23 Apr 2023 | Professional golf |
Herbert wins Japan playoff thriller
by Tony Webeck
A spectacular approach from a bare lie to the right of the fairway on the second playoff hole has delivered Victorian Lucas Herbert a third DP World Tour title in Japan. One back at the start of the final round of the ISPS HANDA Championship at PGM Ishioka Golf Club, Herbert had three birdies and an eagle in a round of three-under 67 to take the clubhouse lead at 15-under par. Canadian Aaron Cockerill, playing in the group behind, was the only player still on course capable of denying Herbert the win in regulation. A tee shot that found the centre of the narrow 18th fairway gave Cockerill an opportunity to make birdie but his approach shot came up a couple of yards short and found the greenside bunker. He played a superb bunker shot that flirted with trickling into the side of the cup, tapping in for a round a of 68 to tie Herbert and force a playoff. Cockerill again had to call on his impressive recovery skills on the first playoff hole. After watching Herbert bomb his tee shot to just 105 yards from the green, Cockerill found the rough left of the fairway yet produced a brilliant second to come to rest on the fringe some 10 feet from the cup. With adrenaline coursing through him, Herbert’s wedge shot carried deep into the green and rolled off the back into the fringe. He played a delicate chip that brushed the right side of the hole and then had to watch on as Cockerill stepped in to putt for the win. Like Herbert, the Canadian came within centimetres of victory, his putt taking a half-horseshoe from the left side of the cup and lipping out. The pair ventured back to the 18th tee where Herbert’s blast threatened to travel deep into the trees right of the fairway. Fate and a parked golf cart intervened, Herbert’s ball coming to rest on the cart path from which he was able to take a free drop to the left of the path. A bare lie on the hardpan was the best result he could have hoped for, Herbert stepping in and turning the screws on Cockerill with a shot that finished eight feet beneath the cup. The Canadian’s approach from the fairway travelled through into the fringe toward the back of the green, his birdie putt sliding by on the right side. That gave Herbert his shot at victory, rolling the gentle right-to-left putt centre cup to earn the honour as the winner of the first DP World Tour event in Japan. “I hit that tee shot and thought, That might be the end for us,” Herbert said of his tee shot on the second playoff hole. “I thought it was going to get deeper into those trees back there. Didn’t think I was going to have an angle, didn’t think I was even going to have a shot to be honest. Thought I was going to struggle to make par and maybe push it to a third playoff hole. “To get the break I got… I got a great lie there. I wasn’t expecting to be able to get much spin but got a great lie and had a really good number as well. “It just kind of fell into place nicely down that right side. Hit it in close and just felt like that if I didn’t take that chance it was potentially going to fall away and hurt me later. “Just knew I had to take advantage of it when I had it.” The win was remarkable for a number of reasons. It was only a few weeks ago that Herbert shot 82-85 at THE PLAYERS Championship to finish dead last. He bounced back quickly to make the Round of 16 at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas but then endured travel issues on his way to Japan. He didn’t arrive until the day before the tournament and played the opening round sight unseen, crediting caddie Nick Pugh for a most unlikely win. “He’s one of the best caddies out here. He works so hard and this week is proof of that,” said Herbert. “I didn’t see the golf course, didn’t play a practice round. To come out with a victory, he deserves that flag that he’s got over there.” Turning points came thick and fast in the final round. An eagle on five gave Herbert the outright lead, his 3-wood from the fairway coming to rest just six feet to the left of the flag. He sandwiched a bogey on 11 with birdies at 10 and 12 and then made six pars to finish, including a crucial save on 14 that typified his fighting qualities. “I basically made every putt that I needed to coming in other than maybe 16,” Herbert explained. “It kind of felt like, for the final nine holes, that every putt was like, OK, this is our tournament right here.”
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