McIlroy last man standing in Match Play

By Rex HoggardMay 4, 2015, 12:06 am

SAN FRANCISCO – During a week of title bouts – Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, Keegan Bradley vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez – Sunday’s finale at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play felt more like an undercard.

It wasn’t the names, what with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy squared off with cult favorite Gary Woodland in the 18-hole championship match, so much as it was an utter lack of buzz, both on and off the winding Harding Park track.

Maybe it was the new format, three days of round-robin group play that left fans and players equally confused. Maybe it was a gloomy Sunday that produced few cheers.

Or maybe – as is normally the case at golf’s version of March madness – building to a crescendo isn’t exactly match play’s stock in trade.

Consider that your two finalists played a combined 206 holes before reaching the title bout and provided plenty of fireworks along the way.

WGC-Cadillac Match Play: Articles, videos and photos

McIlroy trailed going to the 16th tee in three of his four matches leading up to the final, going a combined 9 under par on those closing holes; while Woodland’s best likely came on Day 1 when he played his last four holes in 2 under par to beat Jimmy Walker in 19 holes on his way to winning what some argued was the week’s “group of death.”

By comparison, Sunday’s matinee was flat.

After trading birdies at the par-5 first, the would-be champions combined to play the next three holes in 5 over par. Things began to go McIlroy’s way when Woodland’s tee shots stopped going the proper way.

The slugger missed his drive left on No. 3 and advanced his next shot exactly 1 yard after trying to weave a Hail Mary through a forest. For all his adventures, however, Woodland halved the hole with a bogey.

At the fifth he hit not one, but two cart paths with a drive that sailed right and the downward spiral had begun. By the turn, Woodland was 2 over par and 4 down to McIlroy.

“I think sometimes finals might not have the quality of some of the previous rounds, whether that's to do with a little bit of fatigue kicking in or maybe just the occasion or whatever,” McIlroy said. “I felt like Gary and I didn't get off to the best of starts. There was a bit of an ebb and flow in the match, but thankfully I was on the better side of it at the end.”

Maintaining a winning pace for five days and seven matches, particularly when it’s the world No. 1 waiting just short of the finish line, is a statistical unicorn. The trick is avoiding an untimely swoon.

“You've got to get lucky in match play. If you have your bad round, you've got to hope the guy you're playing with has a bad round, as well,” Woodland said.

“I was fortunate to get away with a bad round on Wednesday against Jimmy [Walker]. But when you're playing the No. 1 player in the world, you can't have a bad round.”

Late Sunday, Woodland ran out of luck and ran into his bad round.

Although he cut McIlroy’s lead in half with birdies at the 10th and 12th holes, he followed that with two bogeys to put the finishing touches on a largely anti-climactic Sunday with a 4-and-2 loss.

The truth is the most exciting matches occurred well before Sunday dawned with duels like McIlroy vs. Billy Horschel in a sequel to last year’s Tour Championship finish on Friday; McIlroy vs. Paul Casey which spanned two days, 22 holes and multiple trips to the bathroom for the Englishman who came down with a particularly nasty case of food poisoning Saturday night; and Jordan Spieth vs. Lee Westwood, who chipped in for par at No. 16 and rolled in a crucial birdie putt at the 17th to stun arguably the week’s top performer.

Spieth was 16 under par for three days and at one point led the field by seven shots. “That’s a little messed up,” the Masters champion said when asked to evaluate the event’s new format.

That’s match play, for all its warts and reworked formats.

It was a measure of this Match Play’s moxie that the two hottest topics during a bone-chilling week had to do with two bouts that had no bearing on the outcome – the Mayweather/Pacquiao title bout in Las Vegas on Saturday and a heated exchange between Bradley and Jimenez on Friday as the two were wrapping up a virtually meaningless match.

The two players, who’d lost their first two matches in the round-robin format and were assured of only a trip home on Friday, disagreed over a drop Bradley was taking and the dispute spilled over into the locker room after the Spaniard closed out the match a 2-up winner.

“This is getting awkward,” observed Russell Henley on Friday, a reference to the horde of reporters that had assembled in the locker room to interview Jimenez after his run-in with Bradley.

Henley was trying to take a post-match shower when the media melee broke out, but the same could be said for this WGC-Match Play. While entertainment demands you always save the best for last, sport rarely follows a script, particularly when match play is the choice of format.

To be fair, at a marathon all 26.2 miles can’t be must-watch, just as all 121 holes McIlroy played at Harding Park weren’t going directly to the highlight reel.

“In the positions that I found myself in, you have to dig a little bit deeper. You have to try and find things from places you don't know if they're there or not,” said McIlroy, who has won two of the last three World Golf Championships he’s played. “I was able to produce a couple of key shots when I needed to this week. As a mental test, I don't think we face anything tougher.”

Put another way, sometimes you win ugly, and as McIlroy eyed the Walter Hagen Trophy in the interview room one day shy of his 26th birthday it was the win (his 10th on the PGA Tour), not the style points, he savored.

It was the same interview room he said he wanted to avoid on Saturday with a private plane waiting and a ticket to the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight burning a hole in his pocket.

Thanks to his delayed quarterfinal match against Casey, however, that ticket went to a friend and instead McIlroy watched the title bout, which was equally anti-climactic, in the same interview room he’d hoped to avoid.

“I am a big believer in karma,” he smiled. “I think I gave myself a much better chance of winning by watching it in there than trying to make it to Vegas, that's for sure.”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.