Group of Death! Over-analyzing Match Play

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2017, 7:52 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Don’t try to convince Justin Thomas there’s a Group of Death this week at Austin Country Club. Nor does the American want to hear arguments that his group at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, or any group for that matter, should be considered an “easier” draw.

“I understand that Golf Channel, they need things to talk about, but to look at some groups and be like, oh, that's an easy group,” Thomas said on Tuesday. “Everyone here is really, really, really good, and it is funny how it's like, this is the Group of Death or this is that. Let's all just calm down and go play golf.”

Keep calm, play on.

We get it, but that ignores the best part of round-robin play at the Match Play. In exchange for the head-to-head drama of true match play, officials introduced group play in 2015, a twist that screamed for just this kind of micro-analysis.

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At first brush there are certain groups that stand out among the 16 foursomes. Rory McIlroy’s group, for example, includes the Northern Irishman, who finished tied for fourth last week at Bay Hill; Emiliano Grillo, who was seventh last week; and Gary Woodland, who has a pair of top-5s in his last two starts.

Similarly, defending champion Jason Day’s pod of Marc Leishman, winner last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Lee Westwood and Pat Perez holds some intrigue for those looking for the path of most resistance.

But with the bracket for this week’s event based on the Official World Golf Ranking, each group is mathematically equal at least as it applies to the relative strength or weakness of a particularly group, so any suggestion that a particular pod is more daunting than the next is based on recent form, historical match play performances and hunches.

Thomas has a valid point that none of the 16 groups is a particularly appealing draw, but if any pod were to qualify as the Group of Death it would be the foursome of Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm, Kevin Chappell and Shane Lowry.

“I don't think there's any easy groups out there, but obviously I'm in a group with guys that are great players,” Garcia said. “It's not an easy group. It's a challenging one. But the good thing is, the way I look at it, is if I can get out of this group, it means that I'm playing really well because none of those guys are going to give anything away.”

Garcia is playing his 14th Match Play this week, has an 18-17 overall record and won earlier this year on the European Tour in Dubai; while Rahm is making his first start at this event but is one of the hottest players in the game right now following his first Tour victory at the Farmers Insurance Open and top-10 finishes in last two starts.

Although Chappell is winless on Tour, he finished runner-up four times last season and Lowry has something of a penchant for upsetting higher-seeded players in this event, like he did when he beat McIlroy in ’13 and Graeme McDowell two years ago, both on Day 1.

Higher-seeded players have historically lived up to that billing at the World Golf Championship, but there are exceptions, like in 2015 when McIlroy, the No. 1 seeded player, beat Woodland, from the 11th group, in the finals; and last year when Day defeated Louis Oosthuizen, the 16th overall seeded player, in the championship match.

Thomas’ point is valid. Professional golf’s version of March Madness doesn’t exactly fit the bracket-ology narrative and maybe all groups are created equal, but where’s the fun in that?

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.