Sport Golf

Sunday 4 December 2016

Journeyman Taylor pips Mickelson in closing drama

William S Callahan

Published 15/02/2016 | 02:30

Vaughn Taylor celebrates after making his putt on the 16th hole. Photo: USA Today Sports
Vaughn Taylor celebrates after making his putt on the 16th hole. Photo: USA Today Sports

Journeyman pro Vaughn Taylor came out of the doldrums to claim the glory and the $1.26million first prize in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

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Taylor, 39, who won the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2004 and 2005, and played the Ryder Cup in The K Club in 2006, has struggled with health and swing issues since 2010.

But all that was forgotten in the glow of a superb victory that gets his career right back on track.

Taylor shot a closing 65 for 17 under par to pip overnight leader Phil Mickelson by just a shot.

Mickelson, 45, has not won since the Open Championship in 2013 and was desperate to end a 938-day drought since that victory.

The five-time Major winner birdied the 17th to get within a shot of Taylor. He found the fairway on the last hole, and played his second to just in front of the green.

Down in two for a playoff was all he needed ... but Mickelson's attempt from six feet amazingly lipped out of the hole and he was left on 72 for 16 under par 271.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington raised hopes of a final-day surge up the leaderboard on the Pebble Beach course when he finished the first 54 holes on nine-under par.

But Harrington launched a blitz of the wrong kind on his first nine on Sunday.

Instead of a barrage of birdies, he had five bogeys, two pars and two birdies on his outward half.

One of those birdies was a two on the iconic, 106-yard, par-3 7th hole.

He turned in 39, leaving him at -6 for the tournament and then steadied the ship on the back nine.

Harrington reeled off three pars before slotting a five-foot birdie putt on the 13th hole. He then played par golf up to the finish for 74 and 280, seven-under par overall.

Shane Lowry started the round at one-under par for the tournament. Playing from the 10th tee, he was two over after four holes, following bogeys on the 12th and 13th.

But from then on, Lowry got a grip on his game and notched his first birdie of the day on the par-3, 17th, his eighth hole.

He carded three more birdies on the homeward stretch for a 70 and three-under par 284.

World number one Jordan Spieth had a rare Sunday when he had no chance of winning, but shot 66 for seven-under par alongside Harrington.

Spieth criticised himself for a degree of complacency and will demand a better performance next time out.

Secret

Meanwhile, Charl Schwartzel turned the final round of the tournament, which is a co-sanctioned event between the European and Sunshine Tours, into a victory march.

The secret? A long break from golf, one of the longest of his career.

Schwartzel, 31, left his clubs down in early December following the Nedbank Challenge, and did not return to action until last Thursday when he teed it up at Pretoria CC.

The freshness and renewed appetite for the game showed itself in Schwartzel's golf as he moved from a one shot lead going into yesterday's final round, to a win by an impressive eight shot margin ahead of second placed Jeff Winther of Denmark.

Schwartzel could do no wrong as he buzzed around the par-70 layout in a 63 for a 264 total - 16-under par - to clinch his 11th win on the European Tour International schedule.

The South African, who was the Masters champion in 2011, has become the first multiple winner of the 2016 season, as he also claimed the Alfred Dunhill Championship title at Leopard Creek, South Africa, last November.

He now hopes to extend his success beyond home shores, as seven of his last eight Tour wins have come in South Africa, dating back to the 2010 Africa Open.

The Masters win five years ago shows he has the ability to perform away from familiar surroundings, and the Johannesburg native hopes to build on this success for the rest of the season.

Schwartzel's putting was the highlight of his fourth round performance yesterday.

"In the first three rounds I gave myself so many chances. If I had the stroke I had today, it probably would have been my best tournament ever.

"It's just frustrating when you don't putt very well and you don't convert, and to make the putts when it counts, that's even more satisfying.

"Everything is sort of falling into place. I've worked really hard leading up to this and it's just been feeling good, so everything has got some really good signs, so I'm excited," he said.

There was no Irish interest at the Tshwane Open over the weekend as Peter Lawrie and Kevin Phelan had missed the cut and Ruaidhri McGee was forced to withdraw through illness after round one.

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