In new Match Play format, winning isn't everything

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2017, 12:11 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Oakland Raiders legend Al Davis built a franchise around the concept – just win, baby.

In sports, style points are often overrated and moral victories are the athletic equivalent of the outrageously backhanded comment, “Bless his heart.”

Golf is certainly not immune to the concept. Sometimes you win “ugly,” but that doesn’t make the hardware shine any less and no one has ever lamented their poor play during a victory speech.

But as Monday’s action unfolded at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, the concept of a bad win and a good loss had a slightly less ridiculous hue.

Consider Charl Schwartzel’s 6-and-5 thumping of Byeong Hun An on Day 1 at Austin Country Club. To the casual observer, the South African was dominant, but a closer inspection reveals that he was just 1 under par through 13 holes and offset two early bogeys with a pair of clutch late birdie putts.

It’s the nature of match play, a format that sometimes identifies the fortunate as much as it does the in-form. In Schwartzel’s case, An struggled mightily on Wednesday with seven bogeys and not a single birdie.

“That's the thing. I didn't play that well in the beginning but afterwards I made the shots I needed to hit,” Schwartzel said. “I was backing off and just hitting shots in the fairway, on the green and applying a lot of pressure, because it made him force the issue. And he sort of kept making mistakes.”

On the other side of that capricious reality was Rory McIlroy, the second-seeded player this week who ran into a 5-foot-8 Danish buzz saw named Soren Kjeldsen.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

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Kjeldsen did everything right: a birdie at the first for an early lead, just a single bogey for 17 holes and a torrid finish that included four birdies over his last four holes for a 2-and-1 victory.

“I played well. If I had played anyone else I might have won,” said McIlroy, who was 4 under for 17 holes. “Soren played great. I think I have to give him credit. He played really, really well, from the first hole.”

It should have been no surprise that McIlroy, who won this event in 2015, didn’t seem utterly crushed by his loss to the 68th-ranked player in the world. This wasn’t Mt. St. Mary’s upsetting Villanova on Day 1 of the NCAA Tournament and McIlroy still has two more days to make it right thanks to the transition to the round-robin format in ’15.

And McIlroy, who is every bit as competitive as the next guy, also understands the nature of match play, which in golf can create a unique gray area when it comes to hashing out the relative winners and losers.

“I was thinking about it last night, would you rather lose at 5 under or win at level par?” Kjeldsen said. “Obviously, you would like to win. At the end of the day when you go away from this tournament you want to feel like you've played well and you've got some momentum in the game.”

It’s an interesting concept, whether losing with style and substance can somehow rival winning with grit and good timing. Paul Casey, who beat Joost Luiten, 2 and 1, quickly smiled when asked which option he’d prefer.

“I’d rather play poorly and win. A win is a win,” Casey said. “I’d rather take the wins and 1-under [rounds] if I can see light at the end of the tunnel. But if you are in desperation and you're trending in the wrong direction and shooting the 1-unders and winning, you are going to be thinking, ‘Oh God, I’m lucky to be winning.”

We get it, you are what your record says you are, and winning is the objective, or, as Tiger Woods famously maintained, second sucks. But pressed further, Casey’s point becomes a bit more vague.

Asked if he can recall ever winning with something less than his best stuff in any of the 34 matches he’s played at the Match Play, the Englishman’s answer was telling.

“I don’t remember many of those,” Casey admitted. “I do remember the year it was straight knock out [2008], I played Robert Karlsson and I think he shot something like 64 and lost to me. He went through every other match, all the other 31 matches on the course and figured out he would have beaten every other player in the field except me. He wasn’t happy.

“Those I remember. I have a selective memory. I erase the other ones. I don’t remember the ugly stuff.”

But isn’t that the point, the less-then-stellar rounds – be they clutch victories or crushing defeats – fade to memory, but the days when everything is clicking, regardless of outcome, endure?

“Yeah OK, you’re right,” Casey allowed.

Davis’ simple premise remains true, in sports it’s always about winning, but at the Match Play there are always varying shades of success and failure.

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Angela hits Sergio in stride on field at Superdome

By Grill Room TeamDecember 18, 2017, 3:22 pm

Sergio and Angela Garcia's super 2017 keeps getting more ... Super ... Dome. (+1 awful blog lede.)

The couple started the year with Sergio's win at the Masters, then embarked on a whirlwind green jacket media tour, then kicked off El Clasico, then attended Wimbledon, then got married, then announced they were expecting their first child ...

2017 Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

And now, they're throwing each other passes on the New Orleans Saints' home turf at the Superdome.

Man, it must be so cool do that at the Silverdome. ... ... ... I'm sorry, it is the Superdome, brothers.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

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.