Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

By Ryan LavnerMarch 22, 2017, 11:55 pm

Play is underway at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Follow along here to see how the first matches played out, and who is in line to advance to the Round of 16:

Group 1: Dustin Johnson (1) vs. Webb Simpson (58), 5 and 3: The top overall seed made quick work of the former U.S. Open champion, running off eight birdies in 15 holes and looking like the player to beat. After going one-and-done nearly every year in the old format, Johnson reached the quarterfinals last year despite an opening-day loss. 

Group 1: Martin Kaymer (41) def. Jimmy Walker, 3 and 2: Kaymer turned a close match into a comfortable victory by making birdie on the 10th, 11th and 16th holes. A tough match lies ahead against the world No. 1.

Group 2: Soren Kjeldsen (62) def. Rory McIlroy (2), 2 and 1: In the day’s biggets upset, Kjeldsen birdied four consecutive holes late on the back nine to stun McIlroy, one of the pre-tournament favorites. McIlroy had a 1-up lead with five to play, but Kjeldsen, the 41-year-old from Denmark who doesn't have a top-25 in any of his seven starts this year, ran off four consecutive birdies to put the heat on McIlroy. He closed out the match with a tee shot to 3 feet on 17 – his fifth consecutive approach shot inside 10 feet.

Group 2: Gary Woodland (33) def. Emiliano Grillo (26), 3 and 2: Down two holes early to Grillo, who was coming off a good week at Bay Hill, Woodland went 6 under the rest of the way, including the usual match-play concessions. Woodland reached the finals of this event in 2015, during the first year of the round-robin format. 

Group 3: Pat Perez (56) def. Jason Day (3), conceded: Perez seized an early 3-up lead through six holes before Day walked off the course. Day later withdrew from the event, after disclosing that his mother has lung cancer and will undergo surgery Friday.  

Group 3: Marc Leishman (28) def. Lee Westwood (43), 3 and 2: Leishman, who won last week at Bay Hill, stayed hot at Austin Country Club, leading the entire way against Westwood, the most experienced WGC player of all time. Leishman held a narrow 1-up lead on 13 tee, but he birdied 13 and stuffed his approach on 15 to tap-in range to seal the match. With a full point upcoming because of Day's withdrawal, Leishman and Perez, his Thursday opponent, are in the best position to advance.

Group 4: Hideki Matsuyama (4) vs. Jim Furyk (51), halved: Matsuyama and Furyk halved the last eight holes of the match. Furyk missed several good birdie opportunities on the back nine, but it was Matsuyama who squandered a chance to earn the full point, after pitching to 8 feet on the final hole and then missing the putt.  

Group 4: Louis Oosthuizen (23) def. Ross Fisher (47), 4 and 3: Oosthuizen, last year’s finalist, cruised to a stress-free victory over Fisher, keeping the pressure on throughout the match by making three birdies and zero bogeys. 

Group 5: Hideto Tanihara (54) def. Jordan Spieth (5), 4 and 2: In another big upset on Day 1, Spieth never led against the 38-year-old Japanese star, who has 13 career titles overseas. Spieth beat himself, playing his last nine holes in 3 over and hitting only one green to end his chances. It’s the first time in four years that Spieth has lost his opening match. 

Group 5: Ryan Moore (32) vs. Yuta Ikeda (37), halved: Moore was in good position to close out the match but airmailed his wedge shot into the final green. Ikeda earned a half point by making his 5-footer for birdie.  

Group 6: Justin Thomas (6) def. Chris Wood (49), 2 and 1: Facing a one-hole deficit with five holes to play, Thomas won Nos. 14 and 15 to take the lead, then closed out the match with a par on 17. 

Group 6: Kevin Na (46) def. Matt Fitzpatrick (27), 5 and 4: Na took a 5-up lead through eight holes and never let up, losing only one hole to the former U.S. Amateur champion. Na has proven a tough out in this format; last year he lost a sudden-death playoff to McIlroy that kept him out of the Round of 16.  

Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) vs. Shane Lowry (53), halved: Lowry took a 1-up lead to the last, but he drove left, into the hazard. Garcia had holed a clutch birdie putt on 16 to stay alive, then stole a half point when Lowry missed a 5-footer for par on 18. 

Group 7: Jon Rahm (21) def. Kevin Chappell, 38, 3 and 2: Rahm, playing in his first Match Play, took advantage of his awesome power to pull away down the stretch. He birdied the par-5 12th to take the lead, hit a wedge stiff on 15 and then got up-and-down from a greenside bunker on 16 to close out the match. 

Group 8: Alex Noren (8) vs. Thongchai Jaidee (57), 3 and 2. Noren, a four-time winner last year on the European Tour, won the first two holes and never looked back, using an eagle on the 12th hole to eliminate any back-nine suspense.  

