Going off the first tee in the final pairing of the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf with Thomas Bjorn, Jason Day had a one-stroke lead. But the Royal Melbourne Golf Club green complexes were so cunningly tough and the 15 to 20 mile per hour winds such a factor that at the end of the day, Day was only able to increase his lead by one stroke. He moved from 9-under to 10-under and Bjorn was only able to shoot even par and finished 2nd.
I use the word “only” advisably; there were only 12 rounds out of 60 that were under par on this blustery day. The best rounds of the day, two 66s, were shot by Adam Scott and Sweden’s, Jonas Blixt. Blixt didn’t play all that well in the tournament, but his 66 affirmed the same capability he exhibited when he won the 2012 Frys.com Open and then backed that up with the 2013 Greenbriar Classic. Out of Florida State, the kid is a shotmaker and a fearless putter.
Scott’s five-stroke run up the leaderboard clinched 3rd for him and the team trophy for Australia. It was in some doubt at the beginning of the round because of a first-round 75 that had him at just 2-under and the team at 11-under. At the time, the American team of Matt Kuchar and Kevin Streelman was at 10-under and playing well. On the podium, Scott sheepishly joked that he had to shoot 5-under to contribute something to the team. Team Australia ended up winning by 10 shots over the Americans.
Kuchar finished 4th at 6-under and couldn’t buy a putt. It wasn’t that he was putting poorly — he hit a lot of good putts — but the green breaks just seemed so inscrutable at times. Streelman got off to a great 2-under-through-4 start, but conditions began to catch up to him and he ended up shooting 3-over, 1-under for the tournament and good enough to finish T8. He is staying in Australia another week to play in the Australian Open where they expect a great field that includes Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy.
Thomas “The Great Dane” Bjorn, winner of this year’s Omega European Masters, was a compelling competitor for Jason Day. Striding the fairways in all his 6′ 2″ ruddy majesty, he and his shots looked the part. But as is so often true, it’s possible to look pretty good shooting high numbers. In these conditions, he fared pretty well with his five bogeys matching his five birdies. And because of that steady performance, Team Denmark managed to tie for 3rd with Japan. His teammate, Thorbjorn Olesen, made a heroic 3-under comeback on Sunday, but he was already 6-over for the tournament when the day began.
You would have to say that the Japanese team of Ryo Ishikawa and Hideto Tanihara was a pleasant surprise. Although Ishikawa has won 12 international tournaments since 2007, he has yet to win on the PGA Tour. He finished T5 with Kiradech Aphibarnrat from Thailand at 3-under. His partner, Tanihara, is the leading money winner this year on the Japanese Tour and finished 7th at 2-under. Clearly noteworthy.
And one final note on a new player who has emerged from his native Thailand and become a routine factor on the international stage, the aforementioned Aphibarnrat. He first came to the attention of American fans with his T3 finish in the CIMB Classic at the Kuala Lumpur Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But it was not a fluke. In March of 2013 he won the Malaysian Open on the same golf course.
At 5′ 8″ and 230 pounds, he isn’t molded in the chiseled image of the modern-day Tour player, but that obviously doesn’t seem to matter for now. He is the poster boy for “all that matters is can you get it in the hole.”
Because he finished top 10 in the CIMB, he was automatically exempt into the next week’s PGA Tour event. After the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, that would have been the McGladrey Classic in Sea Island, Georgia. But he was not in that field, presumably because of the distance he would have to come and the fact that he was in the World Cup. I am not sure you can bank an exemption like that — probably not — but it’s pretty evident that we’ll be seeing more of him in the near future; yet another of golf’s great stories.