Monday 26 September 2016

Johnson doubles up to seize on Day's rare slip

James Corrigan

Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy plays a shot from an awkward lie at the third hole during the final round of the French Open. Photo: Dominique Faget/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy plays a shot from an awkward lie at the third hole during the final round of the French Open. Photo: Dominique Faget/Getty Images

Dustin Johnson made it two wins from two starts when he surged to the Bridgestone Invitational title to add to the US Open crown he won a fortnight ago.

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A second consecutive 66 over the weekend saw the American win by one shot from Scott Piercey while Jason Day's challenge fell away at the death and he finished two shots further back alongside Matt Kuchar, Kevin Chappell and Jordan Spieth.

Day chipped in for eagle on the second hole as he looked to keep up his exceptional season but he only managed to pick up one more shot in the round and a disastrous two hole stretch on the back nine ruined his hopes.

Firstly, on 15, he bogeyed the tricky par three before finding the water on the next hole and signing for a double bogey seven on the par five as his hopes slipped away.

Up ahead, Johnson seized his opportunity with a birdie on 17 and while he dropped a shot on the last, it was still enough for him to comfortably claim victory.

Shane Lowry continued his improvement as the tournament progressed when he carded a 68 in the final round, however, rounds of 76, 72 and 70 meant he never had any real hope of retaining his title and eventually finished in a tie for 36th

On the European Tour, Rory McIlroy was upstaged by Thongchai Jaidee who, in contrast to the Holywood boy wonder, did not take up the game until he was 16 and then only after finding the head of a five-iron and attaching it to a bamboo stick. After a decade in the Royal Army, in which he made more than 60 jumps as a paratrooper, Jaidee turned pro at 30.

Now 46, Jaidee is not really that much more experienced than McIlroy. Yet, with the biggest win of his career, he showed that on his day he can match the very best in quality and, courtesy of this four-shot triumph at the French Open, after a brilliant final-round 68 and an 11-under total, he rises into the world's top 40. Jaidee has performed many leaps in his time, but perhaps none as significant as this.

"I played great this week, no complaints at all," Jaidee said, with the trademark humility which has made him such a favourite in the European Tour locker rooms.

"Going out today, I had Rory two shots behind me, but I played my own game, hit a lot of fairways and greens. And I knew this week I was putting well. This is huge for me."

Birdies on the 11th and 15th effectively sealed victory for Jaidee and lifted him from 57th in the world rankings into the top 50.

McIlroy could not land a blow, eventually signing for a level-par 71 which left him in third, one behind the Italian Francesco Molinari, whose best-of-the-day 66 hauled him to seven-under and into the Ryder Cup frame.

With double points on offer at Le Golf National because of this being the 100th edition of the oldest pro tournament on the continent, the Europe captain Darren Clarke was taking plenty of notice.

And he saw Andy Sullivan, the young Englishman, taking a triple-bogey down the 18th when seemingly booked in for a tie for second. A par would have gone a long way to making Sullivan odds-on to make the team for Hazeltine, but, after coming in tied for fifth on four-under after a 70, he stays in the final automatic qualifying berth nervously looking over his shoulder.

McIlroy has no such worries; his primary focus is next week's Open at Royal Troon. The world No 4 arrived in Versailles not quite knowing what to expect, having changed his grip after last month's missed cut at the US Open. McIlroy is still trying to counter a "strong" left-hand and make it all feel natural again and, in that sense, finishing on the podium was no mean feat.

"It's been a good week to see where I'm at with my game," McIlroy said. "There are things I need to work on, though, and I've got 10 days until the Open starts. I'm going to be working every day to try to get it better and will play a bit of links golf to work on the shots I need for Troon as well. Even though this week it didn't feel that good, I'm obviously doing some things right."

Remarkably, McIlroy has never played the famous Ayrshire links. Together with coach Michael Bannon and caddy JP Fitzgerald, he will take a reconnaissance mission in the next few days and, in his words, "work out what I need to".

Pádraig Harrington banked €30,100 for finishing tied 30th on three-over par after a fine closing round of 67 which went some way towards atoning for a disastrous 77 on Saturday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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