Running blog: WGC-Accenture Match Play Day 3

By Rex HoggardFebruary 24, 2012, 10:46 pm

MARANA, Ariz. – Day 3 of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is under way at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Dove Mountain. senior writer Rex Hoggard is on site with a running blog of the third-round action. (Click for Scoring)

All times ET

6:30 p.m.: Like most players, Rory McIlroy is a fan of the occasional match play event, but a steady diet would not be something he is interested in.

“It’s good that we don’t play match play every week,” he said following his 3-and-1 Round 3 victory. “I’d only get in 10 events a year.”

As for his Elite Eight opponent – Sang-Moon Bae who held off John Senden with a 5 ½ foot par putt at the 18th hole in the day’s longest match – this will not be the Ulsterman’s first encounter with the Korean.

The two began the final round of the 2009 Korean Open tied for the lead. Bae shot 67 to win and McIlroy slumped to 72 to finish tied for third place.

6:14 p.m.: For the second consecutive day Rory McIlroy didn’t see Dove Mountain’s 18th hole, although his match against Miguel Angel Jimenez seemed much closer than the final 3-and-1 margin of victory would suggest.

For the day McIlroy was 1 under par, and that included a conceded 3 ½-footer for birdie at the 17th hole, and he struggled on Dove Mountain’s greens. The Ulsterman has not trailed in a match since the 11th hole on Friday.

5:46 p.m.:  Much was made of the distance advantage Dustin Johnson had over Mark Wilson in the duo’s Round 3 match at Dove Mountain, and Wilson spent most of the day hitting first but he said that doesn’t mean he’s a short hitter.

“To the media there are two categories: bombers and short hitters,” said Wilson following his 4-and-3 victory over Johnson. “I don’t think of myself as a short hitter.”

Fair enough, but for the record Wilson ranks 159th on Tour in driving distance with a 280-yard average.

5:33 p.m.:  Lee Westwood dismissed the thought that he could be looking ahead to a potential semifinal showdown with Rory McIlroy.

“It’s a danger for you to look too far ahead,” Westwood smiled when asked about the marquee matchup. “I’m looking forward to finding a new restaurant for Friday night.”

Westwood had never advanced past Round  2 at the  WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in his previous 11 starts, pointing out how incorrect many of the Golf Channel prediction brackets turned out to be.

When asked where Golf Channel predicted he would finish Westwood smiled, “On the BA (British Airways flight) 289 on Wednesday night.”

5:12 p.m.: After losing to Nick Watney in the second round at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship the last two years Lee Westwood scored a measure of revenge on Friday, rolling over the American, 3 and 2.

In 11 previous Match Play starts Westwood had failed to advance past the second round. He’s also the only No. 1 seed who has advanced to the Elite Eight. Luke Donald lost on Day 1, Martin Kaymer was beaten, 4 and 3, by Matt Kuchar on Friday and Rory McIlroy is 2 up on Miguel Angel Jimenez through 13 holes.

5:02 p.m.: Hunter Mahan and Matt Kuchar have both played together on Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams but the two have never been paired together. On Saturday, however, they will face each other at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Although Mahan likes his chances against Kuchar on Saturday, he has no interest in taking on the undisputed king of the American ping-pong table.

“That wouldn’t be a fair match,” Mahan said.

4:29 p.m.: Hunter Mahan follows Matt Kuchar to the Elite Eight with a 4-and-3 win over Steve Stricker. Lee Westwood seems poised to post the next blowout. He's 3 up on Nick Watney after 14 holes.

4:20 p.m.: Matt Kuchar scores the day's first victory, rolling over Martin Kaymer, 4 and 3. Kuchar, however, wasn't done with his work day and decided to play the last three holes by himself.

3:52 p.m.: Brandt Snedeker cuts Peter Hanson’s lead to a single hole after falling 4 down early. Through 10 holes the two players have halved just three holes.

3:46 p.m.: It appears Nick Watney is bound for another letdown following a big win at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Watney, who beat Tiger Woods on Thursday, 1 up, is 4 down to Lee Westwood after 11 holes. The last two years Watney has beaten Westwood in Round 2 at the Match Play only to be bounced in the third round.

3:39 p.m.: Although anecdotal, it’s worth pointing out amid the recent outcry against long putters that only one player among this week’s Sweet 16 uses an anchored version. Martin Laird, who is 2 up on Paul Lawrie, uses a belly putter. Matt Kuchar, who is 3 up on Martin Kaymer, also uses a longer-than-standard length putter but does not anchor it.

3:14 p.m.: Steve Stricker, who turned 45 on Thursday, is 2 down in his match against Hunter Mahan and playing from the desert at the 10th hole.

Barring a comeback Stricker will fail to advance past the third round for the seventh time since winning this event in 2001.

3 p.m.: Not saying Martin Kaymer is starting to feel the pressure, as if that 3-down hole he’s dug himself against Matt Kuchar isn’t concerning enough, but his girlfriend Allison Micheletti is in the gallery trailing him at Dove Mountain.

Kaymer’s better half is also a professional golfer and a cast member for Big Break Atlantis, which debuts May 14.

2:40 p.m.: There are three potential Ryder Cup preview matches on Friday at Dove Mountain with the European side currently in the clear.

England’s Lee Westwood is 1 up on Nick Watney through six holes and Sweden’s Peter Hanson 3 up on Brandt Snedeker after five holes, while Matt Kuchar holds the U.S. side’s only lead, 2 up through eight, against Martin Kaymer.

2:25 p.m.: Classic game of contrasts in Match 54 between Dustin Johnson and Mark Wilson, who are all square after two holes at Dove Mountain.

Wilson’s driving average this season in 280 yards, compared to DJ’s 306-yard average. At the first hole, Johnson’s drive went 302 yards compared to Wilson’s 279-yard drive.

2:17 p.m.: Rory McIlroy misses a 5 ½-footer for birdie at the first to split the hole with Miguel Angel Jimenez. Even early it seems like a missed opportunity against the “Mechanic.”

Two holes ahead Hanson is 3 up against Brandt Snedeker after opening his round with three consecutive birdies.

2:11 p.m.: Peter Hanson rolls in 34 feet of birdie putts at Nos. 1 and 2 to go 2 up against Brandt Snedeker, who has been quietly dominant so far this week.

In his first two matches Snedeker has not been down more than one hole and he had trailed a total of four of the 38 holes he’d played.

1:47 p.m.: Just twice in the 13-year history of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship have two No. 1-seeded players squared off in the final match.

Eventual champion Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer did it last year and Tiger Woods and Davis Love III in 2004. The odds seem to be improving with each hole that this year will mark the third time No. 1 seeds advance to Sunday.

Lee Westwood opened with consecutive birdies against Nick Watney and is 2 up while Kaymer is all square in his match against Matt Kuchar.

1:29 p.m.: This week’s champion at Dove Mountain will receive 76 world golf ranking points, the highest total this year for any winner, which will give No. 2 Rory McIlroy and No. 3 Lee Westwood enough to move ahead of current No. 1 Luke Donald, who lost on Day 1 to Ernie Els.

1:23 p.m.: Martin Kaymer drew first blood on Day 3 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, making birdie at the par-5 second hole to go 1 up in his match against Match Kuchar.

Kaymer is one of three No. 1 seeds remaining along with Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, who may have the match of the day against Nick Watney, who beat Tiger Woods on Thursday.

Watch live coverage of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Golf Channel, 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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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”