Muirhead wins 3rd GSOC Players’ title in 4 years

Sarah Reid, Cathy Overton-Clapham, Vicki Adams and Eve Muirhead celebrate with the Players' Championship trophy. (Anil Mungal)

TORONTO — All Eve Muirhead does in Toronto is win championships.

The Stirling, Scotland, native captured her third Players’ Championship title that Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre has hosted in four years by defeating Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones 9-6 in the women’s final of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling major tournament.

Muirhead, who won her first career Grand Slam at the venue in 2013, already has next year’s Players’ Championship in mind with the event returning to the “6ix” once again.

“I don’t know, I just seem to really love it here,” Muirhead said with a smile. “It seems to actually bring out the best. Three times been here and three times won it. I’m happy it’s here the next year as well but really pleased. I think it’s really the crowd that makes it. The ice conditions have been fantastic. My team has been great all week and everything is just good.”

It was almost a disaster to start for Team Muirhead as the defending champs opened with the hammer but their skip had to bail them out making a clutch draw to the button with Jones sitting four counters in the house plus two guards above the house.

“I guess that was pretty crucial that we made that draw in the first end because that could have been game over there,” Muirhead said. “That’s what a skip has to do is make these big shots and I did. As I said though, it’s not just me. My team played well all week.”

Jones looked for a big score in the second but didn’t get the right angle on her runback attempt and gave up a steal of one. The five-time Players’ winner Jones made another high-pressure shot in the third, but it paid off as she made a straight runback double to count three for a 3-2 advantage.

The curling clinic continued as Muirhead reclaimed the lead 4-3 with a double for a deuce in four but Jones kept it tight hitting and rolling onto the button to tie it in five.

Muirhead grabbed the lead for good in six making a double with her first skip stone and then drawing for three with her last to go up 7-4. Jones closed the gap to within one with a deuce in seven, but gave up the hammer coming home.

“It was a great game for TV,” Jones said. “There were lots of big shots. Unfortunately a few misses late in the game but that’s what makes it fun and unfortunately just too many misses for us.”

Team Muirhead relied on spare Cathy Overton-Clapham to sub for the injured Anna Sloan, who will miss the rest of the season due to an ACL injury. Overton-Clapham, who won three Players’ titles while playing with Jones, continued her “super spare” role after also capturing the 2014 Masters filling in on Val Sweeting’s team.

The team now returns home for a day before they head to Switzerland for the European Masters and then off to Sherwood Park, Alta., for the Humpty’s Champions Cup, the season-ending Pinty’s GSOC event.

“Really looking forward to next few weeks, a lot of time on the road, but that’s what it’s like being an athlete and being a curler,” Muirhead said. “But it’s good fun and then it’s summer. Can’t wait.”

Earlier Sunday, Jones defeated Kerri Einarson 6-4 in an all-Manitoba team women’s semifinal to clinch a berth into the 2017 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials. The spot was up for grabs after Scotties champ Chelsea Carey finished off of the podium at the worlds and eligible for the CTRS points leader over the season. Jones won the last trials and captured the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

“It’s great. It makes next season easier,” Jones said. “You can kind of plan your schedule accordingly so it’s very exciting.”

Ottawa’s Rachel Homan won this season’s Rogers Grand Slam Cup women’s title as the overall season champion earning a $75,000 bonus. Homan was stunned in the quarter-finals of the Players’ losing 7-6 to Einarson.

The Players’ Championship men’s final sees defending champ Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., playing Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L. Gushue clinched the Rogers Grand Slam Cup men’s title and looks to complete a career Grand Slam having won the other three majors.

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