Day 1 at Harding Park full of intriguing matchups

By Rex HoggardApril 28, 2015, 11:34 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – While the one-and-done pressure that made WGC-Cadillac Match Play Wednesday the best hump day in golf has gone the way of the dodo bird, in its place is three days of round-robin roulette.

Players from 16 groups will square off at Harding Park on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (96 matches in total), which, in theory, would mean increasing pressure as hopefuls vie for a spot in Saturday’s Sweet 16.

Conversely, while Wednesday’s opening match isn’t exactly do-or-die, there will still be an exponentially increasing level of intrigue for the PGA Tour’s only individual match play event starting with what may be the proverbial “group of death” that includes world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner.

Here’s a glimpse at some of Day 1’s most compelling matches:

McIlroy vs. Dufner. While Dufner’s play this year has been largely pedestrian, the Northern Irishman’s record in the WGC-Match Play is not exactly dominant, with just two trips to the weekend in six starts.

Jordan Spieth vs. Mikko Ilonen. With respect to Ilonen, the 68th player in the world who was a last-minute replacement for Phil Mickelson, this could be Wednesday’s quickest match. If the Masters champion sees the 16th hole it will only be on his drive back to the clubhouse after a quick victory.

Adam Scott vs. Francesco Molinari. Although Scott still seems stuck between putters (to anchor, or not to anchor), Molinari has been on the DL since injuring his wrist earlier this season and just started hitting golf balls again last Friday. The bigger concern for Scott may be his Round 2 match against Paul Casey, who has all the markings of a solid dark horse.

Brandt Snedeker vs. Billy Horschel. A player who currently works for Todd Anderson (Horschel) against a former pupil of the Sea Island (Ga.) Resort-based swing coach (Snedeker) in a first-of-its-kind showdown of FedEx Cup champions. This is personal. Not really, but it should be entertaining.

Jimmy Walker vs. Gary Woodland. If McIlroy’s crew is the group of death, Group 11 may prove to be a close second. Walker showed amazing poise in his first Ryder Cup last year, but Woodland has the ability to overpower Harding Park. This one has extra holes written all over it.

Henrik Stenson vs. John Senden. Another match that screams for chalk, but Stenson hasn’t picked up a club since the Masters and still appears under the weather after a bout with the flu. Upset special.

Bubba Watson vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez. One is a fifty-something, cigar-smoking wine connoisseur and the other is Watson. Don’t sleep on the Spaniard, however. Although this would be an upset on paper, Jimenez was born for match play.

Rickie Fowler vs. Harris English. Rickie will be the crowd favorite, always is, but English seems poised for a big week following a stellar run last year in his first WGC-Match Play when he beat Lee Westwood in Round 1 and McIlroy on Day 2.

Graeme McDowell vs. Shane Lowry. In the same group as Fowler and English, this match is closer than it appears. Two years ago Lowry stunned McIlroy in Round 1 and was eventually dispatched by McDowell in the third round.

Ian Poulter vs. Webb Simpson. A rematch of last year’s Ryder Cup Sunday singles duel which ended in a tie. The nod would seemingly go to Poulter, the 2010 champion and undisputed match play magician, but being back in San Francisco has rejuvenated Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open across the street at The Olympic Club.

Brooks Koepka vs. Russell Henley. This appears to be a wash, but after being slowed by a strained rib during the Florida swing Koepka said he’s finally feeling 100 percent again, and could be this tournament’s not-so-sneaky Cinderella story.

Victor Dubuisson vs. Charl Schwartzel. Although his play since last year’s WGC-Match Play final has not been as electrifying, Dubuisson is turning into a quieter version of Poulter when it comes to match play after a solid Ryder Cup.

And the best part about the WGC-Match Play’s new round-robin format is we get to do this all over again on Thursday.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.