Pieters impressive in Masters debut

Thomas Pieters of Belgium had an impressive showing in his first Masters appearance – firing 4-under-par 68 Sunday to climb up the leaderboard.

The 25-year-old finished at 5-under-par in a tie for fourth place, securing a spot at Augusta next year with a top-12 finish.

But the former NCAA champion from Illinois was thinking of what could have been after a 75 on Saturday derailed his chances to win a green jacket.

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“I’m happy how I fought back because I had a lot of bad swings Saturday,” said Pieters, who has three wins on the European Tour and starred for Europe in the 2016 Ryder Cup.

Pieters started a run of four consecutive birdies on No. 12, where he converted from 18 feet from the front fringe. He was on in two easily at No. 13, hitting his approach from 178 yards to 24 feet and two-putting. At the par-4 14th hole, he dialed in his 160-yard approach to seven feet and dropped another birdie putt. At No. 15 he blasted a drive of 354 yards, leaving 167 yards for his approach. He two-putted from 26 feet for his final birdie of the day.

Pieters ranked fifth on the week in driving distance, averaging 292.9 yards. He was tied for 11th with 1.61 putts per hole and tied for 14th in greens in regulation, hitting 67 percent.