Monday, October 28, 2013

Fernandez-Castano captures BMW Masters

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño produced a superb display in Shanghai to win his seventh European Tour title at the BMW Masters presented by SRE Group, the first event of the Final Series. Fernandez-Castaño’s closing round of 68 gave him an 11 under par aggregate winning total at Lake Malaren Golf Club, finishing one shot ahead of Seve Trophy team-mate Francesco Molinari – who started the day six shots off the pace – and Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee. The Spaniard endured a wobble at the final hole, where he found two bunkers en route to a double bogey six, but his earlier exploits had given him enough of a cushion to capture his third BMW-sponsored event, following victory in last year’s Italian Open and the 2006 Asian Open. Despite a front nine of 34, Molinari’s prospects of securing victory seemed to have disappeared with a bogey at the 12th hole. But the Ryder Cup star then embarked on a remarkable run, notching an eagle on the par five 13th and following that up with four birdies in succession to join Fernandez-Castaño on ten under. Fernandez-Castaño edged back into the lead with a birdie on the 13th and looked to have sealed a comfortable win with further gains at the 15th and 17th, where he chipped in from just over the green. He made hard work of the last, however, finding sand off the tee and another bunker with his third shot before holding his nerve to collect the winner’s cheque for €851,346 and, with it, a place in next week’s lucrative WGC-HSBC Champions event, the second tournament in the Final Series. He said: “It’s the first event of the first ever Final Series and I got the victory, so it doesn’t get any better than that. This win has come along at just the right time – I wasn’t in the HSBC next week, and also it’s perfect timing because it’s The Ryder Cup qualification period right now. There’s never a bad time for a victory, but this has been just perfect. “It seems that I always play well at this event – it’s probably the whole atmosphere. BMW is one of the great supporters of The European Tour through the years, they know how to run events and they make the players feel so comfortable. “And it was great to see the crowds this week, they have been pretty amazing. They were definitely bigger than in previous years, and that just shows that golf is growing here in China. There’s so much potential, and the country has a very bright future ahead.” Joint overnight leader Luke Guthrie of America finished in fourth place on nine under par after closing with a 71.  The lowest round of the day was posted by defending champion Peter Hanson, who surged from joint 31st overnight into a tie for eighth place courtesy of a 63 which included 11 birdies.  His fellow Swede Henrik Stenson also made the most of the more benign conditions, closing with a round of 65 to finish in a tie for 34th place and extend his lead over Graeme McDowell at the top of The Race to Dubai Rankings.

Hopkins out boxes Murat

IBF Light Heavyweight Champion Bernard "The Alien" Hopkins (54-6-2, 32 KO's) became the oldest fighter in history to defend a world title, breaking his own record by defeating European challenger Karo Murat (25-2-1, 15 KO's). The 48-year-old "Executioner" turned "Alien" out-worked and out-brawled his 30-year-old challenger and won via clear unanimous decision in front of his hometown crowd at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The fight, promoted by Golden Boy Promotions in association with Caesars Atlantic City, headlined an entertaining three-fight SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING event. Hopkins appeared to start the night slow, but Hopkins' combinations, speed and power grew each round. By the seventh, Hopkins and Murat exchanged wild power shots in spurts for the rest of the bout. Amidst these exchanges, Hopkins used his signature defense, angles and gamesmanship to mentally and physically deflate Murat. The judges scored the fight 117-110 and 119-108, twice for the champion. "Richard Schaefer said we needed to be crowd pleasers," said Hopkins, the oldest champion in sports history. "The crowd wanted to see skill and blood so I had some blood to give them. I am an entertainer and this is what people want to see... He was a game number one contender." When asked by SHOWTIME ringside reporter Jim Gray if Murat brought out the best in him, Hopkins answered, "Not really, but he didn't bring out the worst either." Regarding the slow start, Hopkins said, "That was the plan. That was the bone on the string so that the dog could follow him into a dark alley and then realize someone was waiting on him. And that dog was me." Hopkins continued, "He throws pretty good punches and he is no one to sleep on. He is going to give some light heavyweights a bit of a problem." When Gray asked Hopkins how he stays in such phenomenal shape at age 48, Hopkins replied, "I'm a freaking alien." Gray then spoke to Murat who said, "Bernard is a good boxer and I lost concentration due to the two cuts which came by head butts. I know that when I am in good shape I can beat him, however, the cuts disturbed me."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jin is the tonic in Perth

