Monday, July 15, 2013

Magical Mickelson is King of the Castle

Phil Mickelson claimed his first victory in a regular European Tour event at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open thanks to a typically magical chip on the first extra hole of a play-off against Branden Grace. Mickelson is famed for his short game prowess, and the four-time Major winner showed exactly why after making light of a bare lie to stop his wedge shot on the par five 18th hole within a matter of inches of the cup. Having tapped in for birdie, Mickelson watched on as Grace’s valiant attempt to follow him in from 30 feet drifted past the hole, so handing the American the win and, with it, a cheque for €579,079. Mickelson’s victory is the ideal warm-up for next week’s Open Championship at Muirfield, where he will attempt to lift the Claret Jug for the first time. Mickelson said: “It’s very special for me to have some success over here, in the Home of Golf. It’s been the biggest challenges of my career, adapting to links style golf, and this was a great challenge for me this final round in some difficult conditions on firm ground. I played some good golf to come out on top, and this is really fulfilling and special.  “I don’t think there’s a better way to get ready for The Open Championship than playing well the week before and getting into contention, and coming out on top just gives me more confidence.” To his credit, Grace refused to be too downhearted after coming mightily close to adding to his haul of four European Tour titles. Earlier in the day, the South African had set the clubhouse target on 17 under par after closing with a round of 69 at Castle Stuart Golf Links, in Inverness. Mickelson was on 18 under par playing the last but, after rushing his five foot birdie attempt past the hole, he also missed his par putt coming back to sign for a round of 69 and set up a play-off.  Grace was unable to take advantage of his unexpected reprieve, however, conceding he had always expected Mickelson to produce something special in extra time. He said: “I hit what I thought was a great third shot in the play-off, but it just came up short and I left myself with a bit much to do. You just imagine that he’s going to do something special with the lob wedge in his hand, and that’s what happened “Obviously you’re going to be disappointed missing in a play-off, but it’s just one of those things. I played great and the game is there, so it’s nice getting this confident heading into next week.” For much of the day, it looked like neither man would win, with unheralded Dane JB Hansen and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson taking it in turns to lead the tournament. Remarkably, Hansen recovered from a quadruple bogey nine at the second hole with six birdies – five of them in succession from the third – to reach the turn in 34. After carding further birdies at the tenth and 14th holes, he appeared on course to claim his maiden European Tour title in spectacular fashion, only to drop three shots in his last four holes to fall back to 15 under par. That left the door ajar for Stenson who, after moving to 18 under par with back-to-back birdies from the tenth hole, had seemed set to capture his first piece of silverware after winning the SA Open Championship at the end of last year. But after bogeying the 13th hole and dropping further shots at the 16th and 17th, he had to be content with a share of third place alongside Hansen.

Monday, July 08, 2013

G-Mac masters Le Golf National

Graeme McDowell won the Alstom Open de France to claim his third title of 2013 at Le Golf National. McDowell, who in his last eight tournaments has missed the cut five times and won the other three, carded a brilliant closing 67 at Le Golf National to finish nine under par, four clear of South Africa's Richard Sterne, who had been only one behind until bogeys at the 16th and 17th allowed McDowell a victory march down the 18th fairway. Sterne eventually did well to par the 18th for a final round of 71 to make sure of outright second, with 2007 winner Graeme Storm and Spain's Eduardo de la Riva a shot behind. McDowell missed the cut in last week's Irish Open but reaped the rewards of staying on at Carton House over the weekend to work on his game, the first prize of €500,000 euros taking him within €30,000 of US Open Champion Justin Rose at the top of The Race to Dubai. "It's very special after the last couple of months," McDowell admitted. "It's been a bit of a battle. It's been a funny year. My game has not felt far away most weeks but I have missed a lot more cuts than normal and missing cuts hurts. "It certainly motivated me a lot the last few weeks. The US Open was a tough one to take and missing the cut in Ireland last week; it made me more hungry to want to be in positions like I was this afternoon. “To win a title as prestigious as the French Open over a course that I think is the best we play on The European Tour, is very special and something I will remember for a long time.” McDowell was quick to extol the virtues of Le Golf National as a Ryder Cup host venue, with the Versailles course set to host the biennal match between Europe and the United States in 2018. “It's going to be a phenomenal venue come 2018,” he said. “I think the guys, Jean Van de Velde and his team, have done a fantastic job here. This golf course has got better and better every year and I think we are in for one of the greatest Ryder Cups of all time in a few years' time, and I just hope I can be here for that.”

