Running blog: WGC-Accenture Match Play Day 2

By Randall MellFebruary 23, 2012, 11:08 pm

MARANA, Ariz. – Day 2 of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is underway at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain. senior writer Randall Mell is on site with a running blog of the second-round action. (Click for: Scoring, Day 1 running blog)

All times ET

6:08 p.m.: Matt Kuchar defeats Bubba Watson 3 and 2 to advance into the third round. Kuchar will meet Martin Kaymer.

Though Kuchar was 40 yards behind Watson’s drives all day, he wore out Watson with his iron play and short game. Kuchar also defeated the longer Watson in the third-place match here last year.

“You look to last year, and look at Luke Donald, short and steady player, goes on to win it, it can work,” Kuchar said. “I think length is always an advantage. And I think definitely an advantage around here. Bubba can just hit short irons into these greens and make them stop. I'm hitting longer irons and trying to land it on the front of the green and hope I catch the right hill or mound and hope it ends up in a good position. So, it’s a little more difficult, but you don't have to look very far to see what happened last year.”

5:56 p.m.: On the range before defeating Robert Karlsson 3 and 2, Lee Westwood watched his racehorse, Rerouted, finish second in Dubai.

“He’s a good horse,” Westwood said. “He just doesn’t win.”

Westwood said the horse finishes second a lot.

“I can relate to that,” Westwood cracked.

Westwood has his eye on a victory this week. He meets the Nick Watney-Tiger Woods winner in the third round. In 12 WGC-Accenture starts, this is the first time Westwood has advanced to the third round.

4:47 p.m.: Aussie John Senden on his stunning 6-and-5 rout of Jason Day, the No. 7 player in the world: “I had the pressure on him early. I had good putts on one, three and four and was 3 up. He sort of made the mistakes to force the match to go further and further my way.”

4:15 p.m.: Mark Wilson vs. Dustin Johnson will offer a severe contrast in styles Friday in the third round. Wilson ranks 159th in driving distance, averaging 280 yards per drive. Johnson ranks seventh in driving distance, averaging 306 yards per drive. Wilson’s tactician’s game prevailed last year, when he defeated Johnson in the first round in 19 holes.

3:51 p.m.: Stricker's scouting report of Mahan: 'Good match play player. He's in every hole, doesn't hit it crooked. His all-around game is good. We have been at it before, and we have been teammates before on a Presidents Cup team and Ryder Cup team. It's going to be tough. It's tough playing a friend, too. You have got to put that friendship aside for a day and try to beat him.'

3:41 p.m.: Hey, Hunter Mahan, no softening up the competition before moving in for the golf kill.  

Mahan on third-round opponent Stricker: “Steve has a great perspective on life because he was a great player early on and then he kind of oh lost it, kind of disappeared. Then he's worked his butt off to get back to this position and being a top-5 player in the world. It's pretty amazing. He's a great guy to talk to. He's so open, so nice. I mean, he's just a normal guy who plays golf for a living and that's it. There's no more – there's no celebrity to him whatsoever. He's a great guy to be around and has great energy.'

Hunter Mahan’s 5-and-3 rout of Y.E. Yang sets up a third-round match against Steve Stricker, who defeated Mahan in this event four years ago, winning in the second round in 20 holes. 

3:03 p.m.: Y.E. Yang never had a chance with the day’s first match closed out. Hunter Mahan birdied five holes in a row on the front side, six of the first eight on his way to a 5-and-3 runaway. Mahan's back in the third round, where he advanced last year before losing to Martin Kaymer. Mahan will get the Stricker/Oosthuizen winner.

2:56 p.m.: Kyle Stanley and Brandt Snedeker can’t seem to shake each other.

Their second-round match marks the third time they’ve played together in eight days. Snedeker, if you’ve forgotten, is the guy who won the Farmers Insurance Open when Stanley collapsed at the end.

Through four holes Thursday, they’re all square.

Stanley, if you’re keeping score, got the best of Snedeker in both their first- and second-round pairings at the Northern Trust Open last week. Stanley shot 74-68, Snedeker 75-70, but Snedeker (T-17) finished the tournament a shot better than Stanley (T-24).

2:21 p.m.: Ernie Els made his belly putter sing at the second, rolling in a delicate 5-foot downhill birdie putt to win the hole. He is all square now with Peter Hanson. Is there a more sentimental favorite than the Big Easy this week? The former No. 1 barely snuck into the field.

1:46 p.m.: Bubba Watson blasted his pink-headed and pink-shafted driver 330 yards down the middle at the second hole, 40 yards past Kuchar's driver. Kuchar, though, won the hole to go 1 up. Kuchar got up and down for par. Watson couldn't do the same from virtually the same position, though Watson was in longer grass.

1:37 p.m.: Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar are chatting up a storm early in their match. I didn't think Georgia and Georgia Tech grads did anything but talk trash to each other. Somebody alert Charlie Rymer. We are all square through one hole in this Bulldog/Yellow Jacket matchup.

1:21 p.m.: Bubba Watson just rocketed a hybrid at the first tee about 10 yards farther than Matt Kuchar hit his driver. Ouch!

1:10 p.m.: Ernie Els is on the practice putting green, looking pretty good with that belly putter as he prepares to meet Peter Hanson in about 40 minutes. Who would have thought Els would prevail so soundly Wednesday against world No. 1 Luke Donald, normally a fabulous putter? And who would have thought Els would putt so well on these severe greens? It bodes well not only for Els' bid to make it to this April's Masters, but to have a chance there. He said last week it ought to be banned, but I wonder if he will reconsider if it revives his game. Els is No. 68 in the world. He needs to climb into the top 50 over the next five weeks to earn a Masters' invite, or win a PGA Tour event before the Masters.

12:23 p.m.: There are some fabulous third-round possibilities, particularly on the right side of the bracket (Gary Player/Sam Snead brackets). Here is what is possible Friday, depending on the second-round outcomes:

Rory McIlroy vs. Keegan Bradley – Two young major championship winners.

Charl Schwartzel vs. Jason Day – Schwartzel says “the mind” is the most important club in the bag. Day worked some match-play “mind games” last year.

Tiger Woods vs. Lee Westwood – Tiger against the guy who ended his run at No. 1 in the world.

Matteo Manassero vs. Ryo Ishikawa – Youth isn’t wasted on the young. They’re the two youngest players in the field.

11:35 a.m.: The scorekeeper wished Steve Stricker a 'Happy Birthday' at the first tee. 'Shhhhhh,' Stricker told her. 'Don't tell anyone.' Stricker turns 45 today. He also leads off Accenture's second round, striping the first tee shot of the day down the middle in match against Louis Oosthuizen.

Watch live coverage of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Golf Channel, Thursday/Friday 2-6PM ET; Saturday noon-2PM ET; Sunday 8AM-1PM ET. NBC coverage can be seen live Saturday/Sunday, 2-6PM ET.

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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

“I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

“It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”