 16th and could only smile ruefully at a birdie three on 18 and 75 for the day, eight shots worse than his Saturday round as he finished in a tie for 20th.
Harrington looked as if might force his way into the conversation when he birdied the first hole to move to seven-under, but bogeys on the third and sixth holes halted his momentum.
Then came disaster with a triple-bogey seven on the par-4 seventh hole.
Harrington's tee shot travelled 266 yards into a fairway bunker and from there he ended up in two more bunkers before finally reaching the green in four, where he three-putted from 50 feet.
That left Harrington on four over par for the day, and two under for the tournament.
He recovered his poise and reeled off five successive pars to remain on that mark after 12 holes before a bogey five on the 13th cost him another shot.
There was some small consolation from a birdie four on the 17th where he holed from ten feet, and Harrington went on to par the last for 75 and a two-under par 282 for his week's work.
Meanwhile, Marcus Fraser is the latest wizard of Oz to triumph on the European Tour.
The 37-year-old earned only the third win of his career in the inaugural Maybank Championship Malaysia played at Royal Selangor GC.
He thus joins fellow Australians Marc Leishman and Nathan Holman as winners on the Tour's 2015-16 schedule since it began in November.
Fraser shot a final round 68 for a winning 15-under par total.
South Korea's Simoon Lee and Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines were second on 13-under.
The Aussie, back in the winner's circle five years and 302 days after his Ballantine's Championship, was ecstatic.
"I just tried to keep reminding myself to breathe and to play my own game and see what I could do.
"The last two putts were pretty unbelievable. I was pretty nervous on 17, and I don't know how I held onto the putter, just trying to stand over that one on the last, I was pretty nervous," he said.