Ultimate Match Play: Round 1 results; Round 2 matchups

By Jason SobelJanuary 29, 2013, 11:00 am

Our 16-man field for the Ultimate Match Play Championship has been whittled down to the Elite Eight.

And it’s a very Elite Eight, indeed. (Click for: Ultimate Match Play overview | Player bios)

Higher seeds Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer easily cruised through their opening-round matches with each player receiving at least three-quarters of the GolfChannel.com online vote, while Gary Player and Tom Watson narrowly pulled out mild upsets to advance.

(1) Jack Nicklaus def. (16) Phil Mickelson

Some believed that despite 18 career major championship titles, the top-ranked Nicklaus might struggle against fan favorite Phil Mickelson in the first round, but the Golden Bear received 92.8 percent of the votes to move on to the next frame in the bracket as the leading vote-getter thus far.


(9) Gary Player def. (8) Walter Hagen

Nicklaus will face longtime friend and rival Player in the second round. As the No. 9 seed in the tournament, Player barely ousted Walter Hagen, taking just 51 percent of the vote in that match – easily the closest in the competition so far.

“The only way to rank players is through the record books,” Player recently said on 'Morning Drive.' “All I know is he was a very great character. He might have arrived at the tee in his dining suit and I would have arrived after exercising – and he might have still beat me.”

Not this time.

The combined numbers between Nicklaus and Player are astounding. Together they own 97 career PGA Tour victories, including 27 majors. Extend that to global success and they’ve combined for well over 200 wins, easily the biggest total of any of the four second-round matchups.


(2) Tiger Woods def. (15) Seve Ballesteros

Much like the NCAA basketball tournament, the match between the 2 and 15 seeds featured a closer-than-expected result. Woods received “only” 78.9 percent of the vote against Ballesteros, though the noted short-game wizard could not extricate himself from trouble against the 14-time major champion.


(10) Tom Watson def. (7) Byron Nelson

The tournament’s ultra-intriguing matches continue, as Woods will square off against Watson in the next round. Playing his longtime mentor in the first round, Watson upended Byron Nelson by receiving 54.4 percent of the vote to move on to another much anticipated matchup.

This one will feature Woods playing against the man who will serve as his Ryder Cup captain next year at Gleaneagles – and despite having the same initials and both playing collegiately at Stanford University, they haven’t always seen eye to eye.

Though Watson has criticized him for not always “respecting the game,” he was effusive in his praise for Woods when named captain on Dec. 13.

“He's the best player maybe in the history of the game,” Watson maintained. “My relationship with Tiger is fine. Whatever has been said before is water under the bridge, no issues. … Obviously there's nobody else in the golf world who wanted to win more than Tiger, and he did it for so many years. He dominated this sport unlike anybody in the history of the sport.”


(3) Ben Hogan def. (14) Nick Faldo

In what was no doubt a frosty match with few words, Hogan defeated Nick Faldo with 88 percent of the vote in the opening round. As the No. 3 seed in the tournament, the Hawk figures to be a tough out because of a legion of fans who still revere his shot-making talents and ability to recover from a near-fatal car accident.


(6) Arnold Palmer def. (11) Gene Sarazen

Hogan will meet Arnold Palmer in the second stanza – and Arnie’s Army, too. One of the most popular players of all time, Palmer was buoyed by a 86 percent vote in his victory over Gene Sarazen.

Much like the dynamic between Watson and Woods, Hogan and Palmer also owned a complex relationship, with the elder often failing to recognize the aggressive youngster.

“Well, it was more a standoff relationship,” Palmer said in a 2009 radio interview. “It wasn’t what I would call the warmest relationship in the world, although I certainly had a great deal of respect for Ben Hogan and what he accomplished in the game. I think that it would be safe to say that from a distance we were friends, but we were never very close and of course one of the things that you just mentioned had something to do with that and the fact that it was always ‘Hi fella’ rather than calling me by my name.”


(4) Bobby Jones def. (13) Lee Trevino

The only amateur remaining in the tournament, Jones took 77.6 percent of the vote against Lee Trevino to continue his pursuit of a title against a field of pay-for-play performers.


(5) Sam Snead def. (12) Billy Casper

Jones will square off against Snead, the PGA Tour’s all-time leading winner, in the second round. Perhaps surprisingly, Snead received the second-highest vote total in the opening round, garnering 90.2 percent to breeze past Billy Casper.

Once again, this second-round matchup will feature two men between whom there was plenty of bad blood. Snead struggled with his putting, employing various methods throughout his career. When he found success using a croquet style in 1967, it was Jones who brought up his contempt for the method with U.S. Golf Association executive director Joseph C. Dey. One year later, the USGA and R&A jointly banned croquet style putting.

Voting is now open for the four second-round matches, with winners announced on Feb. 5.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”