Sport Golf

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Why Padraig Harrington’s long game was up with the best at the US Open

Padraig Harrington. Pic: Getty Images.
Padraig Harrington. Pic: Getty Images.

Mark Garrod

WANT to know how Webb Simpson won the US Open? Well, do not bother to look at the statistics for the week in San Francisco. All that mattered at the end of the day - at the end of any day, come to that - was that Simpson scored lower than anybody else.

Of the 72 players who contested the final two rounds at the Olympic Club the 26-year-old American ranked a lowly 53rd in driving distance with an average of 278.9 yards.

No surprise to find that, with Masters champion Bubba Watson and Spaniard Alvaro Quiros missing the halfway cut, it was Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts who led the way there.

Colsaerts, who fell back to 27th with a closing 76, had an amazing average of 339.3 yards - almost 22 yards longer than next-best Angel Cabrera and an incredible 86 yards longer than bottom-ranked Sergio Garcia.

Simpson ranked 13th in fairways hit for the week with 31 out 56. Italian Francesco Molinari was best in that category. He found 39, but finished only 29th in the tournament.

South African Branden Grace was worst with a mere 10 out of 56, eight fewer than anybody else.

In greens found in regulation - one shot for par threes, two for par fours and three for par fives - Simpson ranked 16th with his 42 out of 72.

Best there was compatriot Jason Dufner with 50. Worst was Australian Alistair Presnell with 30.

Simpson had 114 putts in the four rounds, an average of 28.5 a day. But that placed him only 18th in that category. Joint runner-up Michael Thompson led the way with 107, while Zach Johnson, Hiroyuki Fujita and Jonathan Byrd were joint worst with 125.

In trying to draw conclusions from the championship, perhaps the most revealing thing was driving distance.

There are weeks on tour in America and Europe where hitting the ball almost out of sight appears to matter more than anything, but not so on this occasion.

Of the top eight finishers only Padraig Harrington finished in the top 20 for length off the tee.

The Dubliner came 18th with an average of 292.8, while Simpson was 53rd, runners-up Thompson and Graeme McDowell 52nd and 47th respectively and alongside Harrington in fourth spot were David Toms and Dufner (both 49th), John Petersen in 37th and Jim Furyk down in 64th.

On the European Tour this season Colsaerts is still being edged out by Quiros - 318 yards to 317.6.

It does not mean any more than bragging rights, of course, but it promises to be some contest. Quiros has topped the list four of the past five years, Colsaerts took the prize off him in 2010.

As for the Olympic Club itself, the 489-yard par four proved to be the toughest, playing to an average of over 4.5.

Significantly, Simpson played it in one under par. He parred it the first three days and in the final round began a decisive run of four birdies in five holes there.

The easiest hole was the reachable long 17th. That had an average of 4.7 compared to the 5.3 of the controversial 16th.

That hole started out the week as the longest in major history at 670 yards. For the final round many of the players, including joint leader at the time Furyk, were surprised and thrown by the fact that it had been cut over 100 yards.

To get close or on the green in two that meant a big hook off the tee, but Furyk overdid it and hit into the trees just ahead of him.

He was not on the green in four, took a bogey six and could not get back on terms with Simpson.

With golf back in the Olympics in four years' time - after a gap of 112 years - the number of countries with emerging talents is growing all the time.

You can now add Swaziland to the list. Their 20-year-old Nobuhle Dlamini is currently ranked second in the world among women amateurs after a stunning run of results in southern Africa.

In winning a match play tournament last month Dlamini was through a green at a par five with a drive and six-iron and on a 368-yard par four she finished less than 50 yards from the green off the tee.

And, just to show she is not just about power, she chipped in for eagle at that par five.

The youngster attends the University of Pretoria, where she is studying for a sports science degree, and her long list of victories this season include their club championship - with rounds of 62 and 63 for a 19-under-par total.

What golfers and therefore what countries qualify for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro will be determined by the world rankings.

The current plan is for 60-strong fields in both the men's and women's events and after offering places to the world top 15 at the time nations will be limited to only two players, offering the chance for the likes of Dlamini to do battle for a medal with the stars of the game.

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