Louis Oosthuizen kicked off 2014 by successfully defending his Volvo Golf Champions title, his seventh European Tour win. Here are 5 Things you need to know from the first European event of the year.
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1. UNCERTAINTY ABOUNDS: Oosthuizen may have won the Volvo Golf Champions, but he isn’t sure what the rest of the season holds. The diminutive South African struggled with injuries in 2013, and he still isn’t 100 percent fit.
Oosthuizen won the 2010 Open Championship, and then lost a playoff for the 2012 Masters. He was expected to contend in majors last year, but he was so injury-plagued that he had to withdraw from the U.S. Open and Open Championship, and didn’t even turn up for the PGA Championship.
“I haven’t really played well last year with all the injuries so hopefully I can build from here on,” he said. “I’ve got three weeks now that I really need to work on my back. It’s still not 100 percent. Luckily this week I didn’t have to hit a lot of drivers, but once I get to Augusta I need to hit driver.”
Oosthuizen made his run to the title on Sunday starting at the par-5 8th, where he rolled in a 12-foot eagle putt. He’d finish with back-to-back birdies to leapfrog past Branden Grace.
This is the fifth consecutive season with a victory on the European Tour for Oosthuizen, the Tour’s longest active streak.
“When I eagled the eighth hole I felt I could go on and make a few birdies from there on and, while stopped by a bogey on 10, I just felt really comfortable out there,” Oosthuizen said.
“I noticed when I was about to play my shot at 17 that Branden had finished on 11-under par, so I needed to give myself a good opportunity to tie him and I did and then managed to birdie the last.”
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2. PUTTER GOES COLD: England’s Tommy Fleetwood began the final round with a one-shot lead looking to win his second European Tour event. He birdied the second hole and looked to be cruising to victory. However, three bogeys in five holes starting at No. 5 ruined his chances. He finished T-3.
“Today was the best I have hit it off the tee all week, and it was a shame the rest of the game let me down,” Fleetwood said. “After the long birdie putt on the second my putter went cold and it was not meant to be.
“It’s always great when you can be leading going into the final round of such a big event. I could have been four under, shot 66 and finished on the same score and not learned half as much. You have to take the positives and I have finished tied third in the first event. Overall it’s been a very good week.”
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3. LOOKING FOR THE WINNER’S CIRCLE: Padraig Harrington finished T-5 after a closing 5-under 67. However, the Irishman is still looking for his first win since the 2008 PGA Championship. That victory complemented back-to-back Open Championship wins in 2007-08.
If anyone had suggested six years ago that Harrington would not build on three major wins, they would have been ridiculed.
Renowned for tinkering with his swing over the years, it seems the shortest club in the bag is letting the Dubliner down.
“It was nice to feel I had a chance coming down the stretch,” Harrington said. “I’m happy with how I am hitting the ball but distraught with the way I’m putting.”
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4. SHEDDING POUNDS: Darren Clarke turned up in South Africa looking half the man he was when he won the 2011 Open Championship. He’s slimmed down 42 pounds after embarking on a strict diet and exercise regime in the offseason to try to recapture the form that saw him win his first major.
“My objectives are getting back to playing some of the golf I know I can play,” Clarke said. “I have had a frustrating last couple of years. I was too heavy, too lethargic and decided to do something about it. I spend a lot of time in the gym and changed my diet and hopefully I will reap the benefits.”
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5. ‘DESPERATE:’ Thomas Bjorn plans to be at Gleneagles for this Ryder Cup, but as a player not a vice captain. The Dane has only played in two Ryder Cups (1997 and 2002), but has been vice-captain for the last three matches. He badly wants to play in at least one more.
“I’m desperate to play in another Ryder Cup,” said Bjorn, who is currently second on the European points table. “This will probably be my last chance to make it, as I’m 43 next month.
“It is a source of great frustration to me that I’ve only played in two Ryder Cups in my career and that my last was in 2002. It should have been more and I should have been there in a playing role rather than three times as an assistant captain.
“What can I say? I always seemed to play well in the non-Ryder Cup years. But I’ve got off to a good start in this qualifying campaign and need to press on.”