And Then There Were Two
Fulke, the 21st seed, topped top-seeded Els 2-and-1, while Stricker disposed of 30th-seeded Taniguchi by the same count at the Metropolitan Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia.
Fulke and Stricker will battle Sunday for the $1-million first-place prize, with the runner-up cashing half of that. Els and Taniguchi will tangle in the consolation match, with the winner earning $400,000 and the loser garnering $300K.
After struggling to defeat Craig Stadler 1-up in Saturday morning's quarterfinal match, Els continue his wayward play in the afternoon.
Despite winning the third hole to go 1-up, the South African found himself 1-down by the turn, thanks to back-to-back birdies by Fulke at the eighth and ninth holes.
A bogey at the 10th pulled Els all-square, as Fulke carded a double-bogey six, but a three-putt par at the par-5 12th cost him a chance at remaining there. Fulke carded a birdie to regain a 1-up advantage, and then dropped in a 20-foot curler for birdie at the 15th to move to 2-up with three to play.
Following a halve at the 16th, Els played the shot of the week at the par-4 17th, threading a five-iron through a gap between two trees to within 15 feet of the hole.
Unfortunately for Els, he missed the birdie attempt that would have prolonged the match. Instead, Fulke, who won the 2000 Scottish PGA and Volvo Masters, calmly sank a five-foot par save for a 2-and-1 victory.
'We both played pretty scruffy,' said Fulke, 'but beating Ernie, regardless of the score, in match play is pretty phenomenal.'
After beating Nick O'Hern in 20 holes in the quarterfinals, Stricker won the first hole in his afternoon match with Taniguchi and never looked back.
Prior to losing the first hole of the semi-finals, Taniguchi had yet to trail in the tournament, which for him spanned 68 holes. This match however, the Japanese player trailed throughout.
Stricker built a 3-up lead through 11 holes, before Taniguchi made a late run, capturing the 12th and 13th holes to get within 1-down.
The turning point proved to be at the par-4 16th. Having pulled his tee shot into the left trees, Stricker was forced to play his second shot left-handed. The 33-year-old, using the toe of his club, chipped back into the fairway some 160 yards from the flag, and then proceeded to knock his third shot to within 12 feet of the cup.
Stricker made his par save to halve the hole and remain 1-up. He carried that momentum to the par-3 16th, where he stuck his tee shot to six feet for birdie and another win.
Stricker then forced a halve at the 17th to win his match 2-and-1.
'That first match really took a lot out of me, but I came out in the afternoon a lot more relaxed,' said Stricker, who is seeking his first win since the 1996 Western Open. 'I'm gonna have to go home and try to relax and come out with a fresh attitude tomorrow.'
Having advanced into the finals, Stricker is guaranteed to earn more money this week than he did all of last season ($418,780).
Sunday's 36-hole final will be reminiscent of the first Match Play Championship, in which 24th-seeded Jeff Maggert defeated 50th-seeded Andrew Magee in 38 holes.
CareerBuilder purse payouts: Rahm wins $1.062 million
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry on the fourth hole of sudden death to win the CareerBuilder Challenger. Here's a look at how the purse was paid out in La Quinta, Calif.:
|T20||Charles Howell III||-14||$57,754|
|T36||Tyrone Van Aswegen||-12||$27,189|
|T69||Billy Hurley III||-6||$11,623|
After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time
Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.
On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...
Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).
Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.
It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard
On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...
There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.
He sure looks like the real deal, though.
His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.
Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner
Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2
With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.
He picked up one more No. 2, too.
The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.
In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.
Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.
“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”
Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.
Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.
He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.
Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title
Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.
Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.
His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.
“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."
Tom Brady, postgame, on wearing the wrap on his hand: “I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) January 22, 2018
Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.
Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.