Group 8: Bernd Wiesberger (36) def. Francesco Molinari (25), 2 up: Wiesberger led after the eighth hole, then put the exclamation point on the match with a 30-footer for birdie on the final green. 

Group 9: Patrick Reed (9) vs. Jason Dufner (59), halved: Reed was 2 up with four to play, but Dufner rallied with a par on 15 and a 15-foot birdie on 17. The last hole wasn’t pretty, with Dufner finding a faiway bunker and Reed driving into the hazard. But both players made clutch par saves to earn a half point.  

Group 9: Brooks Koepka (20) def. Kevin Kisner (34), 6 and 5: Koepka has struggled this season, with four missed cuts in six starts, but he had no problem dispatching Kisner, who last week shared the 54-hole lead at Bay Hill. Koepka made five birdies in the first seven holes and lost just one hole en route to the blowout win.  

Group 10: Tyrrell Hatton (10) def. Charles Howell III (61), 2 and 1: The Englishman took advantage of consecutive bogeys by Howell on Nos. 13 and 14 to take control of a back-and-forth match. Hatton has been one of the most consistent players this year, finishing in the top 10 in his last four worldwide starts.

Group 10: Rafa Cabrera Bello (22) def. Jeunghun Wang (40), 3 and 2: Bello, who finished third in this event last year, had little trouble with his opening opponent, taking a 3-up lead through five holes. Bello’s pars on Nos. 14 and 15 gave him a comfortable cushion.  

Group 11: K.T. Kim (64) def. Danny Willett (11), 4 and 2: Kim birdied the first two holes and never gave the reigning Masters champion a chance. Pars on 15 and 16 helped build the big margin of victory.  

Group 11: Russell Knox (17) def. Bill Haas (42), 3 and 2: Knox never trailed in the match despite playing the first 15 holes in 1 under par.

Group 12: Charl Schwartzel (24) def. Ben An (45), 6 and 5: And to think, this match was all square on the sixth tee. Schwartzel won three of the next four holes – all with par – to build a big lead, then poured it on with back-to-back wins on Nos. 12 and 13 to close out the match and head to an early lunch. 

Group 12: Paul Casey (12) def. Joost Luiten (60), 2 and 1: Casey, who has a strong record in this event, won the 15th with a conceded par and a birdie on the par-5 16th to put away Luiten, who had clawed back from an early 2-down deficit. Casey improved to 20-12-1 in this event. 

Group 13: Bubba Watson (13) def. Jhonattan Vegas (55), 1 up: The left-hander hasn’t had much to smile about this year, but he did just enough to hold off Vegas despite the narrow lead throughout much of the match. The turning point came on 13, when Watson laid up and wedged to 11 feet for the decisive birdie.  

Group 13: Thomas Pieters (30) def. Scott Piercy (39), 3 and 2: Still riding high from his breakout Ryder Cup performance, the big-hitting Belgian never trailed and coasted to the easy victory despite failing to make a putt longer than 4 feet. 

Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Si Woo Kim (63), 5 and 3: Sharper than in his last appearance in Mexico, when he struggled off the tee, Mickelson made two birdies and a bogey on his front nine to build a 4-up advantage. Lefty never led by fewer than three holes on his way to an easy Day 1. 

Group 14: Daniel Berger (35) def. J.B. Holmes (31), 7 and 5: Berger made six birdies and an eagle en route to a blowout victory over the big-hitting Holmes. Berger withdrew from this event a year ago, after injuring his wrist in a match against Mickelson. They’ll square off again Thursday. 

Group 15: Branden Grace (15) def. Andy Sullivan (52), 4 and 2: Grace, who went 5-0 two years ago at the Presidents Cup, stayed hot in the match-play format, jumping all over the Englishman. Grace took a 1-up lead at the turn, but poured it on with birdies on Nos. 11 and 14 and concessions on both of the back-nine par 5s. 

Group 15: William McGirt (48) def. Brandt Snedeker (19), 2 up: Thrown for a loop when his longtime putter broke about five minutes before his tee time, Snedeker coughed up a 1-up lead with four holes to play. McGirt, playing his first match-play event since 2007, went 2 under during that stretch, including a conceded birdie on 18. 

Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) vs. Brendan Steele (50), halved: Steele birdied 16 and 17 to take a 1-up lead into the final hole, but he hit his tee shot into the hazard and made bogey. Kuchar’s closing par was enough to give each player a half point. 

Group 16: Tommy Fleetwood (29) def. Zach Johnson (44), 1 up: A tight match throughout, Fleetwood and Johnson halved nine consecutive holes before the Englishman stuffed his final approach to 2 feet for a conceded birdie and Johnson missed his 8-footer to halve the match. 

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.