Jin Jeong put the seal on a remarkable victory in the ISPS HANDA Perth International by defeating Ross Fisher in a sudden-death play-off to win a dream ticket to The European Tour. The 23 year old Korean started the day one behind home favourite Brody Ninyette, but made a nightmare start to his final round at Lake Karrinyup with a four-putt double bogey before recovering to shoot a three under par 69 and match Fisher’s ten under clubhouse target. Birdies at the fourth and fifth atoned for Jeong’s early blunder, but it was only when Ninyette dropped his first shot of the day at the 13th that the Australian was caught. Jeong made important par putts at the 16th and 17th as Ninyette’s challenge faded, but when Fisher hit his tee shot to within a foot at the 17th and birdied the two were tied and neither could birdie the last. On their return down the 18th for the first play-off hole Fisher caught a flyer with his approach and went through the green, leaving Jeong two putts to sew up the title. “I was nervous, I was shaking but I controlled myself pretty well all day I thought,” said former World Amateur Number One Jeong. “I don't know what I've done to be honest. “I was struggling quite a bit when I was turning pro, but it was going to happen in the learning circuit I guess. “I had played play-offs in mini tour events, but playing with Ross Fisher, he's one of my heroes. Playing with him in the play-off, it was unbelievable.” Jeong, who has featured on The Challenge Tour this season, had recently progressed through the First Stage of The European Tour Qualifying School, but now earns a two-year exemption to The European Tour. “I was going to go back to Q School Second Stage the week after next but I guess I don't have to anymore,” he added.  Former Ryder Cup star Fisher consoled himself with a runner-up cheque that sees him climb into the top 60 of The Race to Dubai and should qualify him for the DP World Tour Championship. “Obviously it would have been lovely to have come here and won, but that's golf,” said Fisher, who carded a closing 68.“Unfortunately I came up a little bit short, but I can be very pleased the way I played today. I hung in there really well; it was always going to be tough. “There are some good names up there and I knew I needed to just play really well. I felt like I did that. Hats off to Jin for winning his first professional tournament.” Ninyette’s closing 72 saw him tie for third with compatriot Dimitrios Papadatos and England’s Danny Willett. As Jin celebrated his life-changing victory, there was also joy for Peter Lawrie, whose closing two under par 70 was good enough to earn him a share of 18th spot on three under and win enough money to move into the top 110 in The Race to Dubai and keep his status on The European Tour for next season. While tour winners Richard Finch, Fredrik Andersson Hed and Peter Hedblom, along with Oliver Fisher and Joel Sjoholm, could not do enough to avoid a trip to the Qualifying School in November, Lawrie can relax and get ready for a new season. The Irishman had actually moved into contention to win the tournament early in the day but the pressure of trying to keep his tour card meant he was never really focused on winning.  “I'm just glad it's over to be totally honest with you,” he said. “I've never felt so much pressure in my life as I have the last eight weeks. You can't sleep, can't eat properly, it's just horrendous. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. “I got off to a great start today and could have pressed on and tried to win the tournament but coming down the stretch trying to get the job finished without making a mental error or doing something stupid proved too much in terms of trying to get the win. “Hopefully I’ll fly home and probably sleep for a change. Go home and be with the family and stop being grumpy. I've been that soldier for the last while so it will be nice to not have to worry for a while.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Price is Right for Booth

