By V. Krishnaswamy, one of India’s leading sports writers, who has covered over 20 Majors and 250 international golf tournaments. Follow him on Twitter via @Swinging_Swamy.
KAEC, Saudi Arabia, Feb 2: Gavin Green, who flew the Asian Tour flag well all week, gave it all, including an eagle-birdie finish in a card of 70 at Saudi International. However, the four bogeys in the seven holes before that ended his hopes of a maiden triumph on the European Tour.
Green finished tied-third with a final round of 70 and 9-under total, which he had reached at the 36-hole mark, but stayed there were 70-70 over the weekend.
Ahead of him, on a windy and tough day, the 40-year-old Graeme McDowell used all his experience and stayed patient to finish at 12-under, two shots clear of defending champion Dustin Johnson (67).
The win ended McDowell’s nearly six-year long title drought on the European Tour. His last win came at the Open de France in 2014. It was McDowell’s 11th European Tour victory and 16thoverall and they have come in 12 different countries.
“I hope this win will do for me what the Abu Dhabi win did for my friend, Shane Lowry last year. It was great of him to be there to congratulate me,” said McDowell.
India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar had another average day with 71 and finished at 3-over 283 and was Tied-67th. He had two birdies and three bogeys. Shubhankar Sharma missed the cut.
McDowell suffered a stumble with bogeys on ninth and 13thto fall to 10-under before he picked birdies on 14tth and 15thand came to 18thwith a three-shot cushion.
McDowell, who shared the lead with Green on the first day and was in the news on the second day when he was given a ‘bad time’ after taking 84 seconds (as against mandated 50) on his second shot on Par-4 sixth hole, ensured there were no hiccups on Sunday. Despite Johnson jumping to -10 and sole second with an eagle on 18th. It was Johnson’s second eagle of the day in his 67.
McDowell calmly putted out for par on the hole and the round, to complete a fine win and rose to inside Top-50 of the world.
Talking of the time since his last win, McDowell, who now moves into Top-50 of the world, said, “I didn’t realise it had been quite that long here in Europe. I’m very excited. I’m very relieved. This is a difficult golf course this week. It’s unusual to win feeling as uncomfortable as I did on a lot of these holes because it was a tough golf course these last two days, especially with tough conditions. The birdies on 14 and 15 were just huge at the time, and it was nice to have a that little cushion coming down the last couple.
“My big goal this year was to be back in the Top-50 in the world, back competing in the big tournaments. I’m very excited that it’s happened a little faster than I expected.”
Green, whose best has been Tied-second at Hero Indian Open in 2017, admitted, “I knew I was close and I knew I was really close, actually. I just told myself get a good score and have another good back nine, doesn’t matter what it is, just keep hitting good shots. After the short putt missed, I just lost focus a little bit. Something I can learn from and maybe I can do it next time.”
“Overall I had solid day. The finish was strong. I didn’t expect that at all. When my caddie said, just hit two good tee shots and see where that leaves us, finish strong. So I’m happy.”
American Phil Mickelson and Belgian Thomas Pieters finished in a tie for third with Green. Mickelson made a hat-trick of birdies from the second but would not make another until the last to go. He had a bogey on the 16th.
England’s Ross Fisher eagled the last to finish at seven under alongside Dubuisson, Major Champion Sergio Garcia, Mexican Abraham Ancer and Belgian Thomas Detry.
KAEC, Saudi Arabia, Feb 1: Malaysia’s Gavin Green slipped one place down to third, but stayed in contention for his maiden European Tour title at Saudi International. Green, who began the day with a birdie and at one stage held sole lead, carded even par 70.
It was the first time Green has failed to shoot a score in 60s at the Saudi International after shooting 64-67 on first two days and he had all four rounds in 60s, while finishing T-11th last year at the same event. Green’s best at an European Tour event is second at the Hero Indian Open in 2017.
At nine-under, Green is three behind leader Graeme McDowell (66) who is 12-under and second placed Victor Dubuisson (65) at 11-under, who has just one Top-10 in since the start of 2018.
Green playing with college roommate, Victor Perez, admittedly struggled at times in difficult, windy and brutal conditions for an even par 70 round, that looked way better at two-under till he bogeyed 14 and 15. Green stayed where he started at nine-under.
Perez, like Green birdied the first and added another on second to forge ahead. Then he dropped a double on third, and struggled a lot through the rest of the round, except for birdies on 10thand 18th. He bogeyed 12th, 13thand 17thand in between double bogeyed 16thfor a day’s work of 73 that saw him drop to Tied-fourth with Renato Paratore (70) and Dustin Johnson (68) at seven-under.
In the fourth and final round Green will play with defending champion Dustin Johnson, one group behind the leaders, McDowell and Dubuisson.
