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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Watch: Tiger birdies 3 of 4, then goes OB

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 8:30 pm

Starting Sunday five off the lead, Tiger Woods teed off in his final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and another birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

And with this roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, the charge was officially on, with Woods just one back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and sniped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 to drop back to 11 under, three behind.

(More coming...)

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Tiger Tracker: Arnold Palmer Invitational

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods will start Sunday five off the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. How will he follow up last week's runner-up? We're tracking him at Bay Hill.

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McIlroy: Time for Tour to limit alcohol sales on course

By Ryan LavnerMarch 18, 2018, 1:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy suggested Saturday that the PGA Tour might need to consider curbing alcohol sales to stop some of the abusive fan behavior that has become more prevalent at events.

McIlroy said that a fan repeatedly yelled his wife’s name (Erica) during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. I think they need to limit the alcohol sales on the course, or they need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I know that people want to come and enjoy themselves, and I’m all for that, but sometimes when the comments get personal and people get a little bit rowdy, it can get a little much.”

This isn’t the first time that McIlroy has voiced concerns about fan behavior on Tour. Last month at Riviera, he said the rowdy spectators probably cost Tiger Woods a half-shot a round, and after two days in his featured group he had a splitting headache.

A week later, at the Honda Classic, Justin Thomas had a fan removed late in the final round.

McIlroy believes the issue is part of a larger problem, as more events try to replicate the success of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has one of the liveliest atmospheres on Tour.

“It’s great for that tournament, it’s great for us, but golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” he said. “You want people to enjoy themselves, have a good day.”

As for a solution, well, McIlroy isn’t quite sure.

“It used to be you bring beers onto the course or buy beers, but not liquor,” he said. “And now it seems like everyone’s walking around with a cocktail. I don’t know whether (the solution) is to go back to letting people walking around with beers in their hands. That’s fine, but I don’t know.”

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.