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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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.