Poulter man to beat at Volvo World Match Play

By Associated PressMay 16, 2012, 6:18 pm

CASARES, Spain – Given his excellent Ryder Cup record and his unprecedented double in individual match-play tournaments, Ian Poulter's preferred format for the 2016 Olympics is no surprise.

''I don't know where they are with their decision-making ... but I think match play would suit the Olympics better than a stroke-play event,'' the Englishman said Wednesday.

The proposed Olympic competition for men and women is a 72-hole individual stroke-play tournament, but Poulter surely would be installed among the favorites if there was a late change.

One of the grittiest players on the circuit, Poulter looks to be the man to beat when he defends his title at this week's World Match Play Championship in Spain.

''He seems to make the clutch putts,'' said Justin Rose, one of Poulter's rivals this week. ''He's just one of those competitive guys, eye-to-eye, hates to lose.''

Matchups for Round 1 of the Volvo World Match Play

Poulter, the only player to win the Accenture World Match Play in the U.S. and the Volvo version on the European Tour, ground out a 4 and 2 victory over Luke Donald – then the world's top player – a in last year's final.

Twelve months later, he has an even bigger incentive to win in southern Spain – it's the year of the Ryder Cup, an event close to Poulter's heart.

''I love match play. I love the buzz of it. I like looking straight at the guys you are playing. It puts you under pressure and it's a great format we don't play enough of,'' Poulter said. ''Especially being a Ryder Cup year, it would be important for me to have a big week this week.''

With the biennial match with the United States a little more than four months away, Europe's top players couldn't pick a better tournament to impress team captain Jose Maria Olazabal than the World Match Play Championship.

The world's top three players – Europeans Rory McIlroy, Donald and Lee Westwood – have decided to skip the event. But No. 9 Martin Kaymer, No. 12 Rose and 2010 Ryder Cup star Graeme McDowell are among the field.

Brandt Snedeker, who is vying for a spot on the U.S. team for the match in Medinah near Chicago from Sept. 28-30, is the only American in the 24-man field at the Finca Cortesin course near Malaga.

Snedeker hopes his clubs arrive for the event. On Monday, his plane made an emergency landing en route to Spain after a passenger suffered a heart attack. His suitcase and clubs were lost, forcing him to use a makeshift set for Wednesday's pro-am.

Snedeker was drawn in a group alongside veteran Dane Thomas Bjorn and South Africa's Branden Grace. There are eight groups of three players in the round-robin format, with the top two in each advancing to the last 16.

Grace is looking to become the first player to win four European Tour events in his first season after graduation from qualifying school.

The omens are good for the 23-year-old South African. He won his last match-play event in his native country six years ago.

''It's come all at once, it's a bit of a shock,'' Grace said of his current form after winning the China Open, Volvo Golf Champions and the Joburg Open. ''I couldn't ask for a better spot. I think at this time, I'm just running with the emotion and the positives.''

Sergio Garcia and fellow Spaniard Alvaro Quiros are in the same group along with Japan's Tetsuji Hiratsuka, while Rose, British Open champion Darren Clarke and Robert Rock will clash in an all-British group.

Clarke hasn't made a halfway cut all season and is without a top-10 finish since his victory at Royal St. George's last July.

''My pride has been hurt,'' Clarke said. ''I've been so frustrated with the whole thing because I've been trying so hard, too hard probably. Not to justify the Open win, but to back it up.''

Scotland's Paul Lawrie is one of five other major winners in the field and likely to make Europe's Ryder Cup lineup having already won the Qatar Masters this season. This will be the 1999 British Open winner's 500th European Tour event, making him only the 22nd player to achieve that feat.

Poulter is grouped with John Senden of Australia and Tom Lewis of England.

Finca Cortesin is hosting the tournament for the third straight year following the switch from its longstanding venue of Wentworth in England. Organizers said Tuesday that the event will be moved next year, possibly outside Europe for the first time in its illustrious 47-year history.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.