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Rose blooms in June

Justin Rose made history when he became the first English winner of the US Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970, and his phenomenal achievement has been further recognised with him being named The Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Month for June. Rose, who receives an engraved alms dish and a Jeroboam of Moët & Chandon champagne, compiled rounds of 71-69-71-70 on Merion’s East Course to claim the title by two shots ahead of Australian Jason Day and American Phil Mickelson and become the first English winner of a Major Championship since Sir Nick Faldo secured the Masters Tournament for a third time in 1996. Rose, who is currently Number One in The 2013 Race to Dubai and third in the Official World Golf Ranking, said: "It's an honour to be recognised, especially considering the calibre of play exhibited on the European Tour this past month. It was a thrill to bring England its first U.S. Open victory since Tony Jacklin's win in 1970. I look forward to continuing this form throughout The 2013 Race To Dubai." The Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Month Panel, comprising members of the Association of Golf Writers as well as commentators from television and radio, were unanimous in their choice of Rose who, at the age of 32, was making his 37th appearance in a Major Championship. Nevertheless the Panel also recognised the winning performances of South Africa’s Ernie Els, who at the age of 43 captured his 28th European Tour title and 68th worldwide with his BMW International Open triumph, Dutchman Joost Luiten (Lyoness Open powered by Greenfinity), Ireland’s Simon Thornton (Najeti Hotels et Golfs Open presented by Neuflize OBC), England’s Paul Casey (Irish Open) and American Brooks Koepka who, with three wins in seven tournaments on the Challenge Tour, automatically earned a place on The European Tour. Iain Carter, Golf Correspondent of BBC Radio Five Live, said: “This was another outstanding month for European Tour players but the vote simply had to go to Justin Rose for his landmark victory that will be remembered as one of the finest performances ever to win a Major Championship. Justin coped best with a classic and difficult golf course to beat a high quality field and prove unquestionably that he is a thoroughly deserving Major Champion.” Rose will now be considered – along with previous winners Chris Wood (January), Darren Fichardt (February), Marcel Siem (March), Raphaël Jacquelin (April) and Matteo Manassero (Italy) – for The 2013 Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Year Award, and all will be seeking to follow in the footsteps of last year’s winner, Rory McIlroy.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Stylish Casey seals Irish Open

Paul Casey produced a grandstand finish to seal a sensational victory in the Irish Open, completing a superb return to form with his first European Tour victory in two-and-a-half years. The Englishman took a one shot lead over in-form Dutchman Joost Luiten into the last hole but looked in trouble when his tee shot ran close to a tree. Instead, the former Ryder Cup player had a clear shot and found the green with his superb approach before holing a dramatic 45 foot eagle putt to sign off a three shot victory in style. It proved to be the perfect return to Carton House for the 35 year old, who admitted he had ‘lost’ the title to Thomas Björn when The European Tour last visited the Co. Kildare venue in 2006. This time Casey had plenty of work to do to win it after starting the day four strokes behind overnight Luiten, who won in Austria earlier in the month. After seven consecutive pars, Casey’s challenge ignited with five birdies in six holes from the eighth to move three shots clear at the top of the leaderboard. That cushion was reduced to one with bogeys at the 15th and 16th, before he sealed his 12th European Tour title in style, with the closing eagle adding up to a final round 67 and a 14 under par winning total of 274. “It’s incredibly sweet,” said Casey. “It’s been a while and when that putt went in half of it was relief and half of it was satisfaction. “I always wanted a grandstand finish and I got one. I’ve never holed a putt like that to win a tournament. “I don't think I quite realised the list of names who have won The Irish Open until I was presented with the trophy. But I've always held golf in Ireland in a special place in my heart, and it is at the highest level. The Irish fans are the best. I've always felt so at home here, so winning today is like a home victory.” Casey has been slowly returning to his best after breaking his collarbone whilst snowboarding at the start of 2012 season, an accident which came as he was preparing to defend the last European Tour title he won, the 2011 Volvo Golf Champions. The former World Number three tumbled down the Official World Golf Ranking as he tried to recover from the injury and a subsequent loss of form, but he is now set to return to the top 100 after starting the week ranked 162nd. “There was a period where I really struggled with getting the shoulder back to where I wanted it,” he said. “In hindsight, did I come back too early? Probably, because the swing changed, trying to protect the shoulder, which led to a knock‑on snowball into losing confidence, because the swing had changed and I was not hitting the shots I wanted to hit. “When you're playing great golf, you have no idea how you ever played bad golf. And when you play bad golf, you've got no clue how you ever played good golf.” Overnight leader Luiten carded the only birdie of his round on the final hole to sign for a 74 and finish joint runner up with Englishman Robert Rock (71) on 11 under par. Spaniard Pablo Larrazábal finished fourth after a closing 75, while a trio of his compatriots, José María Olazábal, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Alvaro Quiros, shared fifth place with Northern Ireland’s Gareth Shaw and Shane Lowry, Carton House’s Touring Professional, who closed with a 69.