Stat attack:! WGC-Accenture Match Play preview

By John AntoniniFebruary 17, 2014, 9:14 pm

The vagaries of match play preclude the use of advanced metrics to determine winners in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Don’t believe me, then how do you explain Shane Lowry over Rory McIlroy and Charles Howell III over Tiger Woods in the first round in 2013. Besides, this isn’t the NCAA basketball tournament, where a No. 16 seed has never beaten a top seed. The best 64 teams don’t play in that tournament, but the best golfers are in the Arizona desert this week. Well, most of them anyway. So if McIlroy, the top seed in the Ben Hogan bracket, loses to Boo Weekley Wednesday, let’s refrain from calling it as big an upset as Florida Gulf Coast over anyone in basketball. With that in mind, here's a look at each of the four brackets in the 2014 Accenture. (Click here for the full bracket and click here to play our Fantasy Challenge)

The Bobby Jones Bracket

 Best of the bunch

 Jason Day has best winning percentage in the bracket (8-3, .727 percent), and was third a
 year ago, losing to Matt Kuchar in the semifinals before beating Ian Poulter, 1 up, in the
 consolation match.

 Wednesday worries
 Henrik Stenson is 12-6 overall at the Match Play, but all that damage came early in his career.
 He hasn’t won his opening match since 2008.
 Who has the hot hand?
 No one, really. Of the five players who played the Northern Trust Open, none finished better
 than T-59 (David Lynn).
 First-timer to watch
 Patrick Reed and Graham DeLaet face each other on Day 1 and the winner gets either
 George Coetzee or the rested (but rusty) Steve Stricker Thursday.
 Major players
 If 2010 British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen and 2012 U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson
 win their first two matches, they’ll meet in Round 3. It will be a rematch of
 their singles match in the 2013 Presidents Cup, which they halved.
 Trending poorly
 Coetzee, who got into the field at the deadline by winning the Joburg Open, hasn’t won
 in the first round in his two previous Match Play appearances.
 Haven’t we met before?
 Simpson and Brandt Snedeker, who were 1-1 as teammates in the 2013 Presidents Cup,
 could meet in the second round if they beat Thongchai Jaidee and Lynn, respectively.

The Ben Hogan Bracket

 Best of the bunch
 Six players in this bracket have double-digit victories in the Match Play, led by Ian Poulter,
 whose 22 wins are the most in the field. Poulter has reached the semifinals three times and
 won it all in 2010.
 Wednesday worries
 Bill Haas is making his fourth appearance in the Accenture, and has never gotten out of
 the first round. 
 Who has the hot hand?
 Who else but Jimmy Walker? The three-time winner in 2013-14 faces Branden Grace
 Wednesday and could meet Poulter, the match-play buzz saw, a day later. 
 First-timer to watch
 Walker, not only because of his wins, but because of match-ups. While he plays Grace,
 the other rookies face daunting tasks. Harris English takes on Lee Westwood; Chris Kirk
 plays Jim Furyk; Marc Leishman plays Sergio Garcia; and Kevin Stadler
 plays Charl Schwartzel. 
 Major players
 Schwartzel and Furyk could face each other in Round 2. The winner of that bout might
 see Rory McIlroy in Round 3.
 Trending poorly
 Rickie Fowler hasn’t won a match since losing to Matt Kuchar in the Sweet 16 in 2011.
  Haven’t we met before?
 If Ryder Cup teammates Westwood and McIlroy get past opening day, a rematch of their
 2012 semifinal is on tap. McIlroy won that duel, 3 and 1.

The Gary Player Bracket

 Best of the bunch
 Matt Kuchar and Luke Donald, by far. Defending champ Kuchar has a 15-3 match record and
 was third in 2011. Donald is 17-8, and beat Kuchar, 6 and 5, in the semifinals on his way to
 the 2011 title.
 Wednesday worries
 Tournament rookie Bernd Wiesberger faces Kuchar; and Matteo Manassero plays Donald,
 who is 8-1 on opening day.
 Who has the hot hand?
 Scott Stallings (Farmers Insurance Open) and Stephen Gallacher are winners in 2014.
 Gallacher won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic for the second straight year.
 First-timer to watch
 Third-seed Jordan Spieth, who takes on another first-timer in Pablo Larrazabal on Day 1, is
 the headliner. A day-two match against the Francesco Molinari-Thomas Bjorn winner looms.
 Major players
 Defending U.S. Open champ Justin Rose is the top seed and takes on Scott Piercy. He could
 face four-time major champ Els in Round 2 and PGA winner Jason Dufner in Round 3 if
 things break properly.
 Trending poorly
 Something has to give in the Bjorn-Molinari match. Bjorn has only won once in the first round
 since 2005 and Molinari is 1-3 in opening-day matches.
 Haven’t we met before?
 Ryan Moore won three matches in 2012, losing to Luke Donald in the quarterfinals. They
 could meet there again in 2014.

The Sam Snead Bracket

 Best of the bunch
 Hunter Mahan’s 15-5 record includes an 11-1 mark over the last two years. He beat Rory
 McIlroy for the title in 2012 and lost to Matt Kuchar a year ago.
 Wednesday worries
 Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano has the unenviable task of facing Mahan on Day 1. But he did
 win two matches a year ago and took Tiger Woods to the wire in the 2012 opener.
 Who has the hot hand?
 Northern Trust Open champ Bubba Watson, of course, and runner-up Dustin Johnson. They
 could meet in Round 3 in what could be the week’s most appealing match-up.
 First-timer to watch

 It’d be tough for any rookie to get far in this Group of Death, but you can bet Martin Kaymer
 doesn’t envy playing Hideki Matsuyama on Day 1. The Japanese sensation would play Gary
 Woodland or Graeme McDowell Thursday before a showdown with Mahan Friday.

 Major players
 Seven players in this bracket played in both the 2010 and 2012 Ryder Cup: Dustin Johnson,
 Zach Johnson and Bubba Watson for the U.S and Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer, Graeme
 McDowell and Francesco Molinari for Europe.
 Trending poorly
 Zach Johnson hasn’t advanced to Day 2 since 2010 and was pounded by Jason Day,
 6 and 5, a year ago.
 Haven't we met before?
 The most intriguing potential match-up involves McDowell and Mahan, who could revisit their
 2010 Ryder Cup singles match if they both advance to the Sweet 16. McDowell won that one,
 1 up, to clinch the Cup for Europe.
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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.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.