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Horschel states his case at BMW


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Florida’s Billy Horschel became only the second ever American to win the BMW PGA Championship title after shooting a final 65 in front of packed galleries at Wentworth.

It was more than a little ironic that in a week where the Ryder Cup dominated so much of the proceedings at Wentworth, that an American who had been overlooked for a captain’s pick for Team USA should carry off Europe’s most coveted title in front of grandstand’s packed with British fans hoping to celebrate a hone-grown winner.

As so often turns out on such drama-filled days, the actors rarely, if ever, follow the script. Horschel, for his part, certainly hadn’t read it, and the 34-year-old from Jacksonville Beach more than covered the cost of his trip from America’s east coast when snatching the £960,000 first prize, and the coveted BMW PGA Championship trophy, from under European noses.

Stung by not even have received so much as a courtesy call from US Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker to say that he hadn’t made the team, Horschel fired rounds of 70, 65, 69 and 65 to top the leaderboard on 19 under par, and finish a shot clear of the unheralded trio of Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Laurie Canter and Jamie Donaldson.

In doing so Horschel became only the second America to win the PGA Championship since the great Arnold Palmer way back in 1975. Not many have tried, admittedly, but Horschel certainly won a new legion of fans for having not only made the effort to travel, but for having embraced the tournament, its history and the galleries. Having West Ham Football Club’s logo on his bag may have endeared him to a certain section of the crowd, but by the time he holed his birdie putt on the 18th green on Sunday afternoon he was treated to a reception that is usually only dished out to one of our own.

“To add my name to that of Arnold Palmer’s as a winner of this great tournament is legendary stuff,” Horschel said. “If it wasn’t for Arnie, we wouldn’t have this modern era of golf, where we get to play in front of thousands of fans and have all these big sponsors. Tiger Woods took it to another level, but Arnie is the one who started it all, so to have my name on that trophy next to is pretty special.

After playing here in 2019, I left feeling that this was a tournament that I wanted to win before I finished my career. I put it on a similar level to the PGA Tour’s Players Championship in terms of importance, although the PGA has greater historical significance. The winners of this event are some of greatest legends of the game.”

Of those who finished behind him, Aphibarnrat and Canter both probably signed their scorecards wondering what might have been. The former was 10-under par for his round, and 18 under for the tournament, when playing the 17th hole, but the Thai player, who started the week ranked 516th in the world after a season that has included 11 missed cuts from 21 events, hit his second shot to penultimate hole into someone’s back garden before ending up with a bogey six, and then was only able to par the last after finding trouble off the tee.

Canter, out in the last group with Italy’s Francesco Laporta, also harboured hopes of a life-changing victory when birdies at 10 and 12 took him to 18 under for the tournament. But while others were pouring in birdies on a windless afternoon on the West Course, Canter’s back-nine charge turned into more of a Sunday stroll back from the pub as six consecutive pars from the 13th left him stranded agonisingly one shot back from Horschel’s clubhouse target, with his 20-foot birdie putt at the last, which would have forced a play-off, missing by six inches.

Further down the leaderboard, Justin Rose’s final round 65, which lifted him into a share of sixth, sadly, for him, didn’t do quite enough to jog Padraig Harrington’s mind that the 2013 US Open champion was still good enough to be considered for one of his captain’s picks, while Andrew Johnston, gave his fans enough reason to shout ‘Beef!’ a few hundred times when rediscovering some of his lost form with a closing 65 to join Rose and Laporta on 16 under for the week.

Even further down the leaderboard, one of the most important tied 20th finishes in recent European Tour history went to Bernd Weisberger, with the Austrian’s final round 72, to go with earlier rounds of 71, 67 and 67, doing all that was required to squeak into the ninth automatic qualifying spot for the Ryder Cup team.

Weisberger’s heroics knocked Shane Lowry out of qualification, but the 2019 Open Champion took one of the three captain’s picks on offer, with the other two going to Ian Poulter, who missed the cut on Friday, and Sergio Garcia, who missed the tournament entirely, having seemingly done enough to earn his call up having finished fourth in the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship just the week before.

While the Ryder Cup sideshow brought a bit of added excitement to the tournament, it was the fans – a Covid-restricted capacity of 25,000 for all four tournament days – and the majesty of Wentworth’s West Course, which really ramped up the atmosphere at what remains the European Tour’s most eagerly anticipated and best-attended event.

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