Expert Picks: WGC-Accenture Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 18, 2014, 4:52 pm

This week marks the 14th event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season as 64 of the game's best tee it up at Dove Mountain for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players, based on Golf Channel's fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and John Antonini; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams; staff writer Ryan Lavner and defending fantasy champion Charlie Rymer.

Rex Hoggard

Jones Bracket: Jason Day: The Australian advanced to the final four last year in Tucson and in his last four starts at the Match Play, he's made it to the weekend. His biggest test may come in Round 4 when he could potentially face Henrik Stenson.

Hogan Bracket: Jimmy Walker: He may be playing out of the week's toughest bracket - and will be making his first start at the Match Play - but other than last week's fade in Los Angeles he's been like a machine this season.

Player Bracket: Jordan Spieth: Another Match Play rookie, but the American is a newcomer in name only. Following a runner-up finish at his 2014 opener in Hawaii, he's added top-15 finishes at Pebble Beach (T-4) and Los Angeles (T-12).

Snead Bracket: Hunter Mahan: Last year's runner-up at Dove Mountain is the prototypical Match Play pick. He hits a lot of fairways and greens, and when he's making putts he's virtually unstoppable.

Finals Prediction: Mahan d. Day

Jason Sobel

Jones: Graham DeLaet: Ball don't lie. DeLaet has been flushing it better this year than anyone not named Jimmy Walker.

Hogan: Rory McIlroy: He's been trending in the right direction for a few months now, and this course feels like a perfect fit.

Player: Ryan Moore: Plays his best golf on desert courses, though still seeking the match-play form that made him an amateur star.

Snead: Hideki Matsuyama: Every Final Four needs a George Mason, but the ultra-talented Matsuyama wouldn't be such a Cinderella.

Finals Prediction: McIlroy d. Moore

John Antonini

Jones: Jason Day: On match-play pedigree alone, the Aussie is the choice. Day is 8-3 overall at Accenture and has never lost in the first round.

Hogan: Rory McIlroy: A McIlroy-Ian Poulter match in the quarterfinals would be entertaining, but the vagaries of match play will assure that never happens.

Player: Jordan Spieth: Spieth might have to get through past champions Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald to get to the final four, but neither is currently playing up to form.

Snead: Hideki Matsuyama: If this were World Cup soccer, the Snead bracket would be the Group of Death. Look for the young Japanese sensation to lay waste to a group of Ryder Cuppers that includes Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan just in his pod alone.

Finals prediction: Matsuyama d. Day

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.