WGC Match Play a forecast of what's to come at Ryder Cup?

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2014, 1:40 am

MARANA, Ariz. – For all the talk of who isn’t at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and what is wrong with Dove Mountain, those who have braved altitude for the PGA Tour’s last pass through this corner of the high desert didn’t seem overly concerned with a lack of Q rating.

Even without the world Nos. 1, 2 and 4, there is still no mistaking the fact Match Play Wednesday is the best hump day on Tour, followed in short order by what has traditionally been the circuit’s worst Sunday.

The ultimate irony is Dove Mountain’s swansong Match Play will likely have some of the best weather this event has seen in some time.

“It’s nice to be wearing a T-shirt,” smiled Rory McIlroy in an ode to the blizzard of 2013. “I don’t have to wear any sweaters or mittens.”

One also gets the unmistakable feeling that fans won’t be required to wear any blinders. Without Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson the pretense of a favorite – always a misnomer during golf’s version of March madness – has been pushed aside like so many busted brackets.

In fact, if U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson is free on Wednesday he may want to settle in for a little pre-match scouting. Sixteen of Day 1’s 32 match-ups are potential Ryder Cup showdowns, beginning with Wednesday’s leadoff bout between Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler.

WGC-Accenture Match Play bracket

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“Always nice to play match play, it’s no big secret with me,” Poulter said. “It’s one of the purest formats in golf. You can play fantastic, be 6 under par and be going home. You can shoot level par and be staying. So you just have to do enough to dispatch your opponent and hopefully I can do that tomorrow.”

The Englishman won this event in 2010 and is a staple, or thorn depending on one’s point of view, on the European Ryder Cup squad; while Fowler’s record in either the Match Play or Ryder Cup is not as impressive but his potential is just as relevant.

In what could be the day’s most entertaining match, Rory McIlroy will face Boo Weekley, and unless the Ulsterman has found some answers for his wayward driver, the Arizona desert will be no less kind than the sand he regularly found himself playing from last month in Dubai. As for Weekley we can only hope he heads down the first fairway riding his driver like a pony like he did at the 2008 matches.

“I’m not sure we share many common interests,” McIlroy said of Weekley. “I’ve never been hunting before in my life.”

And one can imagine that after introductions are made on the first tee there won’t be much talking between Bubba Watson, one of the Tour’s longest hitters and last week’s champion, and Mikko Ilonen, who ranked 143rd last year in driving distance.

Justin Rose and Scott Piercy, defending champion Matt Kuchar and Bernd Wiesberger, Harris English and Lee Westwood, Keegan Bradley and Jonas Blixt, Jordan Spieth and Pablo Larrazabal – all potential preludes to Sunday’s singles action later this year in Scotland.

While it may be a tad early to look too deeply at the Ryder Cup standings, Wednesday’s lineup is a long awaited reason to watch professional golf’s version of Benjamin Button even if your name is not Watson or Paul McGinley, Europe’s captain for this year’s matches.

More so than any other year, this year’s Match Play is akin to a Ryder Cup Lite, so much so one wouldn’t be surprised to hear the gallery around the first tee early Wednesday signing “Ola, Ola, Ola.”

But that chorus will ultimately lead to a final send off, be it grand or another grind, on Sunday when the Tour will serenade Dove Mountain one final time - Na na na na, na na na nahey hey hey, goodbye.

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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).

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 phoned 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. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.