In professional golf, tournament wins often appear as if from nowhere, the new champion suddenly finding something special amidst a run of otherwise mediocre form. Bernd Wiesberger’s victory in the Shenzhen International was not one of those.
Since he last missed a halfway cut—in the PGA Championship eight months ago—the 31-year-old Austrian has reeled off an impressively long string of high-finishes on the European Tour: T-11 at the Olympics, second in the KLM Open, fifth in the European Open, T-7 at the Dunhill Links Championship, second in the British Masters, fourth in the Turkish Airlines Open, T-4 in the DP World Tour Championship and, this year already, T-4 in the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and third in the Maybank Championship.
Just about the only thing missing was the first place Wiesberger secured when beating another man currently on the rise, the recent winner in Abu Dhabi, England’s Tommy Fleetwood, on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff after the pair had tied on 16 under par for four circuits of the Genzon Golf Club course. Gregory Bourdy of France and another Englishman, Ross Fisher, tied for third only one shot back.
All in all, it was quite a finish. A number of players had opportunities to join the playoff protagonists, most notably Fisher, who made bogey on the admittedly difficult final hole, and George Coetzee. Sixteen-under standing on the last tee, the big South African made two unscheduled visits to the water up the right side and accumulated a disastrous quadruple-bogey 8.
In contrast, on what was actually the toughest hole on the 7,145-yard course, Wiesberger, T-43 most recently at the Masters, made only the third birdie of the day to claim the €437,017 first-place check. His spectacular approach in the playoff from the bank of the water-hazard that caused Coetzee so many problems finished only five feet from the cup.
“I'm feeling a bit relieved now I have to say,” said Wiesberger, who arrived in China ranked 43rd in the world. “I’ve had a stretch of really good events the last couple of months, and it’s really nice to have a trophy again. We have really good players out here, all up for it, playing well and throwing a lot at me. At the end of the day I’m just glad I got myself into the spot where I could play for the title.
“Tommy has had a great day today, and I’m just grateful to make that one shot when I needed to. I just wanted to get off to a good start and show them that I’m up for it, and I did. I scrapped it around a little bit, had a couple of near misses with good looks at it early on. It could have gotten to me, but I stayed calm, played on decently.”
Indeed, it was far from easy sailing. Wiesberger made the 10th of 11-straight closing pars on the long 17th via water, holing a crucial 10-foot putt for his 5. So that clinching birdie was the new champion’s first dip under par since the seventh hole of regulation play in a final round marked by much good scoring. Fleetwood’s 63 was the lowest of the day (preferred lies were in operation after heavy rain) and only three of the leading 50 finishers shot over-par.
One of that unfortunate trio was two-time Masters champion, Bubba Watson. After opening with a six-under 66, the American fell away to a T-26 finish not helped by a closing 74 that contained two double bogeys in his last six holes.
One last thing. The appearance of two Frenchmen in the top 10—Bourdy and Alex Levy—was a reminder of what was once supposed to be the next big thing on the European Tour. Maybe three or four years ago, a host of Gallic golfers were going great guns and looking like they would all be strong contenders for Ryder Cup places. As it has turned out, only one, Victor Dubuisson, has so far made it into the biennial contest with the Americans. And only Dubuisson at 97th came to China ranked inside the top 100 players on the planet. Funny game golf. Ask anyone.