Toshimitsu Izawa and Shigeki Maruyama ended a 45 year drought for Japan when they finished two shots ahead of the United States to win the World Golf Championships – EMC² World Cup after a dramatic final afternoon at Vista Vallarta, Mexico.
Japan’s closing foursomes round of 66 gave them a 36 under par total of 252, two clear of the United States, with the young English team of Paul Casey and Justin Rose sharing third place with Korea on 30 under par 258.
Overnight leaders Japan managed to hold the charging United States team of Phil Mickelson and David Toms at bay until losing the lead for the first time when they double bogeyed the 13th. But Izawa and Maruyama re-grouped and hit back with birdies on the 16th and 17th to draw level playing the last.
For 71 holes the United States had played flawless golf without a single bogey on the card. But all that changed when Toms, faced with a 130 yard shot to the front of the green from the right rough, pulled his six iron into the water hazard to the left of the green from which they could do no better than a double bogey six.
Japan, watching the drama unfold from the fairway in the group behind, were back in front and duly made a par on the last to win the title for the first time since 1957.
“I hadn’t played well all year but to win such a big tournament as the EMC² World Cup is a very nice way to end the year,” said Izawa. “When the leaderboard showed us ahead and even with a bogey on the last we could win the tournament. I was just hoping Maruyama won’t hit it over the green into the creek!”
“I have now played in this event for the last three years and it is nice to bring the trophy back to Japan,” added Maruyama. “It has been quite a few years since Japan won the World Cup.”
Japan started the final day one clear of Fiji and three ahead of the United States, who had put themselves in contention with a third round 57 in the fourballs but that lead was down to one as Mickelson and Toms raced to the turn in 30 shots with four birdies and an eagle on the third.
Izawa and Maruyama, out in 32, kept their noses in front with birdies at the tenth and 12th but found trouble on the 13th when Izawa hit a three iron through the green into the bunker. Maruyama’s recovery went back through the green and the resultant double bogey put them one behind after the United States birdied the same hole.
Birdies at the 16th and 17th put Japan back on level terms and with the United States finding trouble Izawa and Maruyama went on to secure Japan’s biggest victory in nearly five decades.
For Mickelson and Toms, partners in The 34th Ryder Cup Matches in September, it was a bitter disappointment after clawing their way back into contention over the last two days.
“We didn’t make a bogey all week and then finished with a double bogey on the last hole,” said Toms. “I had a difficult shot but at the same time just hit it badly. Looking back I should have hit a sandwedge over the tree but just didn’t think the shot through. We hit a lot of good shots until the last hole but that’s just part of golf.”
“We gave ourselves a shot at it and put ourselves in a position to win with a couple of holes to go,” added Mickelson. “The last hole was certainly a disappointing way to finish, given that we fought so hard yesterday and today to get back into the tournament.”
The England pairing of Casey, a late replacement for the injured Nick Faldo, and Rose acquitted themselves with distinction to claim joint third place, a closing 68 leaving them tied with Korea.
“We would have liked to have been a couple of places better but we really got overtaken a bit,” said Casey. “We stumbled on the back nine a couple of times this week. We played the foursomes very well and think we might have won if we had cracked on in the better ball. Overall it was a good week and I am happy to have been thrown in a short notice and feel I have done a half decent job. Hope Nick will be happy with that.”
“We both tried really hard today,” added Rose. “We stayed positive and did all the right things but it got to a point, after the eighth, when we knew we couldn’t win and it was a matter of playing for the higher places and doing England as proud as possible.”
There were plenty of other good performances from European Tour Members, notably from Tim Clark and Rory Sabbatini who put up a strong defence of the title for South Africa by claiming fifth place on 29 under par.
Australia, represented by Craig Parry and Adam Scott, and the Argentine pairing of Angel Cabrera and Eduardo Romero finished in joint sixth place on 28 under par while Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley also finished in the top ten as they steered Ireland into joint eighth place alongside Canada.