IT’S BEEN a good week for golf’s nice guys, with popular winners on both the European Tour, as Soren Kjeldsen scooped his biggest victory yet, and on the PGA Tour, where Steven Bowditch triumphed in Texas again.
Kjeldsen capped a fine display in difficult conditions at the Irish Open on Sunday with a magnificent three wood off the tee at the first extra hole that effectively decided a three-man play-off.
A great final round from young Englishman Eddie Pepperell had put the Dane under severe pressure, but he proved what a steady customer he is by holding on for the a first win in six years.
Kjeldsen is well suited to the seaside Royal County Down course. His ability to hit fairways is precious in a links setting, where players are penalised heavily for missing narrow fairways and finding thick rough.
He admits to worrying that his title-winning days were over, having just turned 40, but his most significant win yet proves there can be plenty more to come from him.
Pepperell, 24, is another very likeable chap and carded an impressive bogey-free 69 to tie with Kjeldsen and Bernd Wiesberger. His best finish in a European Tour event will have given him a taste for more success, while the silver lining to narrowly missing out on first place came with qualification for his Open Championship debut next month.
Wiesberger did very well given that he is powerful but not the straightest of hitters – a disadvantage in that setting. Tournament host Rory McIlroy will have been disappointed to miss the cut but must have had a lot of commitments during the week. He’ll enjoy a couple of weeks’ rest now before the US Open.
CHAMPAGNE AND ALTITUDE
Bowditch, meanwhile, swept to his second PGA Tour title at the AT&T Byron Nelson, held at the same course in the Australian’s adopted home of Texas where he married four years ago.
It was a fantastic performance from the 31-year-old, who led from start to finish. He got lucky at 17, where he miscued a tee shot only for it to land within 12 feet of the pin, but there’s no doubt he deserved the win overall.
Bowditch, another popular figure, put a difficult start to his career, including a battle with depression, behind him last year when he ended the wait for his maiden win on the tour, also in Texas.
Now he’s already got his second, and given his connection to the venue he really ought to get lifetime membership at the club.
This week sees the Stateside action return to a special course in Muirfield Village, which was established by the great Jack Nicklaus, for the Memorial Tournament. It’s a place that holds special memories for me, as I proposed to my wife on Concorde – I blame the champagne and altitude – on the way there for the 1987 Ryder Cup, where we would achieve a historic victory over the Americans.
Like Bay Hill, which is special because it was built by Arnold Palmer, Muirfield Village is Jack’s course. It is beautiful, which makes for great television, and known to fans as it’s an annual fixture.
I’m looking forward to it hugely, not least because former world No1 Tiger Woods, a five-time winner of this event, is set to play for only the fifth time this year.
Sam Torrance OBE is a multiple Ryder Cup-winning golfer and media commentator. Follow him on Twitter @torrancesam