After Further Review: Match Play continues to deliver

By Jason Sobel, Randall Mell, Rex HoggardFebruary 24, 2014, 1:25 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. In this edition of After Further Review, our writers weigh in on the epic WGC-Accenture Match Play final between Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson, other compelling moments including Sergio Garcia's bizarre move to concede an 18-foot putt to Rickie Fowler and what the future of the tournament looks like.

The Match Play Championship's competitive rhythm may typically slow to a seeming crawl on the weekend, with the possibility the game's biggest stars won't even make it to the weekend, but that's OK. There is still more overall drama packed into a week of match play than in most regular PGA Tour events. There are more thrilling winning shots and dispiriting failures.  Heck, on the first day alone, there are 32 winners and 32 losers. That sense of finality lingering over every match is delicious fare.

The Match Play Championship is a refreshing departure from week after week of PGA Tour stroke-play tournaments. It would be a shame if the PGA Tour takes all the fun out of those whirlwind first two days with a switch to stroke-play qualifying. You lose two of the best weekdays in golf doing that. Yes, not every Sunday can be a riveting sudden-death gut wrencher like this year’s Match Play final, but I can live with that, given all the drama this week still unfailingly delivers.  Randall Mell

Something has to give when it comes to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Jason Day’s second PGA Tour victory and the emergence of France’s Victor Dubuisson aside, the final Match Play at Dove Mountain proved that the circuit needs to overhaul its version of March madness. On Sunday, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem allowed as much, telling reporters that no options regarding future venues, sponsors or formats were off the table. A game changing venue combined with a format adjustment that would assure players of at least two rounds would likely go a long way to making the event a can’t miss stop, both for players and fans.  Rex Hoggard

The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is the game’s most unnecessarily overanalyzed event each year, even before it starts. We can look at match records and recent form and horses for the course, but very little of this previewing matters once it starts. As Simpson once explained, “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.” (That would be Homer, not Webb.) Likewise, in the aftermath of the tourney, this analysis often spins forward toward the Ryder Cup. Sorry, but I have a difficult time believing that results in the Arizona desert in February will have any bearing on those seven months later in potentially chilly, soggy Scotland. I stopped counting after hearing and reading a few dozen references of, “If Tom Watson is watching right now…” It’s largely irrelevant for the U.S. captain. In fact, let me finish that sentence: “… he should take it all with a grain of salt, because despite all of the instant (over)analysis, there is no evidence that Match Play results will have any bearing on the Ryder Cup.” - Jason Sobel

We’ll never know whether Sergio Garcia would have conceded the 18-foot putt if he was not in need of a major image rebuild. Or if he was competing in the Ryder Cup, not the thirdround of the Match Play. Or if he was playing against Tiger Woods, not good friend Rickie Fowler. Maybe yes, maybe no. Yes, the move was bizarre – perhaps even foolish – but acknowledge this, too: Sergio’s mind was in the right place. The emotional Spaniard was clearly upset after being wrongly accused of cheating at a European Tour last month, and he said this week that the “world is a little twisted at the moment.” Some view this episode as the latest example that Sergio lacks competitive grit and mental strength. Not me. I see a player who, finally, is showing signs of maturity. Ryan Lavner

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.