Champions gives first-ever Japanese audience an exciting show

NARITA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 10: Japan Airlines Chairman Masaru Onishi (L) of Japan and Colin Montgomerie(R) of Scotland pose with the trophy after winning the Japan Airlines Championship at Narita Golf Club-Accordia Golf on September 10, 2017 in Narita, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images) Masterpress/Getty Images

Champions gives first-ever Japanese audience an exciting show

Japan Airlines Championship 2017

Champions gives first-ever Japanese audience an exciting show

NARITA, Japan – Say this for the PGA Tour Champions: Those cagey veterans know how to make a first impression.

Over the final nine holes of the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event in Japan, 11 players were within two shots of the lead at the JAL Championship. Ultimately, it was Colin Montgomerie who played the best late Sept. 10, recording five back-nine birdies to post 5-under 67 and win the JAL at Narita Golf Club.

Montgomerie’s last victory was nearly a year ago at the Pacific Links Bear Mountain Championship, which he’ll defend this week. His JAL victory, and the $400,000 check that went with it, vaulted him to No. 8 on the money list.

One shot back were Scott McCarron, No. 2 on the money list, and Billy Mayfair. Glen Day finished two shots behind Montgomerie, and Jesper Parnevik and Kevin Sutherland were three shots back.

Massy Kuramoto, who closed with a 67, was the highest finisher among the six Japanese players in the field.

Montgomerie started the final round three shots behind McCarron, who had won three times in his previous six starts. McCarron, who had talked the previous day about the importance of getting off to a good start Sunday, promptly pumped his opening drive right of the fairway, leading to a double bogey.

That caught Montgomerie’s attention.

“It was a shock to everybody,” he said. Montgomerie entered the day thinking he would need a 66 to have a shot at catching McCarron, but suddenly “that 66 became 67, 68. . . I don’t have to go out and shoot 64 or 63.”

That was easier said than done. Montgomerie was 1 over through his first seven holes, then birdied five of the next seven holes to get to -13, becoming the fourth player to hold the outright lead Sunday.

“When I holed the putt on the 14th hole for my third birdie in a row . . . I felt that I had a chance then,” Montgomerie said. “I’m a big scoreboard watcher, and I looked at the scoreboard and knew I was leading. I just had to make sure I birdied 17 (a par 5) and par in.”

Montgomerie always has been known as one of the game’s straightest drivers, a particularly useful skill at Narita Golf Club, where several of the landing areas are pinched by strips of rough in the middle of the fairways.

“Those who hit the fairway had the best chance out here,” he said. “It was very narrow.”

McCarron, a road warrior playing for the fifth consecutive week, said he had caught a cold during his travels and felt “a little foggy” Sunday. Still, he shrugged off the double on No. 1 and scrambled like a bandit much of the day. But he missed a downhill, 4-foot par putt on 13.

“If that thing goes in, it’s a different story,” McCarron said. “It was just unfortunate today, just didn’t quite have it.”

He matched Montgomerie’s birdie on the par-5 17th to pull within two shots, then backed up his wedge to a foot on 18 to tie for second with Mayfair, one stroke behind Montgomerie.

For much of the day, it seemed that destiny favored Mayfair. While the rest of the field opted to stay at The Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, a 90-minute bus ride from Narita Golf Club, Mayfair and wife Tami stayed in Narita, near the course.

“We bucked the system,” Tami Mayfair said as she followed her husband around the front nine.

She said the general manager at their hotel joined them every morning for breakfast, and as they were leaving for the golf course Sunday, the GM gave the Mayfairs a bag tag with “victory” inscribed in Japanese.

Mayfair headed directly to the course and birdied four of his first six holes to grab a share of the lead. Montgomerie lapped the field on the back nine, but Mayfair still had a 6-foot birdie putt on 18 to tie for the lead. He missed it on the low side.

“It’s right between two hills and I hit a 9‑iron in, and two feet lower short of the hole is probably a straight uphill putt. It just was a sidehill breaking putt,” Mayfair said. “Eight times out of 10, I’ll probably make it to try to win a golf tournament. I hit a good putt and I knew it wasn’t going to go in the center but I thought it would catch the left edge and it just came out.

“But I made so many putts today and the whole week. Yeah, I’m disappointed I missed it, but you know what, I gave myself a chance.”

 

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