British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion David Price has officially hooked up with London-based trainer Adam Booth in an attempt to rebuild his career and climb the heavyweight ladder. The move comes following back-to-back defeats to American Tony Thompson, and Price believes he has now found the man to unlock his undoubted potential. “It's a fresh start,” he said. “I can leave behind what has happened but know that I've learnt from it. I've got the passion back now and am looking forward to getting in shape and putting a few things right. “To begin with I contacted a handful of world-class trainers and asked Adam if I could have a chat and perhaps get some advice. When I first turned pro I was signed by Hayemaker and only left because of the television situation at the time. Adam pointed me in the right direction after that – and advised me to go with Frank Maloney – and I've always valued his opinion. So, after a brief chat, I brought up the idea of him possibly training me and we decided to have a meeting. I assumed he wanted to see what kind of frame of mind I was in. “We did a few sessions together just to see how it would work, and he then agreed to train me. I was made up about that because I know Adam is very selective when it comes to choosing fighters to work with. “I've got a good feeling about this move, and truly believe Adam is the man to bring out my true potential.” Always an admirer of Price's rangy skills, Booth, though selective, liked the idea of taking another British heavyweight towards the sport's greatest prize.  “I've always seen massive potential in David and have always been interested in working with him on a full-time basis,” said Booth. “In addition to being a talented fighter, he's also a very nice guy and someone who is good for the gym and good for me. I like his personality and I like what he stands for. “But he's also much more than a nice guy. He's a big heavyweight, standing at six-foot-eight, and he punches harder than anyone I've ever taken on the pads. David has enough power in his right hand to knock out anybody in the heavyweight division. Now we need to add other things to his game to enable him to land his shots and once again feel comfortable in the ring.” Of course, Price's physical attributes have never been in question. A former 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, the Liverpudlian ripped through each of the heavyweights he encountered during the formative stages of his pro career. But then came Tony Thompson. And now the rebuilding job begins. “The mental side of the game is a big issue for me, and that's something Adam spends a lot of time thinking about and working on,” added Price. “Even just sitting down and having a chat with him, I can tell we share a lot of the same ideas about the sport and about life. We've both got the same outlook, and this should make it very easy to gel. He has helped me get a few things off my chest recently, which has made me feel like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. It's a good feeling.  “Also, going with Adam means I'll be working alongside other top-class fighters like David Haye and Andy Lee, and I'll benefit from all the sparring partners that get brought over during training camps. This kind of world-class sparring can only bring out the best in me.  “Ultimately, I know I've made the right choice and I know this move will take me to that next level.”


Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Stenson acknowledged Again

Henrik Stenson has become the first player since fellow Swede Robert Karlsson in 2008 to win successive Race to Dubai Golfer of the Month Awards. Stenson, who receives an engraved alms dish and a Jeroboam of Moët & Chandon champagne, followed his success in August by being named The Race to Dubai Golfer of the Month for September. The 37 year old claimed the honour during a month when there was a wonderful sequence of winners on The 2013 European Tour International Schedule, with Denmark’sThomas Björn (Omega European Masters), Holland’s Joost Luiten (The KLM Open), France’s Julien Quesne (70° OPEN D’ITALIA LINDT) and England’s David Howell (Alfred Dunhill Links Championship) all successful in addition to Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant capturing the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship. Stenson, who won the Tour Championship by Coca-Cola to finish Number One in the FedEx Cup on the US PGA Tour, said: “All this success is way beyond what I could have imagined. Since the Scottish Open, it’s been just an incredible run. I’m speechless, but really satisfied.” Derek Lawrenson, Golf Correspondent of the Daily Mail and a member of The Race to Dubai European Tour Golf of the Year Panel, comprising members of the Association of Golf Writers as well as commentators from television and radio, said: “The wise man who came up with the saying ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ would have enjoyed the exceptional month of September for European golf. “It began with Thomas Björn’s first win for two years at the Omega European Masters, ended with David Howell’s first win for seven years at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and sandwiched in between was renaissance man Henrik Stenson. “All Ryder Cup players, all have known hard times and yet all have shown reserves of resilience and determination that are the hallmark of players at this level. All are deserving of this award, but in the end the panel went for Stenson for capping his astonishing summer with a marvellous double success in America.” Chris Wood (January), Darren Fichardt (February), Marcel Siem (March), Raphaël Jacquelin (April), Matteo Manassero (May), Justin Rose (June) and Graeme McDowell (July), all previous recipients of awards this year, will now with Stenson be considered for The 2013 Race to Dubai European Tour Golfer of the Year Award.

