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.
Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test
One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.
Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.
"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."
Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.
"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.
Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.
"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."
Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage
Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.
Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.
Swipe to see what’s up in my world. It’s long-winded.... short version, we lost the baby. Had to share this since we had shared the news already. I know you’re all so supportive and kind. I just couldn’t face it before. Now let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming. #ihavealotoffeelings #andphotostocatchupon
“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”
The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.
“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia
This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.
The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.
Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.
The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.
A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.
And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.
Green jacket tour
Man of the people
Ace at 17th at Sawgrass
Departure from TaylorMade
Squashed beef with Paddy
Victory at Valderrama
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates:
No. 4: Dec. 13
No. 3: Dec. 14
No. 2: Dec. 15
No. 1: Dec. 18