Matsuyama's WMPO win was fittingly chaotic

By Jason CrookFebruary 6, 2017, 1:42 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It wouldn’t be the Waste Management Phoenix Open without utter chaos. And not just from the crowd.

Just when it started to look like a runaway victory at the biggest party on the PGA Tour, someone at Buffalo Wild Wings must have hit that switch from the commercial, and suddenly, a golf tournament broke out.

It ended with Hideki Matsuyama topping Webb Simpson in a playoff that stretched four holes and into the first quarter of the Super Bowl for the second straight year. Last year the 24-year-old Japanese phenom beat Rickie Fowler in similar fashion.

“I really didn’t think I could do it, and it was a struggle all the way around,” Matsuyama said. “But I’m just thrilled to win.”

Not only did Matsuyama go back-to-back in Phoenix, but he also took back the unofficial “hottest player in the world” honors from Justin Thomas, who missed the cut this week.

Dating back to last October, Matsuyama now has three worldwide wins, including the WGC in China and two runners-up.

“My hat’s off to him.” Simpson said in defeat. "He’s a great player. I knew he’d be a tough competitor in the playoff … he’s a great champion.”

They say golf is a game of inches. Maybe never more so than on Sunday at TPC Scottsdale.

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Matsuyama and Simpson went back and forth long after a large chunk of the record crowd had left, each coming oh-so-close to the sweet taste of victory before Matsuyama sealed his second straight title with a birdie from 12 feet.

Matsuyama’s best chance to win actually came before the playoff started, with his birdie try on the 72nd hole from 19 feet stopping on the lip.

“I still can’t believe it didn’t go in,” Matsuyama said after his round. “Even now.”

Simpson’s came on the third playoff hole (No. 10) from about the same distance. His, too, came to a stop just before it would’ve dropped in.

“I didn’t think it was in but I thought it had a chance,” Simpson recalled.

Seven of the last eight winners of this event have come from behind in the final round, a trend that continued on Sunday. Byeong Hun An coughed up his 54-hole lead halfway through the final round, and from there it was anyone’s tournament to win.

Rickie Fowler and Louis Oosthuizen put the press on with matching 65s, but came up just short of the playoff. Phil Mickelson made an early charge but faltered down the stretch and finished with an even-par 71.

At the end of the day it was Simpson – and one of the sneakiest final-round 64s in recent memory – who ended up in the playoff after waiting around for 40 minutes with the clubhouse lead.

While he was disappointed with the loss four holes later, Simpson focused on the positives, admitting this was a huge step in the right direction.

“I feel like two weeks ago I was pretty lost,” Simpson said. "I just felt terrible about my game … so to shoot seven under on Sunday, birdieing 17 and 18 is a great feeling, knowing I had to do it."

Once ranked as high as fifth in the world, the 2012 U.S. Open champ hadn't recorded a top-10 finish since June and hasn’t won since the 2013 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He’s battled through the anchored-putting ban that was enacted in 2016.

“Putting has always been my thing, if I putt well I seem to play well. I’m thankful that I’ve found a method that has been working,” Simpson said. “I feel like if any change, just mentally with my putting, is just tried to simplify it. Don’t take too much time and just be thankful. I’m thankful that I made some putts and I had a chance to win the golf tournament.”

The only bigger surprise than Simpson making the playoff may have been who was in the gallery following along.

Bubba Watson, who embraced his fun-loving, goofier side all week long, came back out to the golf course to root on his buddy and former Ryder Cup partner.

“He’s one of my closest friends ... it felt great,” Simpson said. “He’s always been supportive of me and it’s really thoughtful of him. I thought about it over the putt on 10, I kind of wanted to make it more with him here. That would’ve been pretty cool.”

Unfortunately for Simpson, it was not to be. But if the second-place showing is a sign of things to come, the future looks bright. Maybe not as bright as Matsuyama’s, but you need sunglasses to look in that dude’s direction after Sunday.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.