VIRGINIA WATER, England - To the considerable disappointment of the thoroughly soaked crowd around the 18th green at Wentworth, Justin Rose missed a 10-foot birdie putt at the first play-off hole. The Englishman thus handed the flagship trophy of the European Tour, the BMW PGA Championship, to Anders Hansen, who had just rolled in a slightly longer birdie putt.
The happy Dane, who pocketed just a few cents short of $1 million and has played most of his recent golf in the States, immediately paid tribute to his brand new caddie, John McClaren. Of the man who usually carries Duffy Waldorf's bag, Hansen said: "He made me feel really comfortable all the way round. Whether he's going to stick with me or go back to Duffy, I don't know."
The new champion also revealed he feels much happier playing in Europe, not least because he is literally so much closer to home and his family. Although he pledged to honour his commitment to play 15 tournaments in the States this year, he thought it unlikely that he would play more.
"The travelling is pretty hard for me. I've got family in Denmark and it's really hard for me to be away from the kids," Hansen said. "I miss them a lot when I'm away. So it's been tough."
"I'm not giving up America - not at all. You don't just stick your tail between your legs and go off if you don't like it, or of you're not doing well or whatever. We're going to go back and do five more (tournaments)."
As for the future, it's almost certain that he will compete more frequently in Europe.
A play-off had always looked likely as no one was able to impose themselves and establish a significant lead at any time during the final round. Several tried but all failed. Consequently, this was never anything other than an extremely tight contest.
Hansen, who won this event in 2002, bogeyed two of the first three holes, but didn't drop another shot as he closed on the ever-changing leaders. He stood on the final tee seven under and was perhaps a little fortunate that his pushed second landed between the bunkers to the right of the green. He chipped to eight feet and held both his nerve and the putt to sign for a very creditable 69, leaving him in the lead at eight under.
Immensely popular with the home crowd, Rose elicited the loudest roar of the day when his third shot at the 72nd hole - a pitching wedge from 109 yards - landed 12 feet past the flag and span back to just a few inches short of the cup. The shot revived memories of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in 1998 when, as an amateur, Rose holed his wedge on the final hole to take third place.
"It is disappointing," reflected Rose. "The play-off was all over so quickly. But I played so well and to be right up there in the mix was a thrill." As for the missed putt, Rose believes it was "a bit of mis-read."
Richard Sterne, who had previously chipped in at the tricky 13th to revive his hopes, had a chance to turn it into a three-way play-off but his aggressive effort from about 20 feet never seriously threatened the hole and so the South African had to settle for joint third.
Sharing that spot with him was Vijay Singh, who finished with a rattle, recorded six birdies in the last ten holes and signed for a 66, the best round on a dreadfully damp day. Sitting pretty in the nice dry clubhouse, Vijay had good reason to be hopeful until Hansen birdied the last in regulation play.
Precisely like Hansen, Angel Cabrera last triumph on the European Tour came in this Championship. For him it was more recently, 2005. The big-hitting Argentine played steady, bogey-free golf for 14-holes and looked extremely comfortable before inexplicably topping his tee shot at the 15th and running up a grisly, double-bogey six. There was no way back.
Local favourite Ross Fisher's dream of winning at his home club rapidly turned into a nightmare when he bogeyed every one of the first five holes. Despite four straight par fours, he still turned in 40. Thinning one out of a greenside bunker and out of bounds at 12 added considerably to his woes and the resultant triple-bogey eight was painful. Although his 84 was not the score he was hoping for, he will have learned a lot.
Fisher's playing partner and fellow joint leader at the start of play on the final day, fared little better. Two sloppy sevens at the fourth and 13th killed off Paul Broadhurst's chances. The 41-year-old Englishman cut a disconsolate figure in the rain as his hopes of a huge check lifting him up from his lowly 113th spot on the European Order of Merit were washed away. He finished with a desperately disappointing 80.
Miguel Angel Jimenez battled bravely but didn't manage a birdie until the 10th. Two on the back nine put him in contention and one more would have taken the Spaniard to the then significant seven-under. It eluded him, however, and he finished in a tie for fifth alongside Cabrera.
Luke Donald, signed for a 69 to secure seventh slot and complete a quartet of refugees from the U.S. in the top seven.
May 27, 2007
Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses.
With stellar play on the back nine at Royal Birkdale, Padraig Harrington shot a 69 in the final round to earn a four-shot victory and become Europe's first back-to-back British Open champion in more than a century. He earned nearly $1.5 million and climbed to No. 3 in the world rankings. "I'm really thrilled with the way I felt today on the golf course," Harrington said. "I hit the ball as pure as I could and just felt really good."
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