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.

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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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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.