Finau and Simpson fire in Phoenix to tee up Sunday scrap

By Sports Desk February 01, 2020

Tony Finau and Webb Simpson lit up the Phoenix Open with a gripping tussle at the top of the leaderboard on moving day.

Both Finau, who played the 16th hole again wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey, and Simpson executed some stunning shots to thrill a raucous Saturday crowd.

It was Finau - enjoying a strong start to the 2020 season - who headed into the final round with a one-shot lead, though, courtesy of his blistering nine-under 62.

The world number 13 was matched stride for stride by Simpson, playing one hole back, until the latter's poor tee shot at the 17th led to a bogey that belatedly opened up a narrow gap.

Up to that point, the pair had delighted the assembled spectators, Finau's most outstanding stretch seeing three birdies and an eagle across five holes from the 12th.

Finau, who turned in 31 and went bogey-free throughout, might have had his second eagle of the day and second in three holes at the 15th, yet an eight-foot putt drifted agonisingly to the right.

"That was probably the most enjoyable round I've ever had on a golf course," he told Sky Sports. "I had so much fun out there."

Simpson bogeyed the seventh as well as the 17th, but he supplied the shot of the day with a hole in one at 12.

Overnight leader JB Holmes was a stroke further back - tied with Hudson Swafford - in third on 14 under, consecutive birdies on the back nine rescuing a title tilt.

Holmes tumbled down the leaderboard at last week's Farmers Insurance Open after a solid first two rounds, and another miserable Saturday appeared to be in store until the recovery to 70.

He fared better than his playing partners at least, Billy Horschel and Wyndham Clark back level in 16th, signing for 73 and 74 respectively.

The duo lay a shot behind Jon Rahm, who lost momentum over the final three holes for the second day running to sit at 10 under.

Rahm can become world number one for the first time with victory this week, but he has plenty of work to do if he is to make up the six-shot deficit to Finau.

Meanwhile, Rickie Fowler's hopes of defending his title are all but over after a two-under 69 - hampered by consecutive bogeys at the 10th and 11th - left him back on five under.

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  • After 477 failed attempts, Bland finally wins on European Tour with British Masters triumph After 477 failed attempts, Bland finally wins on European Tour with British Masters triumph

    Richard Bland finally won a European Tour title at the 478th attempt as the 48-year-old saw decades of persistence pay off at the British Masters.

    The Englishman first appeared on the circuit in 1998 and had three runner-up finishes and a pair of third places to his name across his career before this week, but the first win had proven elusive.

    However, he put that right on Saturday at The Belfry, a closing 66 taking him to 13 under par before Bland held his nerve in a play-off to deny Italian Guido Migliozzi.

    Bland made birdie at the 18th with a putt from almost 30 feet for a six-under 66 to set the clubhouse target, but Migliozzi joined him on that mark by picking up shots at the 15th and 16th holes.

    It would have been a nervy wait for Bland as Migliozzi targeted the birdie in the closing two holes that would have brought him the title, but the 24-year-old could not make it happen as he settled for a 68, triggering the play-off.

    When Migliozzi missed from around 10 feet for par at the first extra hole - the 18th - Bland had the chance to slot the winning putt from close range, and he made no mistake.

    "I've done it," said an emotional Bland on Sky Sports. "My game had been trending in the right way and I'd worked really hard, as you know we've worked so hard on the wedges."

    Interviewed by his coach Tim Barter, Bland, who collects €339,278 for his win, said: "I just drove the ball so well this week. I've gone back to my old driver. Round here - especially for me, I'm not the longest on tour - so I've got to hit fairways and I've probably missed single-digit fairways all week.

    "If I have missed one it's been by a couple of inches. I came off a pretty decent week last week and a top 10 [last month] in Gran Canaria so I knew my game was in decent shape."

    Finland's Mikko Korhonen shared third place on 12 under with England's Dave Coupland and Polish player Adrian Meronk, with another Englishman in Andy Sullivan tied for sixth with South African Dean Burmester.

    Tournament host Danny Willett finished at nine under, the same mark as fellow Englishman Eddie Pepperell who was the overnight leader but struggled on the final day, a one-over 73 seeing him slide down the leaderboard to a share of 11th place.

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