Power Rankings: WGC-Accenture Match Play

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2014, 8:39 pm

This week marks the 14th event of the 2013-14 PGA Tour season, as players head to Arizona for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. A field of 64 players will tackle the Golf Club at Dove Mountain, where the season's second WGC event will test their ability to survive the unpredictability of match play.

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Matt Kuchar returns to defend the title he won last year over Hunter Mahan. Here are 10 players to watch this week outside Tucson:

1. Rory McIlroy: The Ulsterman enters as one of the four top seeds, and his recent form makes him the odds-on favorite to emerge victorious. McIlroy was a runner-up here to Mahan just two years ago, and while he was bounced in the first round last year he's unlikely to make an early exit again. He had promising finishes during the Desert Swing last month and is again showing signs of the player who once topped the world rankings.

2. Jason Day: Day made the semifinals here a year ago as an 11 seed and now should have a considerably easier draw as the 2 seed in the Jones Bracket. The Aussie has compiled more than his fair share of high finishes against elite fields recently and boasts an 8-3 overall record in this event.

3. Dustin Johnson: DJ enters off a pair of near-misses, finishing just short in the last two weeks at Pebble Beach and Riviera. Johnson's record in this event isn't exactly inspiring - four first-round exits in the last five years - but his recent form is. Dove Mountain is a course where his bombing style will be rewarded if he's able to keep things firing on all cylinders.

4. Zach Johnson: Johnson should be well-rested, having taken a few weeks off following his torrid stretch through December and January. The former Masters champ has been one of the best around for nearly eight months, and his world-class wedge play should yield dividends this week. This course often favors the longer players off the tee, but ZJ has the overall game to make a deep run.

5. Jordan Spieth: At some point, the 20-year-old will show signs of regression, but they don't appear to be on the horizon. Spieth contended once again last week, ultimately finishing T-14 at Riviera, and enters this week as one of the most confident players in the bracket. His aggressive style could get him in trouble against a seasoned opponent, but betting against the Texan hasn't exactly been a sound strategy over the past 12 months.

6. Hunter Mahan: A winner here two years ago, Mahan nearly went back-to-back before losing to Kuchar in the finals last year. He clearly enjoys the confines of match play, and his recent record includes a pair of top-10 finishes in 2014. A potential date with Zach Johnson in the second round looms, though, which could knock out one of the stronger players in this week's field.

7. Matt Kuchar: The defending champ saw his lengthy made-cut streak come to an end last week at Riviera, but at least he'll be able to start a new one at Dove Mountain. Kuchar has been a fixture at this event, making at least the quarterfinals each of the past three years and compiling a 15-3 overall record in the process. The former U.S. Amateur champ is another that clearly enjoys the strategic aspect of match play, and a potential third-round matchup with Spieth could be must-see TV.

8. Sergio Garcia: El Nino bringing his game to the U.S. for the first time in 2014, fresh off a strong Desert Swing that included a win in Qatar. As a result, Garcia finds himself in uncharted territory near the top of the world rankings, and a strong showing this week could propel him even higher. The Spaniard has experienced his fair share of first-round flameouts in this event, but did finish fourth here in 2010.

9. Henrik Stenson: The overall top seed won a pair of season-long titles in 2013, but has failed to replicate that dominant form across the first few weeks of 2014. Stenson has battled through a series of injuries in recent months, but the high number of recent rounds for the Swede appears to have taken a toll. He's difficult to beat when he's on his game, but this event has rarely been kind to its No. 1 seed in years past.

10. Bubba Watson: Watson was a runner-up in Phoenix, then finished one better in Los Angeles. The southpaw's game can hardly be described as consistent, but when he's "on" he can be nearly impossible to knock out on a lengthy track like Dove Mountain. Watson currently leads the Tour in driving distance and has compiled a solid 7-4 record across the past three years in this event.

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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."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.