There are weeks and tournaments that serve as a timely reminder of just how difficult winning can be for even the best players in the game. These instances make you appreciate those who do regularly triumph to an even greater extent, and understand the difficulties of those who may come up just short. This was one of those weeks.
Northern Trust Open
Just a few miles from Hollywood, Riviera Country Club was site of a slow-burning thriller just hours before the Academy Awards began. It was one of those golfing days that had just about everything.
The old and uncooperative course was playing particularly deceptive on a cool and damp Sunday, which made the challenge of execution just that bit more problematic. Mistakes were common, flashes of brilliance at a premium, it was a final round that tested the nerve of a whole variety of players.
Goosen, Singh, Bae, Furyk, Watson and Spieth would all fall short of the mark. Sergio Garcia’s week finished in crushing disappointment; with two closing bogeys seeing the Spaniard finish one shot afar from the playoff.
Ultimately, those extra-holes would be contested by Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and James Hahn.
In Johnson, it was a potential win that would go a long way to banishing the memory of his much publicised six-month absence from the game. He was unquestionably determined, producing some of the magic in the playoff that has long affirmed his status as one of America’s finest players.
As for Casey, a victory at Riviera – six years after his first on the PGA Tour – would unearth a new chapter of a career that was stalled so frustratingly by injury just when it looked to be reaching its peak. There have been ups and downs in the period since that triumph at Houston, but the good times are certainly returning consistently in the life of the Surrey native.
In James Hahn, the PGA Tour has produced one of those endearing stories that come around every so often. Turning professional in 2003, it took the Seoul born player a decade to reach the world’s most lucrative circuit. It wasn’t an easy journey, but it is one that has now begun to pay dividends.
Playing fearlessly in the playoff like a man with nothing to lose – Hahn came close to holing a lengthy birdie putt on the 18th, before making one of the great up-and-downs of his career on the 10th to extend the playoff to a third hole.
Johnson and Hahn progressed onto the 14th, with their stunning birdies eliminating the Englishman. It was the nine-time Tour winner to play first, and the 30-year-old produced the most admirably enacted shot to within relative proximity of the hole.
Hahn then stood up to the tee – knowing that a shot of equal precision was a requirement – and played a fine approach that finished just a few feet further away than Dustin’s. It would be James to putt first – and it was 25-feet of roll that would see all kinds of dreams realised.
As the ball fell into the hole, Johnson looked stunned. His response would trickle by the cup, ensuring that an extraordinary and enthralling day would conclude with James Hahn as the victor at Riviera.
With a baby on the way, the 33-year-old can now look forward to impending fatherhood with a trip down Magnolia Lane on the horizon. An invite to the Masters Tournament will soon be arriving, and it is truly a just reward for many years of hard work and perseverance.
Hero Indian Open
February has been quite a month for Anirban Lahiri. Two weeks ago, the 27-year-old Indian won in Malaysia to clinch the first European Tour title of his career. This all coming just a few months after he successfully made it through the emotional gauntlet that is Qualifying School, he triumphed once again after a tumultuous afternoon at New Delhi Golf Club.
A tight and testing venue aligned with Sunday nerves would lead to a difficult day for a number of the leading competitors. None more so than S.S.P Chowrasia, who had looked assured and composed throughout the tournament. However, the 36-year-old looked like a completely different player during the fourth round.
Having played the first 70 holes (remarkably) without having dropped a single shot, the two-time European Tour winner’s final round included five bogeys and a double bogey that added up to a damaging total of 76.
The likes of Marcus Fraser and Siddikur Rahman also suffered horrible finishes, but Chowrasia was handed a reprieve in the form a playoff with Lahiri – who had earlier shot a 69.
The extra holes ensured that the Indian Open (in its first edition since its European Tour sanctioned rebirth) would be won by a home player. In the end, the playoff would correlate with Sunday form as Lahiri’s birdie on the 18th proved more than enough to clinch an emotional win.
Women's Australian Open
Lydia Ko strengthened her position at the summit of the women’s game by adding the Australian Open to her burgeoning list of titles. The quite remarkable 17-year-old would finish two-shots ahead of Amy Yang after completing a final round of 71 at the composite Royal Melbourne course.
However, halfway through the round, it looked as though the result may have turned out differently. Ko had fallen behind Yang at the turn, but an abrupt halt of play due to a threat of lightning would prove beneficial to the New Zealander.
Composing her thoughts and enjoying some lunch during the hour-long break, Ko was able to reboot herself at the resumption of play. Ultimately, two birdies on the back-nine would prove enough to edge ahead of Yang – who bogeyed the 15th and 17th.
The world number one has an uncanny ability to make the game look so easy. Her remarkable achievements aside, it was an education to watch her navigate around one of the most cherished pieces of golfing land in the world.
It is said that the great players triumph at the great courses. That certainly happened in Melbourne.