Major Match Play Championship: Week 1

By Randall MellMarch 11, 2014, 10:30 am

What is the greatest major championship in golf history? That's for you to determine. Over the next four weeks, is allowing readers a chance to vote in our Major Match Play Championship. Here is everything you need to know:

Process for determining our 16 majors

Breaking down the 16 contenders

Major championship photo gallery

Week 1 voting: Vote now!

Without further ado, here are the eight first-round matches (with seeding and tournament winners in parenthesis).

Match 1

(1) 1986 Masters (Jack Nicklaus) vs. (16) 1953 British Open ( Ben Hogan)

No Nicklaus victory was more emotional; his unexpected 18th and final major championship triumph coming when so many had written him off at age 46. His magical back-nine charge in ’86 captured imaginations beyond the game.

Hogan won his first and only British Open title in ’53 at Carnoustie. It was his third major championship conquest of that year. He also won the Masters and the U.S. Open, but he wouldn’t get a chance to win the PGA Championship. The dates conflicted with the British Open. It was the greatest major championship run in a single year since Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930.

Match 2

(8) 1960 U.S. Open (Arnold Palmer) vs. (9) 1962 U.S. Open (Nicklaus)

Palmer didn’t just win the '60 U.S. Open in dramatic fashion. He won with paths of greatness dramatically crossing. Palmer came from seven shots behind in the final round at Cherry Hills to win his first and only U.S. Open title. He did so after famously driving the par-4 first green in the final round. Palmer prevailed on a day when a 20-year-old amateur named Nicklaus and a 47-year-old legend named Hogan also held leads. How good is that?

Nicklaus made his first professional victory the ’62 U.S. Open at Oakmont memorable by beating Palmer, the reigning king of golf. He did so in a playoff in Palmer’s backyard. They loved Arnie there in Pennsylvania, and they hated Jack. It marked the beginning of their rivalry.

Match 3

(4) 1950 U.S. Open (Hogan) vs. (13) 1923 PGA Championship ( Gene Sarazen)

Sixteen months after a head-on collision with a bus nearly killed him, Hogan won the U.S. Open in what is remembered as the “Miracle at Merion.” He hit that famous 1-iron to the last hole in regulation in ’50  to earn his way into a playoff with Lloyd Mangrum and George Fazio.

In a battle of the professional titans of the time, Gene Sarazen defeated Walter Hagen, in 38 holes, in the finals of the ’23 PGA Championship. They dominated that major in that era, with one or the other winning it over seven consecutive years in the ‘20s.

Match 4

(5) 1977 British Open (Tom Watson) vs. (12) 2001 Masters (Tiger Woods)

Tom Watson beat Jack Nicklaus in what is remembered as the “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry in ’77. In a classic, Watson and Nicklaus separated themselves from the field playing together Saturday and Sunday. Watson won by a shot shooting 65-65 with Nicklaus shooting 65-66.

Woods’ win at Augusta National in ’01 was historic, completing what was billed as the "Tiger Slam.” The victory made Woods the first man in the modern era to win four consecutive majors.

Match 5

(2) 1997 Masters (Woods) vs. (15) 1954 Masters (Sam Snead)

The world seemed to stop in awe in ’97 when Woods won his first major as a professional by a Masters’ record 12 shots. It was more spectacle than competition, a precursor of the domination to come. Woods was only 21, and the victory is remembered as his coronation, the crowning of a supreme new power in professional golf.

Snead’s victory was especially dramatic, a one-shot triumph over rival Hogan in an 18-hole Monday playoff. Snead once said, “The three things I fear most in golf are lightning, Ben Hogan and a downhill putt.” This was also the Masters amateur Billy Joe Patton looked like he was going to win after making a hole-in-one at the sixth in the final round but then squandering his chance by rinsing a shot on his way to a double bogey at the 13th hole.

Match 6

(7) 1913 U.S. Open (Francis Ouimet) vs. (10) 1930 U.S. Amateur (Bobby Jones)

Ouimet, a little known 20-year-old former caddie, walked across the street from his family’s home onto the Country Club at Brookline and pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of sport. He beat British titans Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff in ’13 to become the first amateur to win the U.S. Open. He put American golf on the map with a victory that made the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Jones lifted a nation’s spirit, winning the U.S. Amateur in ’30 to become the first player to win the Grand Slam, or the “Impregnable Quadrilateral,” as it was also called. His victory at Merion was a tonic in the aftermath of the stock market crash, with the Great Depression dawning. He remains the only player to sweep four major championships in a single season. The New York Times then called it “the most triumphant journey that any man ever traveled in sport.”

Match 7

(3) 2008 U.S. Open (Woods) vs. (14) 2000 PGA Championship (Woods)

Woods winced, grimaced and limped on his way to victory in ’08 with a torn ligament in his left knee and a fractured left tibia. While he has amazed us more than once with his feats over the years, this win was different in that for the first time he seemed to amaze himself. Despite all the pain, he won this U.S. Open at Torrey Pines over 91 holes, defeating Rocco Mediate in a playoff.

For all his domination in majors, Woods’ most thrilling win might have come in the 2000 PGA at Valhalla, where a 31-year-old journeyman pro named Bob May pushed him to the brink. Woods claimed his third major of that year in a dramatic Sunday finish that didn’t end until Woods prevailed in a three-hole playoff.

Match 8

(6) 2000 U.S. Open (Woods) vs. (11) 1975 Masters (Nicklaus)

Winning the U.S. Open in an astonishing 15-shot rout, Woods seemed to break the spirit of the field. He won at Pebble Beach in ’00 with the most dominant performance in the history of major championship golf. He finished at 12 under par, becoming the first player in U.S. Open history to finish double digits under par, in a week where nobody else broke par.

Nicklaus won his fifth Masters’ title and 13th major in a thrilling finish that shook all those pine trees on the back nine at Augusta National. In ’75, he outplayed Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller in a gut-wrenching finish that saw Weiskopf and Miller both miss birdie chances at the 72nd hole that would have forced a playoff. 

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.