No Guarantees at Match Play
The numbers don't lie.
He made two bogeys on the first 102 holes he played, and just five in his six matches. He only saw the 18th hole three times, and one of those was in a practice round.
If this had been a stroke-play event?
I felt like I would have won by a lot,'' Woods said Tuesday. I mean, I really played well.''
The funny thing about this $7 million World Golf Championship is that even if Woods plays just as well this year, there's no guarantee he won't be among 32 guys heading for the airport after the first round.
It's the unpredictability of match play,'' Woods said. If we had to play match play every single week, guys would retire by the age of 40 because of the emotional ups and downs and roller coasters you go through on 18 holes.''
The most fickle format in golf gets under way Wednesday at La Costa Resort with 32 first-round matches where seeds are about as valuable as an unsigned check.
Last year was the first time two top-10 seeds have reached the 36-hole finals, and Woods outlasted sixth-seeded David Toms on the 35th hole.
The No. 2 seed has lost in the first round each of the last three years, which doesn't bode well for Vijay Singh. Besides, the Fijian has never made it past the second round.
Seeds of the other Accenture Match Play Championship winners look like lotto numbers -- 24, 19, 55, 62. Those belonged to Jeff Maggert, Darren Clarke, Steve Stricker and Kevin Sutherland.
Clarke is the only guy from that group who qualified this year, and he had this to say about the difference of match play and stroke play.
Stupidity, I was going to say,'' Clarke said. But I don't think that will go down well.''
No, it's a perfect application this week.
Just ask Scott Hoch, who played a beautiful round of golf last year. He was splitting the middle of the fairway and holing enough putts to be 3 under par through 13 holes. Only one other guy had a better score in the quarterfinals, and it happened to be his opponent -- Woods -- who was 8-under when the match ended on No. 14.
There are no upsets, just lots of upset players.
Even the most affable players in golf have few words when they lose in the first round. One year when Colin Montgomerie was knocked out of the first round, he was asked how about his week.
Lovely flight,'' he said. Going to take another one tonight.''
That's one reason Ernie Els decided not to show up this year. The third-ranked player said he wanted to spend time with his 4-year-old daughter in London before she starts school, although the Big Easy made it clear last month he's not a big fan of La Costa, or 18-hole matches where anything goes.
Jim Furyk also had to withdraw with a wrist injury, which jumbled the seedings.
Woods plays the first round against John Rollins, who hasn't been in match play since he lost to Matt Kuchar in the round of 16 at the '97 U.S. Amateur.
Singh plays Shingo Katayama, while third-seeded Davis Love III takes on Briny Baird and fourth-seeded Mike Weir, coming off a victory in the Nissan Open, faces Rich Beem.
When it was suggested to Beem that Weir might be facing a post-victory hangover from Riviera, he replied, I'll be sending plenty of champagne to his room.''
Woods didn't even know whom he might play in the second round, nor does he care.
Even when I was playing in the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Junior, I kept it in the present and kept focusing on one match at a time,'' Woods said. Once I got that match done with, I'd focus on who I was going to play in the next match, and figure out what I needed to do, adjust my game to beat my opponent.''
Woods isn't unbeatable -- just ask Peter O'Malley, who knocked him out of the first round two years ago -- but his record indicates he remains the guy to beat.
Woods is 14-3 at the Match Play Championship, his other losses coming against Clarke in the 2000 finals and to Maggert in the 1999 quarterfinals.
Don't rule out the travel-weary or the injured.
Toms is playing only his second tournament since surgery on his wrist, and he says he is hitting the ball shorter as he tries to regain strength. In a stroke-play event, he'd have no chance this week.
Thank goodness for match play,'' he said.
Montgomerie flew into La Costa from the Malaysian Open, which isn't the best preparation. Considering his record, what difference does it make?
He has been beaten in the first round three times in four years, the exception coming in 2000 when he made it all the way to the second round.
I look forward to match play, like I always do, although my record here is very, very poor,'' he said. Why, I don't know. Coincidence, hopefully.''
Even Woods might buy into that theory.
The thing about stroke play is the best player that week wins,'' he said. In match play, the best player that week doesn't always win. It's the best player that particular day.''
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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.
The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.
It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.
“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”
Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.
According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.
“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.
And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.
As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.
He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.
“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.
Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.
“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”
Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.
Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.
“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.
Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.
Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1
SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.
After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.
With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.
“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'
SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.
“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”
On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”
Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”
Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.
“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”
Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.
Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.
Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:
• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10
• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1
• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1