McDowell survives, but top four seeds out at Match Play

By Doug FergusonFebruary 21, 2014, 12:49 am

MARANA, Ariz. – Getting to the round of 16 in the Match Play Championship was all that mattered Thursday.

Jordan Spieth made it look like child's play. Graeme McDowell aged another 10 years with another stunning escape. And it proved too difficult for Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy, who lost in extra holes on another wild day at Dove Mountain.

''I thought I was dead and buried both days,'' McDowell said.

One day after he rallied from 3 down with three holes to play to win in overtime, McDowell was two holes behind on the 15th tee when he made an 8-foot birdie, halved the next hole with a 10-foot par, won the 17th with a birdie and then holed a 6-foot par putt on the 18th for a 1-up win over Hideki Matsuyama of Japan.

In two matches, McDowell has stood on the tee with his match all square only four times - and two of those were at the start of the match.

Jason Day already has played 40 holes in two rounds. He won a tough match against Thorbjorn Olesen in the opening round, then rallied from 3 down early in his match against Billy Horschel and beat him 22 holes.


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''Doesn't matter how you get it done,'' Day said. ''Find a way to win.''

The top seeds lost their way.

Stenson, the No. 1 seed, fell behind early against Louis Oosthuizen and never caught up in a 4-and-3 loss. It was the sixth straight year, dating to Tiger Woods winning the Accenture Match Play Championship in 2008, that the top seed failed to make it out of the second round.

Rose (No. 2) and McIlroy (No. 3) followed him.

In one of the best matches of the day, Ernie Els poured in one clutch putt after another to stay in the match, and then beat the reigning U.S. Open champion. Els made got up-and-down on the 18th hole by making a 6-foot par putt. Els and Rose both made 10-foot birdie putts on the 19th hole, and then Els finally got a break to go his way in a format that has haunted him over the years.

His approach settled on the slope of the bunker's collar, and while the shot didn't go as planned, it was close to perfect.

''It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime shots, really,'' Els said. ''I caught it a smidgen thin, and it just came out perfectly. It hit the bank and just trickled over to about 4 feet. It was an impossible shot, but it was obviously the right one at the time.''

Rose left his shot in the bunker.

McIlroy had his hands full against English, who has two PGA Tour wins in the last nine months. Boy Wonder managed a strong comeback, however, winning three straight holes for a 1-up lead with two to play. English responded with a 20-foot birdie putt to square the match, and off they went to overtime.

McIlroy went from the left rough to the desert on the 19th hole, and his only hope was to play an explosion shot that came off perfectly. It didn't, sailing over the green by the television tower. He made double bogey and was headed home to Florida, though hardly depressed.

''He played really solid today and didn't really do much wrong, didn't really give me anything,'' McIlroy said. ''I don't feel in any way disappointed leaving so early because I feel like my game is there. I'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks.''

Sergio Garcia at No. 5 is now the top seed remaining after his 3-and-1 victory over Bill Haas. Next up for Garcia is Rickie Fowler, who is finding this format to his liking. Coming off three straight missed cuts, Fowler outlasted one of golf's hottest players, Jimmy Walker, in 18 holes.

Kuchar had a 1-up victory over Ryan Moore in a match so close that 15 of the 18 holes were halved. Kuchar, the defending champion and a former U.S. Amateur winner, improved to 17-3 in this tournament. Hunter Mahan didn't take his first lead until the 17th hole in a 2-up win over Richard Sterne of South Africa.

Kuchar and Mahan are the only players to reach the third round in each of the last four years.

Next up for Kuchar is Spieth, who has been a factor in four of the five tournaments he has played this year. Mahan faces McDowell, which prompted one British writer to jokingly ask McDowell if they had ever played each other.

McDowell beat Mahan in the final match of the Ryder Cup four years ago in Wales, making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole.

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."