Friday 21 July 2017

Supreme Kim sees off Poulter challenge

'Kim began the day two shots off the lead shared by Americans JB Holmes and Kyle Stanley - but birdies on the first, seventh and ninth gave him a two-shot lead at the turn.' (Stock picture)
'Kim began the day two shots off the lead shared by Americans JB Holmes and Kyle Stanley - but birdies on the first, seventh and ninth gave him a two-shot lead at the turn.' (Stock picture)

William S Callahan

In a battle of youth versus experience South Korea's Kim Si-woo came up trumps against a revitalised Ian Poulter to win the Players Championship at Sawgrass last night and a first prize of $1.9million.

The 21-year-old produced a nerveless display to become the youngest ever winner of the tournament while Poulter had to settle for a share of second place.

Kim carded a final round of 69 at Sawgrass to finish 10 under par, three shots ahead of Poulter and former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen.

After his victory in the Wyndham Championship last year, Kim is the fourth player in the last 25 years to win twice on the PGA Tour before the age of 22, following in the footsteps of Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth.

And the 21-year-old is also comfortably the youngest winner of the so-called "fifth major" - surpassing the record set by former world number one Adam Scott, who was 23 when he won in 2004.

Kim began the day two shots off the lead shared by Americans JB Holmes and Kyle Stanley - but birdies on the first, seventh and ninth gave him a two-shot lead at the turn.

Poulter closed the gap with a birdie on the 11th but the 41-year-old Ryder Cup star three-putted the 12th to end his bogey-free run at 39 holes and did well to salvage a bogey at the last after a wild approach into the trees resulted in a penalty drop.

Smacked

That last hole saw Poulter hit one of the shots of the tournament when, from way off course, he smacked his iron shot to a couple of feet.

While there was some frustration at not being able to overhaul the leader it's still a far cry from three weeks ago when Poulter thought he may have lost his PGA Tour card.

Poulter has slipped from a career-high of fifth in the world to 197th and was seemingly without a full PGA Tour card until fellow professional Brian Gay alerted officials to a discrepancy in the points structure used for players competing on major medical extensions.

After playing just 13 tournaments in 2016 due to a foot injury, Poulter had 10 events this season to earn 218 FedEx Cup points or $347,634 to remain fully exempt.

He came up short in both categories after missing the cut in his 10th event last month, but Gay - who was also playing on a medical exemption after back problems - came to the rescue by discovering a difference between the way points were allotted this season compared to a year ago.

However, even though he failed to earn his first tournament victory since 2012, there was still plenty of positives for the Englishman to take away.

Like the rest of the field, Poulter was unable to land a glove on Kim whose nine pars on the back nine meant there was little drama in his three shot victory.

That wasn't the case in Rafeal Cabrera Bello's round, however, as he holed out from 181 yards for the first albatross in tournament history on the 16th, then followed that with another two on the 17th, before holing from 35 feet for par on the last after hooking his tee shot into the water.

Rory McIlroy's week came to a disappointing conclusion with a double-bogey six on the 18th in a closing 75, the world number two finishing two over par overall.

McIlroy is set to undergo an MRI scan today to determine the extent of an injury which hampered his efforts at Sawgrass. The four-time major winner hopes it is not a recurrence of the back and rib problem which kept him out for seven weeks earlier this season.

It was a horrible final round for his compatriot Graeme McDowell, however, as he slumped to the bottom of the field with a final round of 80.

The Portrush man shot 40 on both nines in a round that didn't contain a birdie as he tumbled 39 places down the field to lie on nine over alongside Martin Kaymer and David Hearn.

McDowell's round wasn't as bad as Holmes, however, who saw his round fall apart when, already out of contention, he put the ball in the water twice on 17 and walked off with an 8. He followed that with a double-bogey 6 on the last for a forgettable round of 84.

Meanwhile, England's Matt Wallace held off a two-pronged assault on the final day to claim his first European Tour title with a superb wire-to-wire victory in the Open de Portugal.

Wallace held a five-shot lead at the halfway stage and was still three ahead starting the final round, but saw his advantage reduced to a single shot, first by German Sebastian Heisele and then American Julian Suri.

Waterford man Gary Hurley signed off with a 75 to finish the tournament on six-under.

Elsewhere, Maria Dunne (Skerries) led wire to wire to claim the Irish Women's Open Stroke Play Championship.

Irish Independent

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