Continental Europe beat GB & Ireland

Continental Europe ended a 13 year wait for victory in the Seve Trophy by Golf+ after defeating Great Britain & Ireland 15-13 in a thrilling encounter at Saint -Nom-La-Bretèche, on the outskirts of Paris. José María Olazábal’s side won an absorbing singles session 6-4, with Francesco Molinari taking the anchor role as he did for the Spaniard in The Ryder Cup at Medinah last year. On that occasion he claimed a half point against Tiger Woods as Europe defeated the United States, but the Italian went one better against Chris Wood, holing a six foot birdie putt on the 16th to overcome the Englishman 3&2. That sealed Continental Europe’s first victory in the biennial competition since the inaugural contest in 2000, and also ended Great Britain & Ireland’s winning streak of six in a row.“This feels great for us,” said Molinari. “I played the last two before this, and it's never good to finish on the losing side, so we tried really hard. It was funny yesterday when Olazábal was reading the list, I kind of knew I was going to be last, but I was waiting every name, hoping to hear mine, and I didn't until the tenth spot. “I tried to stay away from the leaderboards as much as possible today, but then obviously you see everyone coming up to your match and watching you. I tried not to do the maths, but I realised that I needed a half a point, so I wasn't going to hit my putt too firm obviously on the 16th. But it's good to finish in style.” Great Britain & Ireland captain Sam Torrance had been forced to send his team out without the injured Simon Khan, whose back problem meant he could not face Molinari in the original final match up. Thomas Björn was the man to miss out in turn for the Continental European’s, the Dane having gallantly volunteered to be ‘in the envelope’ as the nominated player in order to allow some of his younger teammates chance to gain more match play experience. Those youngsters duly delivered, with home favourite Grégory Bourdy becoming the first player in the tournament’s history to win five points out of five, some sumptuous iron play helping him overcome Scott Jamieson 4 and 3. Joost Luiten had been chasing the same record but Tommy Fleetwood upset the form book to claim his first point of the week with a 3 and 2 victory over the Dutchman. Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, another of Olazábal’s heroes from Medinah, held his nerve from five feet on the final green to see off Paul Casey following an epic duel, while Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño halved the opening singles match with Jamie Donaldson. Marc Warren defeated Thorbjørn Olesen 4 and 3 to square the contest again at 12-12, but by then Continental Europe had full control of three of the last four ties. Miguel Angel Jiménez had four birdies in his first six holes as he beat David Lynn 6 and 4, with the Englishman struggling due to illness. Matteo Manassero delivered a short-game masterclass to see off Stephen Gallacher 3 and 2 to take Europe to the 14-point mark, before Paul Lawrie produced a magnificent chip of his own on the 17th to set up a 2 and 1 victory over Mikko Ilonen, closing the overall score to 14-13. That meant the contest went down to the final match, where Molinari was two up with three holes to play against Wood – who had dropped down the order after Khan’s withdrawal. And cheered on by Olazábal, just as he was at Medinah 12 months ago, Molinari was embraced by his captain and teammates, as Continental Europe clinched an historic win, with the Italian holding his nerve on the 16th green. Olazábal said: “Obviously I’m very emotional right now because this has been a tough day with everything going to the last match. But the boys played really well and I’m very, very happy to have won the Seve Trophy again after 13 years. “We know that starting the singles session all level, it was going to go down to the last three or four matches at least. We had a pretty good start, then Great Britain and Ireland took over and we started to see some red on the board. “But the boys kept their composure and played really well, especially in those last few matches, they played really great golf and we managed to come out on top. I also think the first two matches were crucial, to get a point and a half out of those two, it was big. “This is obviously a team contest but I must make special mention of Grégory Bourdy who was absolutely fantastic, especially playing in his home country and in front of his own people. The way he played, being a rookie, he did extraordinary well. Everyone contributed, but Greg did it in a big way.” Torrance, who led Europe to Ryder Cup victory in 2002 at The Belfry, paid tribute to the winning side as well as his own battling players. The Scot said: “The Continental European side were very strong and congratulations to them on the victory. We gave it everything, but we just came up short. “It was always in the balance and although it got a bit difficult for us midway through the afternoon, we never gave up and fought back. Chris Wood holed a great putt on the 15th to keep his match going and give us hope, but it was a fantastic birdie by Francesco Molinari on the 16th to finish it off. “So well done to José María and his team, and I think it’s also fair to say that golf was the winner as it was a wonderful event. The taste of defeat is never great, but we will learn from it and come back stronger next time.”

