As Alex Noren prepared to hit a five-footer for eagle on the par-5 18th at Wentworth, his hands were shaking so much that he couldn’t even line up the putt. He managed to get a hold of his nerves and gently stroked the delicate downhill curling left-to-right putt — center cup all the way.
Noren fired a scorching ten-under 62 to set a new course record at Wentworth. He posted a tournament total of 11-under to take the lead at the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, separating him from the pack at nine-under, most of whom had most of the back nine left to play. The waiting game began and the torrential showers followed shortly thereafter.
When the 34-year-old Swede teed off Sunday morning, he trailed 54-hole leader Andrew Dodt by seven strokes. Overcoming such a large deficit wasn’t at the forefront of his mind.
“It feels very amazing and very crazy, because I had no intention of trying to win this morning,” said Noren in his post-victory presser. “I didn’t even think about it, and I came off the course quite angry yesterday of playing a good round, 2-under, and then kind of chipping into the water from the back of the green on 18.”
It wasn’t until he birdied the 12th to get to five-under for the round (six-under total) that he realized he had a shot at pulling a Rory McIlroy a la 2014 at this event. (Rory came back from seven strokes to win here three years ago.)
“You always try to get in that zone that everybody talks about, when you’ve got some adrenaline mixed with focus, and that’s what I tried to get into,” said Noren. “And after the birdie there, you start forgetting about this and that; that feels wrong. You just need to get it done today. That’s no tomorrow, kind of feeling. Whatever way works.
“I think after that birdie, I felt really confident going into 13 and 14, and I mean, the weather helped me because right after I finished, it started raining a bit. But the weather was fantastic today, and it’s quite nice to come out on a day like this. You have so much kind of positive energy about the golf course, coming off a very windy and difficult day yesterday.”
Noren carried the momentum to roll in two more straight birdies and played the last six holes at five-under.
Best of all, he vindicated himself of that awful double-bogey finish from the previous round. His drive left him with 230 yards to the pin on the par-5 18th, but he only needed to carry it 210 yards, which was a perfect number for his 5-iron.
“Sometimes the yardage is very good and you like the yardage, and you like the hole where the wind is, how the lie is and stuff, and everything about the shot was very nice in my mind,” said Noren, referring to his mindset at the time. “I hit it kind of long, straight over the green yesterday in a really bad lie. Today I had a good yardage. I knew a 5-iron would carry the front and I couldn’t hit it over the green, even if I tried. That kind of gives you a lot of confidence in a shot.
“So when I stood over the ball, I knew if I just catch it pretty good and don’t hook it, I’ll be all right. Then it came off really nice and straight at the flag, but when you get all the numbers right and the wind is right, it gives you a lot of confidence, and you have a very clear picture in your mind what you want to do. But I was still very nervous.”
✔ 72nd hole eagle
✔ Course record
✔ Clubhouse leader pic.twitter.com/HaTiQj5SC3
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 28, 2017
Noren usually watches the leaderboard very closely because he likes knowing if he has to play conservatively or aggressively. However, on Sunday, he avoided looking at the leaderboard on the 18th green. “For some reason, I didn’t want to watch it,” he said. “I just wanted to get that putt in the hole, and come off the course 11-under.” Following his round, he said it was likely the best round of his life. “It’s a tough course mentally coming down the stretch,” said Noren. “It’s not super narrow, but it’s just if you hit it a little bit wayward, it can cost you. And I putted probably the best I’ve ever putted.” Noren took the outright lead for good to secure his ninth — and biggest — win on the European Tour. But before he hoisted the trophy, he had to wait two hours for the final 11 groups to finish. The pack of players at nine-under were already looking a bit shaky around that time, and then it started pouring down rain, which probably didn’t help, as they continued to drop down the leaderboard and ran out of holes. When Noren got to 11-under, none of the contenders were able to get within a shot. “It’s just weird watching like that, but then with two holes to go, I relaxed,” said Noren, with a smile. In other words, it was nerve-wracking to watch the contenders attempt to catch him, but when the last group had two holes left, he knew he had the trophy locked up.
Meanwhile, Francesco Molinari, playing in the penultimate group, birdied the final two holes in a round of 68 to claim solo second at nine-under. Meanwhile, Nicolas Colsaerts, who was in the group behind Noren, posted a stellar seven-under 65 — despite a double-bogey on 15 — to get to eight-under and surged up the leaderboard and eventually finished tied for third, along with Henrik Stenson, the highest ranked player in the field at no. 5, and Hideto Tanihara. In his previous nine starts in 2017, Colsaerts has struggled to find his form and only placed in the top-30 once. Hopefully, he’ll carry this momentum with him going into the summer.
Noren has won five times in his past 17 starts since last July. That’s damn impressive, and aside from a few real diehards, I’m guessing it’s news to most of you. I remember looking at the world rankings in January during the Abu Dhabi Championship and I saw he was ranked 10th, and I was like, wait, what, I’ve known his name forever because I like his swing, but I was embarrassed that I hadn’t realized how well he’d been playing. Basically, he’s the most underrated player in the world and deserves more credit, including from the media.
Noren is close to earning enough FedExCup points to earn Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour. He finished 10th at The Players and he had a share of the 54-hole lead at the Wells Fargo Championship before he posted a final-round 77. Heading into this week, Noren was ranked 13th in the world, but he’s expected to move to no. 8 when the rankings are updated Monday.
2️⃣4️⃣ putts 1️⃣5️⃣ greens 1️⃣0️⃣ fairways 0️⃣9️⃣ pars 0️⃣8️⃣ birdies 0️⃣1️⃣ eagle 0️⃣0️⃣ bogeys pic.twitter.com/NT0B0TT7zq
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 28, 2017
Keep an eye out for Noren this summer…
Noren since July: AAM Scottish Open Omega European Masters British Masters Nedbank Golf Challenge BMW PGA 5 wins. 17 starts. pic.twitter.com/2x3DCZORAQ — The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) May 28, 2017
Since 2007, there’s been 20 final round comebacks of six shots or more.
More random quotes from Noren:
*On his form this year: “It was very nice to get a good finish at the Match Play. I got beat by DJ but a tied fifth there felt like a big step forward , especially playing in America. I’ve had trouble getting good finishes over there. When I got that, it kind of showed to myself I can play over there as well. The last 2 weeks have been good for me. I’m just trying to improve my game, and it feels a lot better now than in the Desert Swing in January.”
*On adjusting to playing in America more: “This week its pretty firm greens, and the tournaments I played there (in the U.S.) … we got similar good golf courses (in Europe), but the greens are so firm over there. I think its hard to adjust to, especially on par-5s. They become trickier so its just a bit tougher; that’s the biggest change.”
*On contending in the majors going forward: “Well, I think this tournament in my mind compares a lot with a major. You know, the only thing I’ve tried to do is to — what I wanted to do is play better against a better field and better courses, tougher courses. And I view this as a very difficult course against a very tough field.
“So then this is very close to a major in my mind. So my confidence goes up. It’s just work towards your goals and trying to kind of improve on my weaknesses and improve on my strengths, and trying to figure out where I’m losing shots, where I’m gaining shots.
“But overall, a win like this brings your confidence up, and that’s what I’ve always needed, to believe in myself, and then it’s easier to focus on what you need to do.”