There were two winners at the BMW PGA Championship on the famous West Course on Sunday.
The first, most obvious celebrant was Ryan Fox, who as the son of All Black legend, Grant, was an appropriate winner during the Rugby World Cup.
Yet while the Hakas were going on so too was the chorus of “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” as Europe captain Luke Donald counted the number of blue-and-gold Ryder Cup players populating the leaderboard of the flagship event on the DP World Tour, fewer than two weeks before the match against the US in Rome gets under way.
Granted, Donald would have loved to see Tyrrell Hatton (66) winning his first event of the year – the Englishman finished second alongside countryman Aaron Rai (68), one behind on 17-under in second – or Jon Rahm lifting his first title since the Masters in April.
But although the Spaniard ended up in fourth on 16-under after a 68, in fifth was Viktor Hovland with Tommy Fleetwood in sixth and Rory McIlroy in a tie for seventh after a 65. This was no time for Donald to berate his luck, as never have all 12 of the European team made the cut in their last event before the Ryder Cup and never have five finished in the top nine in such a prestigious tournament.
Ludvig Aberg also finished in the top 10 as well – as did Sepp Straka – although the young Swede’s Sunday seemed to be destined for more glory. The 23-year-old won the European Masters two weeks ago in just his ninth tournament as a pro and so made Donald’s wild cards the next day a formality.
And in this, his very next start, he appeared destined to go back to back when he was two clear, but he then suffered two double-bogeys in three holes from the fifth and his chance was essentially over.
“This was the first time I was leading a tournament and I felt like I handled it quite well, to be honest,” the 23-year-old Swede said.
“It was quite difficult out there and I made a few stupid mistakes where I missed on the wrong side and was a little bit too cute with the chips.
“It cost me today and I’m trying to learn from it and I’m looking forward to the next time I’m in that same position.”
Maybe this was a plus-point for Donald as the hype surrounding the rookie would have verged on the uncontrollable if he had become the first player since Tiger Woods to win two events in his first 10 starts.
When a weather-delayed final round eventually reached its denouement, Hatton was berating his hook on the 15th, when a slippery grip forced a drive out of bounds and a bogey. He holed a 10-footer on the last for a birdie, but Fox was too inspired. The 37-year-old revealed there was emotional motivation.
“We have been through a pretty tough year as a family,” he said. “I lost my father-in-law in June after a really, really short battle with cancer and that kind of rocked the family. To have them here and have number two with us, little Margot who is four months old, is very, very special.”
McIlroy was also wallowing in the positives, with his perspective on the Ryder Cup and Europe’s mission to deny the US a first away victory in 30 years. “It’s awesome. We’re in a good spot as a team,” he said. “We had a really good day in Rome on Monday, the team’s been shaping up really well for the last couple of months, everyone’s been in pretty good form.
“It’s still almost two weeks away until the first ball is hit on the Friday morning but I’m sure you’ll ask all the boys that are coming in here, they are all just so excited to get to Rome and get going.”
McIlroy, the 2014 champion, was unable to birdie either the 17th or 18th, both par fives, to put more pressure on the players still out on the course following an 82-minute suspension.
“It’s not a disappointment that I haven’t won, I’m more disappointed that I couldn’t take advantage of the positions I put myself in on 17 and 18,” said McIlroy. “Even if I had birdied those two holes and not won at least I’d have given myself every chance and given the guys that are still out on the golf course work for it a little more.
“There’s a couple of things to work on and to try and iron a couple of the misses out of my game. I’m getting a little quick in transition with some iron shots and leaving some out to the right but apart from that I feel like everything is in pretty good shape.”