English Pro Peter Wilson Leads at Royal Swazi
The 33-year-old from Kent carded his best tournament round of nine-under par 63, with no drops, at the Royal Swazi Sun Country Club to lead the Sunshine Tour event by two-strokes.
Jaco Olver enjoyed his best start as a professional after opening with a 65, while American Bradford Vaughan and Switzerland's Andre Bossert both finished an overcast first day at six-under par.
Richard Fulford was one of the early tournament casualties. Fulford's 13-over par 85 featured an 11 at the par-four second, where he hit two balls out of bounds. But not even Fulford's walk in the Swazi rough was quite as adventurous as Wilson's life story.
The father of three played semi-professional football for a team called Deal Town, and is quick to add that they won the FA Vase, the amateur equivalent of the FA Cup, last year. Wilson was merely a spectator in that match, having been forced to give up the game because of a serious groin injury at the age of 26.
'After that I worked as a builder and helped lay a few bricks in the Channel Tunnel,' joked Wilson said with the kind of understatement that could only be matched by Tiger Woods declaring that he played 'okay' golf in 2000.
Wilson has been playing the Sunshine Tour since 1996, but has yet to win a tournament. On the summer portion of the tour this year, Wilson missed the cut in the South African Masters, failed to qualify for the Alfred Dunhill Championship and South African Open, and finished joint 37th in last week's South African PGA Championship.
His total earnings on the 2000/2001 Sunshine Tour are R16,841 from 11 events, and his best ever finish on the Tour is tie 10th in this season's Botswana Open. 'I've been struggling with my putting, but today (on Thursday) I `found the blade' - I hit the ball so close to the hole that it was fairly simple,' Wilson said.
Wilson was really only tested at the par-four 15th. His drive finished in the trees on the right of the fairway, and from there he could only chip out before managing to get up and down for par.
Vaughan again finds himself amidst the early contenders for the third week running. The American was the leader in the clubhouse for most of the day following a round of five birdies, an eagle and a bogey.
Vaughan eagled the par-five 17th, lipping out for an albatross with a four-wood from 230 metres. He has been remarkably consistent on the summer leg of the Sunshine Tour, but has failed to carry that form through to a victory.
Vaughan led for 36 holes of the Dimension Data Pro-Am and shared the halfway lead in last week's South African PGA Championship before falling away on the weekend. 'I am tired of coming in to talk to the press on Thursday and Friday. I want to be in here on the weekend,' Vaughan said. 'I feel a win is close.'
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Hahn jabs USGA over possible ball rollback
As debate continues to heat up over possible sweeping changes to the golf ball amid distance concerns, PGA Tour pro James Hahn chimed in to question the merits of a potential rollback.
The ball and distance debate gained traction earlier this week when Jack Nicklaus offered that the ball should be rolled back to the approximate distances achieved in 1995, and he put blame for the current situation squarely at the feet of Titleist. That drew a response from former Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who put the onus back on the governing bodies.
It's an issue that will likely be discussed for months to come, but Hahn took to Twitter to throw a jab toward the USGA and play devil's advocate on some key arguments related to a possible rollback:
Breaking news. In addition to limited flight balls, the USGA plans to ban working out, proper diet and swinging faster than 105mph. They are also planning on removing the 3 point shot in the NBA.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) February 23, 2018
If we were playing a match, would you rather hit 7 iron to my 9 iron OR hit hybrid to my 5 iron? Oh and by the way, I can still hit par 5s in two with 3 wood. You can't.— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) February 25, 2018
Hahn, who has two career PGA Tour wins and lost in a playoff last month at the Sony Open, ranks 55th on Tour this season in driving distance with an average of 301.2 yards off the tee.
Na fires back over slow play criticism from cricketer
Kevin Na fired back over recent criticism he received about his purported slow play at last week's Genesis Open.
Kevin Pietersen is a retired English cricketer with more than 3.6 million followers on Twitter. He tweeted a video of Na, known as one of the slower players on the PGA Tour, taking more than a minute to line up and hit what he described as a "Tap In" during the final round at Riviera:
SERIOUSLY, Kevin Na?!?!— Kevin Pietersen (@KP24) February 18, 2018
That Is A Tap In, MATE! pic.twitter.com/YMmNT6m5H7
He then added another video of himself on a green in Dubai, where he again called out Na and showed how long he believed it should take for a player to brush in a short putt:
Na has faced his fair share of slow play criticism, but this time he decided to defend himself. Na isn't on Twitter, but he took to Instagram to tell Pietersen to "stick to your own sport," pointing out both the length of the putt in question and the stakes that were involved during the final round, when Na went on to tie for second behind Bubba Watson:
@kp24 lets get some facts straight. Shot tracker shows what u call “tap in” 3ft 4in. Since when is 3’4’’ on green speed 12 a “tap in.” FYI 1 shot for me on Sunday was 300k. Difference between T2 and T4. Yes, I did back off because the line didn’t feel right. So what! BTW that was the only putt I backed off all day. Also our group was on pace all day! We waited if anything. @pgatour @golfdigest @golf_com @golfchannel #getyourfactstraight #sticktoyourownsport #everyshotcounts
Pepperell wins his first European Tour title in Qatar
DOHA, Qatar - Eddie Pepperell survived a tense finish to win the Qatar Masters at the Doha Golf Club on Sunday for his maiden European Tour title.
The 27-year-old Englishman held off a spirited challenge from compatriot Oliver Fisher, who needed a third successive birdie on the 18th hole to force a playoff, but had his putt from six feet slip past the hole for a par.
Pepperell shot a 2-under-par 70 for a four-day tally of 18 under 270, while Fisher, who started the day tied for the lead, could only manage a 71.
Sweden's Marcus Kinhult (68) finished third at 16-under.
The No. 154-ranked Pepperell made things difficult for himself with a bogey on the 15th hole, but hit a superb wedge to three feet on the next to get back to 18 under again.
Fisher, who appeared to have fallen out of contention with three bogeys starting on the third hole, stormed back with birdies on the 14th, 16th and 17th holes.
On the last, Pepperell laid up with his second into the thick rough, made wet and unwieldy by rain in the Qatar capital, but found the green in three and two-putted for the win when Fisher missed his birdie putt.
''I did the things I needed to do, I didn't play fantastic but I won ugly and for the first win to be ugly is good. Hopefully, I'll have some prettier ones in the future,'' said Pepperell.
''I knew I was playing well, especially tee to green, so I expected a lot of myself this week and I guess to pull it off is amazing. When Oli birdied the 17th, that was when it really caught up with me that I was only one ahead. I was in my own zone, I knew I had a couple of shots of lead but Oli did great. It was a tough front nine for him and I had to stay right in my own way and out of the two guys' way because they were struggling a bit and it's sometimes easy to get dragged into that.''
Fisher was disappointed, but saw the silver lining in the way he fought back.
''It went all the way to the last hole which, after my front nine, was what I was hoping for on the back nine,'' said Fisher, who won the 2011 Czech Open, but recorded his first top-three finish since the 2014 Africa Open.
''I hit a lot of good shots coming down the back nine and gave myself a lot of good chances, but there were just too many bogeys today, four in total, so you're never going to win a tournament making that many mistakes on a Sunday. But at least I pressed him all the way.''
Italian Renato Paratore (66) had the low round of the day and finished tied for fourth place at 15 under par, where he was joined by the Spanish pair of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Pablo Larrazabal along with Gregory Havret of France.