Jazz Janewattananond (76) plummeted to tied-47 after being tied-fifth with Dubuisson at the halfway stage. “It was very tough conditions out there and with Victor (Dubuisson) playing so well, I looked even worse,” said a smiling Jazz, ranked 38thin the world.
Justin Harding began in style reaching four-under through 10, before dropping a shot on 12thand finishing with six pars and a card of 67. He is now 2-under and T-27th.
India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar could not find any putts on the greens and finished with one-over 71 and was Tied-68th.
McDowell has won just once since 2015, while his former Ryder Cup partner Dubuisson of France has not won since 2015. On Sunday, they go against each other in the final round of the Saudi International at the Royal Greens Golf and Golf & Country Resort.
McDowell and Dubuisson will play together, just as they did at the Ryder Cup in 2014. That time, McDowell, a veteran of three Ryder Cup teams, was asked to mentor rookie Dubuisson. Then, they were both trying to help each other win for Europe, but this time, they will be trying to win, something that has become difficult for both.
Both brought back old memories and Dubuisson added to it, revealing that he was once again playing with an old set of clubs he had put away long back, but brought out only recently.
On Saturday, the moving day, when conditions were most testing, McDowell was on fire on the back nine with 4-under 66 that included three birdies in a row from 12thto 14thand another on 18thto get to 12-under 198.
Dubuisson confessed he would have been happy with one or two-under for the day in such windy conditions, came in with a 5-under 65 for second straight day to reach 11-under.
McDowell summed up the final round camaraderie saying, “We shared a car up to the course this morning and I was chatting with him and I always look out for him, great experiences with him in 2014 at Gleneagles. He’s such a great guy, he hasn’t had the best form the last few years and I’m really, really happy to see him at the top of the leaderboard and looking forward to being with him tomorrow. It’s going to be tough to try and play tough against him, but we’re both competitors and we’ll go out there and try and do our job.”
Green shares opening honours at Saudi International
KAEC, Saudi Arabia, Jan 30: Gavin Green led a group of Asian Tour stars to a fine first day at the European Tour’s Saudi International.
The 26-year-old Malaysian, who was out in the first group in the morning carded eight birdies, including a flawless five-under 31 for the front nine, against two bogeys on back nine for a six-under 64.
He held sole lead till late in the afternoon before the 2010 US Open champion, Graeme McDowell joined him at the top.
With Gavin Green, the 2017 Asian Tour Order of Merit winner, co-leading, a group of Asian Tour Order winners, Jazz Janewattananond (2019), Shubhankar Sharma (2018) and Scott Hend (2016) were all tied at 21st place on two-under 68 after the first day. Two-time Asian Tour champion Justin Harding also returned with a 68.
Green set the morning pace with 64. Zipping through the front nine in five-under 31, he was six-under through 10. Green overcame two three-putts on the back nine and compensated with birdies on 16 and 17.
In tough afternoon winds, only 2010 US Open champion McDowell, came in with a low round. His 64 included four straight birdies from thee second and another three from 16th. He had one other birdie and a double bogey on Par-3 11th.
Sharma handled the tough and windy conditions in the afternoon well as he returned with a quality two-under 68 in the first round of the Saudi International. With a very strong blowing through the Royal Greens, running along the Red Sea, Sharma stitched together a round with five birdies and two bogeys for 68.
Sharma was pleased with the day, said, “I was happy with my play, even though dropping a shot on the last hole (ninth) was disappointing, but the hole was playing difficult.”
“I hit pretty well. Starting on 10th, I had a birdie on the difficult 13th hole where I hit it to six feet. I three-putted on the 16th which was annoying. But on the 18th hole, I hit a wedge to four feet for a birdie.
“On the front nine, on second I had a good birdie from 12 feet but missed a short putt for one more on third. On sixth I missed an up-and-down and ended with a bogey, but had a great birdie on seventh while coming out of the rough. Then on eighth I hit to 15 feet for another birdie to get to three-under.
“On the tough ninth, I went to the right in the desert and was in a tractor track. I did not have a great shot but hit it to 30 yards short of green to finish with bogey. Still happy with the day and hopefully in calmer conditions tomorrow I can do better.”
After the 64, Green was willing to forget the two disappointing three-putts on the back nine. The 26-year-old, said, “I played solid. Really a few mistakes here and there, which is pretty normal. A couple of pretty big par saves, and a couple of mistakes, a couple of three-putts, which was tough to take in because I was playing well and solid.
“(Still) I forgot those mistakes and got back birdies on 16 and 17. On 18 had a nasty little lipout but it is what it is.” He had some nice saves, too.
Gaganjeet Bhullar, playing with co-leader, Green, had an off-day and shot 74.