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Me llamo Pablo Larrazabal, y soy campeon

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My Sunday morning was spent in mourning for over three hours. As a Spanish teacher, I could not imagine what Pablo Larrazabal was feeling. five bogeys and one double bogey absolutely suffocated a single, front-nine birdie. The Spaniard turned in 42, six over par, after reaching 11 under through three rounds. Names like Sjoholm, Grace, Besseling, even Schwartzel, were returned to contention. With incredibly sore feet, Larrazabal looked like a wounded weekend warrior, limping along the Leopard Creek golf course. Which of his challengers would win? Certainly not the native of Barcelona.

Wil Besseling owned a two-shot advantage when he reached the 14th tee. He dunked one ball in the drink on that hole and lost his advantage to Joel Sjoholm. The happy-go-lucky Swede was 3-under through 13 holes, but could not notch another birdie coming home. He finished on 7 under par, and sat down in the clubhouse to wait. He would ultimately finish solo 2nd, a fine start to the new season.

Leopard Creek was kind to no one on this day. Brandon Grace dropped shots to par on holes two to four. He would claw back to 1 over on the day, but needed 1 under to reach the top. Fellow South African Charl Schwartzel wrote down one eagle, one birdie…and three bogeys on his outward-nine card. Still, compared with Larrazabal’s gaffes, even par was a miraculous comeback. The 2011 Masters champion played the inward half in 2 under par, joining Grace at 6 under.

Back to Besseling. From a lie in the rough on 18, he still went for a ridiculously-tucked flag in two, hoping to assure a birdie to reach 8 under. As expected, his knuckleball bounded past the flag, over the green, down the slope … and onto the rock wall guarding the peninsula from water. First dumb play of 2020, and it won’t be the last. Besseling made bogey on a sub-500 yard par 5, dropping to 6 under as well.

And yes, Larrazabal and his moaning, groaning, weeping dogs were, somehow, still a part of this tournament’s denouement. The Catalonian made bogey at the par-5 13th but followed with consecutive birdies at 15 and 16. Equally impressive was a massive par save at 17. With the stage set for a heroic comeback, Larrazabal drove into the rough at the last. Unlike Besseling, he was less brave than wise and laid up to wedge distance. His spinner stopped two feet from the hole, ensuring an unexpected, but strategic, birdie, and an inconceivable (in all its “Princess Bride” glory) conclusion to the event. After the lowest of lows times six, Larrazabal had somehow, in some borderline-unearthly manner, claimed his fifth European Tour title, and his first in four years.

Pablo Larrazabal, campeon.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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