Golf: English wins playoff to take PGA Tournament of Champions

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Harris English sank a six-foot birdie putt on Sunday’s (Jan 10) first playoff hole to defeat Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and win the US PGA Tournament of Champions, snapping an eight-year title drought.

The 31-year-old American collected his third career PGA Tour title after 2013 victories at the Mayakoba Classic and St Jude Classic and will jump to 17th in the world golf rankings.

“It’s incredible,” English said. “A lot of hard work over the years. You never think you’re going to get here again. It’s hard to win out here.

“I had a good chance this week. I felt good about my game. You’ve just got to get it done.”

English fired a four-under 69 on a windy final day to join Niemann on 25-under 267 after 72 holes over the par-73 Plantation course at Kapalua, Hawaii.

World No. 43 Niemann, 22, birdied six of the first nine holes on his way to a 64 but was foiled in a bid for his second PGA trophy after 2019 at Greenbrier.

“It is what it is, but, yeah, pretty happy,” Niemann said. “I played awesome the whole week, especially today. One of my best rounds.”

English only qualified for the event because of a special one-year invitation to players who reached the 2020 Tour Championship because last season was shortened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There have been ups and downs but it makes what happened today that much sweeter,” he said. “It’s awesome to get some validation.”

He needed back-to-back birdies on the 668-yard, par-5 18th to win the title, the first coming at the 72nd hole to force the playoff.

In the playoff, English rolled a long eagle attempt beyond the hole while Niemann, in the rough on a greenside slope, punched out to the fringe and missed an 18-foot birdie putt before English closed out the drama.

“It was not an easy lie,” Niemann said. “I was under the gun and it was a lot of grass behind and very thick. I gave myself a chance, but I just didn’t do it.”

In regulation, English made his fourth birdie in five holes by sinking an eight-foot putt at the par-5 15th to match Niemann for the lead at 25-under.

English then made bogey at the par-4 16th but responded at 18 by blasting a 3-iron inside 10 feet to set up an eagle try for the win. He missed but tapped-in to force extra holes.

Third-ranked Justin Thomas, the 2020 winner, was third on 268 after a closing 66 with fellow American Ryan Palmer another stroke back in fourth. American Xander Schauffele and South Korean Im Sung-jae shared fifth on 271.

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Thomas said he was distracted after the controversy that followed when he uttered an anti-gay slur Saturday that was heard on television coverage.

“Golf wasn’t the main thing on my mind. I had a lot of other things on my mind,” said Thomas, who had apologised on Saturday but still had the incident on his mind.

“I clearly screwed up. I made a terrible judgement call. It definitely was a distraction out there today but now I get time to become a better person for it.”

He went 28 holes without a bogey before a lip-out on a six-foot par putt at 17 dropped him two adrift. He missed an eagle chip at 18 but tapped in for birdie to shoot 66.

After going 50 holes without a bogey, English made one at the par-4 fourth, landing short of the green and missing a 12-foot par putt. He responded with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 fifth.

Niemann rolled in a nine-foot birdie putt at the par-3 11th to reach 23-under for a two stroke edge.

After Thomas and English birdied, Niemann responded with a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-4 14th to restore his two-stroke edge.

English finished a three-hole birdie run from 11-13 and Thomas birdied 14 and 15 to match Niemann, but the Chilean answered by landing his approach at the par-4 16th just inside three feet and sinking the birdie putt to reach 25-under as the tension built.

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