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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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.