Picking pool-play winners at the WGC-Match Play

By Nick MentaApril 28, 2015, 12:30 pm

With the groups selected and pool play set to tee off Wednesday at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, we've had a day to ruminate and make predictions. So here are the 16 players we're picking to advance to single-elimination match play over the weekend. 

Group 1: Rory McIlroy, Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Dufner

Not sure if this is the "group of death," as it's been billed. We've got two major champions and two FedEx champions, but Horschel's had trouble following up his spectacular close to last season, when he bettered McIlroy at East Lake, and Dufner's done little since his PGA triumph 18 months ago. If there's a worry for McIlroy, it's Snedeker's putter. Still, hard to go against No. 1.

Winner: Rory McIlroy

Group 2: Jordan Spieth, Lee Westwood, Matt Every, Mikko Ilonen

Westwood has plenty of match-play experience, but it's not necessarily good. He's got a combined 14-21 record at the WGC and in Ryder Cup singles. Ilonen is flying in from China, and Every isn't playing Bay Hill.

Winner: Jordan Spieth

Group 3: Henrik Stenson, Bill Haas, Brendon Todd, John Senden

Haas won the Humana and turned in two nice finishes at Doral and Augusta. Todd has become a fixture on weekly leaderboards. Senden isn't a tremendous slouch. But Stenson leads the Tour in strokes gained-putting and tee-to-green. All chalk so far.

Winner: Henrik Stenson

Group 4: Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen, Keegan Bradley, Miguel Angel Jimenez

Bradley seems to get fired up by match play, but he's not terribly good at it individually. He's 1-6 combined at the WGC and in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup singles, and actually lost to Jimenez at this event in 2012. Oosthuizen vs. Watson represents a rematch from the 2012 Masters playoff and the most divergent pairing of golf swings you could put together. We're taking the classic swinger.

Winner: Louis Oosthuizen

Group 5: Jim Furyk, Martin Kaymer, Thongchai Jaidee, George Coetzee

This comes down to a battle of U.S. Open champions. Kaymer's game rises and recedes like the tides (he's missed three consecutive cuts), while Furyk's consistent play puts him in position week after week. Harding Park measures only 7,100 yards, meaning Furyk's lack of length won't be too much of a disadvantage.

Winner: Jim Furyk 

Group 6: Justin Rose, Ryan Palmer, Anirban Lahiri, Marc Leishman

Last year, Rose followed up his win at the Quicken Loans with another victory at the Scottish Open. Like many of these guys in the top 10, he has the capacity to be the best player in the world at any time, and has shown an ability to follow up on a successful week. He was also a match-play menace at Gleneagles.

Winner: Justin Rose

Group 7: Jason Day, Zach Johnson, Branden Grace, Charley Hoffman

Day is the defending champion and nearly won last week at the Zurich. He could be tired. He could be disappointed. He could also win three matches in three days and advance to the weekend. We're betting on the latter.

Winner: Jason Day

Group 8: Dustin Johnson, Victor Dubuisson, Charl Schwartzel, Matt Jones

We're buying as much Johnson stock as anybody, but if you're getting tired of all the chalk in Groups 1-7, perk up. We're taking the Frenchman, if only because we're anxious to see his follow-up act from his cactus-escaping, runner-up showing last year.

Winner: Victor Dubuisson

Group 9: Adam Scott, Chris Kirk, Paul Casey, Francesco Molinari

Putting woes don't typically breed match-play success, and Scott appears caught between anchored and non-anchored options. Meanwhile, Casey's decision to play in the United States full-time has paid off to four top-10 finishes in the last two months. We should also mention his astounding match-play history: 16-9 at the WGC, a two-time runner-up and a former Volvo World Match Play champion.

Winner: Paul Casey

Group 10: Sergio Garcia, Jamie Donaldson, Bernd Wiesberger, Tommy Fleetwood

Kind of feel like Ferris Bueller here. Paraphrased: "I did have a test today. ... It was on European match play. Honestly, I'm not European. I don't plan on becoming European. So who knows who's going to win?" I do.

Winner: Jamie Donaldson

Group 11: Jimmy Walker, Ian Poulter, Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland

This was the last group announced Monday, and each top seed dodged Poulter - save for Walker. There's a good chance you're not Poulter's biggest fan, but his resume speaks for itself: 2010 champion, 22-12 at the WGC, 4-0-1 in Ryder Cup singles. Sorry Jimmy, Webb and Gary. Tough draw.

Winner: Ian Poulter

Group 12: J.B. Holmes, Brooks Koepka, Russell Henley, Marc Warren

Holmes vs. Koepka in a battle of the bombers is one of the matches we are most looking forward to in pool play. Koepka has a blindingly bright future but has fallen off, in part because of injury, since his breakthrough victory at Scottsdale. Holmes, meanwhile, is in the middle of a career year, with two runner-ups and a win.

Winner: J.B. Holmes

Group 13: Rickie Fowler, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry, Harris English

Until this season, McDowell was our perenial pick for Guy-We-Would-Most-Trust-To-Make-This-Back-Breaking-Putt. That title now goes to Spieth, through no fault of G-Mac. This pick is admittedly colored by McDowell's previous Volvo World Match Play success - and this clip and this clip. Yes, that was five years ago. Now watch those clips and nod.

Winner: Graeme McDowell

Group 14: Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Stephen Gallacher, Ben Martin

Kuchar and Mahan have history here. Mahan won in 2012 and then lost to Kuchar in the final in 2013. They're a combined 34-10 at the Match Play.

Winner: Flip a coin. Heads: Mahan

Group 15: Patrick Reed, Ryan Moore, Danny Willett, Andy Sullivan

Moore is a former U.S. Amateur champion, and Reed's mental makeup seems to feed on direct confrontation. It's between the two of them, and frankly, we just want to see Reed and Spieth go at it in the 2-15 matchup.

Winner: Patrick Reed

Group 16: Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Na, Joost Luiten, Alexander Levy

Matsuyama is a ball-stirking machine and the only thing holding him back from superstardom is his putter. His tee-to-green game will be enough to advance him out of pool play, but he'll need to turn it around on the greens if he's going to have any chance against (hey, we picked him) Rory McIlroy in the Round of 16.

Winner: Hideki Matsuyama

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

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

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

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.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

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."

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.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry