Sport Golf

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Thomas holds nerve as Tiger takes a 'big leap'

Tiger Woods lines up a putt at the fourth hole after yesterday’s final round of the Honda Classic. Photo: Getty Images
Tiger Woods lines up a putt at the fourth hole after yesterday’s final round of the Honda Classic. Photo: Getty Images

Brian Keogh

The Bear Trap took a chunk out of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as Justin Thomas beat Luke List at the first extra hole to claim his eighth career win in the Honda Classic.

As McIlroy finished 59th on nine over, his good work undone by a quadruple-bogey seven at the 17th in a three-over 73, Woods' slim title hopes were dashed when he found water and doubled bogeyed the 15th, then three-putted the 16th en route to a 70 - a hugely encouraging 12th place finish on level par.

The title went to Thomas (24), who almost eagled the 18th from 114 yards, tapping in from three feet for a 68, while playing partner List's 69 force a playoff on eight-under par.

Returning to the par-five 18th for sudden-death, the reigning PGA Tour player of the year blasted a 262-yard approach to 40 feet, eventually holing a ticklish three-and-a-half footer for the win as List found rough off the tee and could only make five.

Thomas was only marginally happier than Woods, who felt he took "a big leap" back in just his third comeback event on tour after back surgery.

"I gave myself a chance at it," said Woods, who played the famous three-hole stretch in a costly eight-over par for the week - McIlroy did so in four-over - but was ranked first for proximity to the hole and second for driving distance.

"I was three-under par with four holes to go, and if I get two or three more coming in, I could have posted early.

"I've made a big leap this week because I really hit it well and I was able to control it. It's not easy to do, especially in this wind, and was able to do it for most of the week."

As for McIlroy, his Jekyll and Hyde start to the season continued as his late quadruple bogey undid all his good work on the final day.

Cruising along at two-under for the day, he ballooned his tee shot into the lake at the 170-yard 17th, exclaiming, 'Oh, Rory!' as he put his hands on his head. He then found water again from the drop zone before finally finding dry land at the third attempt.

It was an anti-climactic end to the round for the Co Down man (28), who bogeyed the first and 12th after bunkering tee shots but holed putts of 12, 27, 19 and 38 feet for birdies at the third, fifth, 13th and 15th and missed just one putt inside 10 feet.

On a day when Shane Lowry made six birdies in a morale-boosting 67 to finish tied 49th on seven-over par, McIlroy will be happy with his improvement on the greens but will be less than thrilled with the start of his US season.

After shooting 40-under for eight rounds in the Middle East, finishing third in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and second in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic respectively, he's six-over for the 11 rounds he's played on the PGA Tour so far, breaking par in just three of them.

He doesn't need to be told that his wedge play still needs work while he also hit just 50 percent of his fairways, and only five yesterday, finishing near the back of the field for driving accuracy.

Tough

As Tommy Fleetwood said of playing the tough courses on the US circuit, "whether you play really good or you play really bad, it's such a good judgment of where you are."

His Masters preparations will continue at the Valspar Championship next week as he skips this week's WGC-Mexico Championship, which will also be without Lowry, who needed to win yesterday to qualify.

With just one top-10 finish in 25 US starts since he was tied second in the 2016 US Open, world No 73 Lowry now has just five weeks to win in the US or make the world's top 50 if he's to make a fourth successive Masters start.

On the European Tour, England's Eddie Pepperell survived a late scare from pal Oliver Fisher to claim his maiden victory at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and moves into the world's top 100.

Playing together in the final group, Fisher had a 10-footer for birdie at the 18th to force a play-off but he missed, shooting 71 as Pepperell knocked in a two-footer for a two-under 70 and a one-shot victory on 18-under-par.

"Oli made a great run at the end and certainly put me under a lot of pressure," Pepperell said.

"But I put myself under a little bit myself too, so I'm just happy and relieved."

Irish Independent

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