Almanac Golf: Golf Capital – Matsuyama continues to win, Woods goes low on Friday

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, including a look at Tiger Woods’ return, plus my thoughts for the weekend’s big tournament – the Hong Kong Open.

Opening drive:

Ohio native Harold Varner III won for the first time in 85 professional starts as South African Brandon Stone won for the second time in 2016 at the Leopard Creek Country Club in Malelane but both those victories faded into the background with the return of Tiger Woods who finished 15th in the Hero World Challenge won by Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.

40 year-old Woods finished 14 shots behind winner Hideki Matsuyama (who, with four wins in his last five individual starts, should be the most talked about golfer on the planet) but it was his second round 65 which gave golf fans, and those who take a casual interest in the game, hope that the tournament comeback wasn’t a waste of time. Let’s put to bed the notion that the event, despite the fact it was linked to Woods’ charity was ‘Mickey Mouse’ as has been mentioned in some outlets. Yes Woods gets in on a sponsors’ exemption (so to speak) but the event in the Bahamas was full of top-liners and was worth over USD 1 million in prizemoney (by way of example most PGA Tour events are worth in the range of (USD 1 million to USD 1.6 million.) Was it the low end of the scale prizemoney-wise? Yes. But was it Mickey Mouse? No.

Woods displayed some great iron play at times but he needed it after several woeful tee shots, although he was not alone in taking trips to the fairway bunkers. Even the winner Matsuyama did so. Woods notched 24 birdies so his good was good (including a near hole-in-one on the Friday) but his bad cost him a top ten finish. The 14-time major winner has yet to announce his early 2017 schedule but one can assume it will only feature a handful or tournaments, my guess is five at the most, before the Masters. His recovery will be key and it’s unlikely he plays back to back tournaments.

On the Gold Coast Varner overhauled Andrew Dodt, who entered Sunday with a two-stroke lead, to eventually win by two from Dodt with former winner Adam Scott in third. The American’s third round of 67 kept him well in contention as he attempted to improve on his playoff defeat here last year saw and then matched his opening round of 65 to close with a seven under round. Varner’s finish in what was the last Australasian PGA Tour event means two Americans have won European/Australasian co-sanctioned events this season after Brandt Snedeker won in Fiji. This goes with Jordan Spieth’s Australian Open triumph (although that tournament is not linked with the ET.)

In South Africa Stone was put under pressure when major winner Charl Schwartzel started well enough on Sunday to join him atop the leaderboard before his round of 67 (which included seven birdies) saw him eventually win by a commanding seven strokes from countryman Richard Sterne as Schwartzel slipped down the leaderboard to finish T4.

Player performance notes:
Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. At the time of writing Justin Rose, the defending champion, is due to feature in the Hong Kong Open but his effectiveness after pulling out during the Hero World Challenge with a back injury must be queried. The HK Open will be staged at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling and is co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour.

20 and under: Patrick Reed. Reed closed with a four under round to claim a top 10 spot in the Bahamas. The world number eight won the Barclays in August.

20 to 50: Scott Hend. A winner this year on the ET Hend also lost a playoff in the European Masters which is a strong event when comparing it to this tournament at the end of the year. Hend didn’t have a great summer in Australia based on his overall 2016 form including finishing T10 (13 shots behind Varner) last weekend.

20 to 50: Nacho Elvira. A winner three times on the Challenge Tour (the European Tour’s second-tier) this year. The Spaniard opened with a round of 66 when he played here in 2014 before falling away somewhat but is more consistent nowadays.

50 to 100: Thomas Detry. The Belgian, 23, did well in South Africa last weekend to finish third and has rocketed up the rankings to 195 after starting the year well outside the top 1000.

50 to 100: Soomin Lee. The Korean shot a final round 64 to finish T3 behind Rose last year and with Rose possibly missing he has a bigger chance.

100 to 200: Sam Brazel. The Lismore native had his best year on the Asian Tour in 2015 and finished T18 here. Brazel was ten shots off the lead but fired consistent rounds of 69-67-68-69 and his T15 at the Australian PGA after a poor opening round of 75 was meritorious.

Greens in regulation:
The USA tour flips formats with a teams event, the Franklin Templeton Shootout, taking place in Naples Florida at a course which has met with success for overseas players recently. Tiburon Golf Club, home to the PGA Tour’s final event of 2016, staged the LPGA denouement which saw a win in the tournament to England’s Charley Hull whilst Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn won the overall season crown. This is possibly good news for England’s Luke Donald and his partner Russell Knox in the two-person 12-team event supported by international diplomat agent Greg Norman. An intriguing pairing is Bryson DeChambeau and Lexi Thompson (who is currently number five in the women’s game.) Speaking of the women’s tour the Ladies European Tour heads to the middle east for the Dubai Ladies Masters where Shanshan Feng is the defending champion however the comparatively low profile event for the women’s tours came into focus in recent days with American Paige Spiranac speaking out against cyber-bullying. Spiranic was responding to a wave of criticism last year when she was invited before a poor opening two rounds. However since then her playing pedigree has improved securing a win on the lower-tier Cactus Tour in the USA.

Tap in:
With the PGA and European tour events for 2016 finishing this weekend and seeing the LPGA recently finished it’s qualifying school for 2017 it’s time for Golf Capital to take a few weeks off. Like Tiger Woods we need to rest before a big April in 2017. In the meantime if you are at a loose end and have access to Foxtel (or are good at using search engines) over the holiday period it’s worth having a look at the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary ‘Hit it Hard’ which focuses on two-time major winner John Daly. The popular American is the first golfer to feature in the ESPN series with not even Woods, Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer (despite their transcendent characteristics and careers) having got a run in the format yet. Despite his support for ‘Realtor in Chief’ Donald Trump Daly is an interesting and engaging in the documentary which is worth your time.

This golfing wrap first appeared on From the sideline of sport

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his ‘spare time’ (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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