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Howell holes Out

David Howell ended a seven-year victory drought and a 100 per cent losing record in play-offs by capturing the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on a day of high drama at St Andrews. Howell clinched victory, and with it a cheque for €589,561, by defeating Peter Uihlein with a birdie on the second extra hole after both men had finished on 23 under par. It was Howell’s first win since the 2006 BMW PGA Championship, and moved the affable Englishman – whose amateur playing partner was actor Hugh Grant – to 12th place in The Race to Dubai. Howell had previously lost all four of the play-offs in which he had competed: to Thomas Levet at the 2001 British Masters, to Thomas Björn at the 2005 British Masters, to Stephen Dodd at the 2005 Irish Open, and to Grégory Bourdy at the 2008 Open de Portugal. But after he and Uihlein had both parred the first extra hole, Howell got the proverbial monkey off his back with an eight foot birdie putt on the 18th which sparked scenes of celebration at the ‘Home of Golf’.  It completed a heart-warming tale of redemption for one of the Tour’s most likeable individuals, who revealed some dubious decisions he had made, both on and off the course, contributed to his drastic slide down the World Ranking from a career-high of ninth place in 2006. After making his Ryder Cup debut in 2004, Howell finished seventh and third in the Money List over the next two years, only to lose his way in subsequent seasons. He had been in danger of failing to fulfil his talent, but the endless hours Howell has put in on the practice range with his coach Jonathan Wallet have paid off in spectacular fashion, and the 38 year old is now hopeful of recapturing his former glories. Howell, whose wife Emily is expecting twins in December, said: “It’s been an interesting seven years. We’ve talked a lot about the ups and downs of it all, and the downs were really pretty low.  “I lost my way in life and on the course, as well, but obviously it’s a really sweet moment and life off the course life has never been better. To finally win a massive championship really seals things for me. I’m in a very happy place now – it really doesn’t get much better than winning the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the Home of Golf.” Overnight leader Uihlein, who bogeyed the first hole but rallied with four birdies in a round of 69, was understandably disappointed after coming so close to securing the second victory of his fledgling European Tour career, but could console himself with a cheque for €393,038 which moved the American into the top ten of The Race to Dubai. He said: “Hats off to David, he played great and made a nice birdie on the 18th, so congrats to him. He made more putts than I did at the end of the day, so I’m proud of him. I just didn’t make the putts when I needed to, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.” Third place was shared on 22 under par by England’s Tom Lewis, whose round of 64 was the joint lowest of the day, and Ireland’s Shane Lowry, who had led at one point but dropped costly shots at the 13th and 15th holes.  Lewis’ cheque for €199,194 guarantees him a place on The European Tour next term, whilst Lowry moves into the top 30 of The Race to Dubai.