Match Play keeping things weird in Austin

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2017, 10:19 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A few years ago the Austin Independent Business Alliance launched a unique campaign entitled, “Keep Austin Weird: A Guide to the Odd Side of Town.”

For three days there has been no better example of the weird and odd than the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, the PGA Tour’s annual version of March Madness that has been made infinitely more maddening with the addition of round-robin play three years ago.

In theory the concept is simple, with groups of four vying for points to advance to the round of 16, when the action reverts to the traditional one-and-done reality of match play. In practice, however, the format has all the clarity of a Leo Tolstoy novel, with Friday’s final edition of group play defined by outrageous scenarios, like the possibility of a four-man playoff to earn a Sweet 16 bid and 23 players with no chance to advance.

Weird and odd about sums it up.

That’s not to say Friday’s action was too convoluted to enjoy. There were moments of unmanufactured pressure, like the three-man playoff between Charles Howell III, Tyrrell Hatton and Rafa Cabrera Bello.

Hatton was bounced on the first extra hole after being penalized for not replacing his golf ball on the green after it moved.

Howell survived a vicious lip-out for par on the fourth extra hole when it appeared Cabrera Bello was on the ropes after finding a gully with his tee shot and bouncing his next attempt off a rock wall.

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“Those are the things that happen in match play playoffs, right, where he makes a great up and down to make 4 and I three-putt and keep going,” said Howell, who won the playoff and advanced to the round of 16 with a birdie at the fifth overtime frame. “Like that shank I had yesterday to keep the match going, right, and you're just like, how does this happen?”

Or Kevin Na’s plight on Day 3 when he cruised out to a 4-up lead against Chris Wood needing only to earn a half point to advance to the Sweet 16, but watched as the Englishman went 5 under through his next six holes to win the match, 2 and 1.

Matthew Fitzpatrick completed Na's nightmare scenario by beating Justin Thomas, 2 and 1, to force the day’s second playoff.

“[Wood] made four birdies and an eagle in a nine-hole stretch and I couldn't keep up,” said Na, who birdied the first playoff hole to advance to the weekend. “On 16, I asked the walking scorer what happened to the match in front of me [Fitzpatrick and Thomas]. I knew if they halved, I would have still advanced with a loss today. I found out that Fitzpatrick came back and won. So my goal was I've got to put this behind me and go play one great hole.”

All total, there were five playoffs needed to complete the field of 16, with Bill Haas having the longest haul following a 4-and-2 victory over K.T. Kim in the morning and a six-hole playoff bout that ended with the American advancing after a 22-hole day.

By comparison, Marc Leishman needed only two holes on Day 3, a playoff with Lee Westwood and Pat Perez, to advance to Saturday after sitting out his Friday match because of Jason Day’s withdrawal earlier in the week.

Odd, indeed.

And that doesn’t even include those 23 players who arrived at Austin Country Club on Friday with no chance to earn a spot in the knock-out rounds, like Rory McIlroy and Emiliano Grillo, who found themselves involved in one of four meaningless matches between two players with no chance of advancing.

“It is odd whenever you have nothing to play for. I guess that's both of our faults. We didn't win our matches on the first day,” said McIlroy, who lost on Day 1 to Soren Kjeldsen, didn’t play on Thursday after Gary Woodland withdrew and was eliminated when Kjeldsen won his Day 2 match. “If it had been the old format [one-and-done match play], I would have already been home. It is what it is and I just needed to play better on that first day to at least have something to play for today.”

McIlroy was the highest seeded player to not make it to the weekend, and he was joined on the sidelines by Jordan Spieth who has now failed to advance out of round-robin play twice since it began in 2015.

In what was a devastating blow to chalk, the second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and ninth-seeded players all failed to make it to the Sweet 16, a statistical absurdity only partially explained by Day’s withdrawal.

If there was an outlier to that trend it was Dustin Johnson. The world No. 1 continued his dominate performance with a 5-and-3 victory over Jimmy Walker and enters the weekend having not trailed in any match.

“No matter what ranking I am, I feel like I should win. I'm playing well, but anything can happen in match play,” said Johnson, who is vying to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win back-to-back World Golf Championships following his victory earlier this month in Mexico City. “I feel like I've got a little bit of an advantage just because I'm playing really well.”

Given how weird the week has gone, it was no surprise that Johnson’s dominance has been rivaled only by Phil Mickelson, who hasn’t played the weekend at the Match Play since 2004 but rolled to the Sweet 16 with three easy victories. Odd, right?

But that’s the new-look Match Play, doing its part to keep Austin weird.

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.