No. 1 McIlroy, No. 2 Woods ousted from Match Play

By Rex HoggardFebruary 22, 2013, 3:41 am

MARANA, Ariz. – It was another desert, another championship, another continent but as day turned quickly into night on Thursday the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship felt eerily similar to last month’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

All that was missing was a bizarre rules snafu and last-minute putter switch, but even those distinctions faded to darkness as the worst-case scenario became reality. For the first time in over a decade the top two seeded players won’t see the second round.

For world No. 1 Rory McIlroy it was a 1-up decision to mate Shane Lowry and another short work week that brings his year-to-date total of competitive rounds to three. While No. 2 Tiger Woods failed to make it to Friday at the Match Play for the fourth consecutive year following a 2-and-1 twilight loss to Charles Howell III.

Cue the concerns about match play’s capricious ways – one-and-done is too volatile, too Draconian, too, well, this.

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Not that either Woods or McIlroy had any interest in taking shelter in the bracket busting format.

“I played well, I really did, I hit a lot of good shots out there,” said Woods, who was bounced in Round 1 for the third time in 13 Match Play appearances. “I didn’t make a bogey out there. Unfortunately it’s the nature of the format, and I’m not advancing.”

And the Match Play now has a dangerously thin marquee for the duration.

“That’s 18-hole match play, you have to get off to a fast start and you have to play well to win,” said McIlroy, who endured a round-one bounce for the first time in his young career.

Yet as volatile as match play can be, “Black Thursday” was not exactly a Gonzaga/Princeton upset special. Although technically upsets, neither player expected the competitive equivalent of a first-round bye.

McIlroy had played enough golf with Lowry to know what awaited; in fact the two had dinner on Tuesday night at famed Lil Abner’s steakhouse, so when the two battled to a draw through 11 holes there were no alarms.

But then match play happened at the par-3 12th when Lowry flew the green with his tee shot and dropped a chip for birdie and his first lead of the day. The Ulsterman was running uphill the rest of the way.

“It changed a little bit from looking like I was up there at 3 feet for par and he was looking like he was struggling for a halve and all of a sudden he wins the hole; the momentum shifted a little bit,” McIlroy said.

For Woods that momentum haymaker arrived in near darkness when Howell charged in a 23-footer for birdie at the 16th hole and Woods failed to convert from 11 feet.

No one was more surprised than Howell.

“I still kept waiting for that Tiger moment,” Howell conceded even after he’d built a 2-up advantage.

Through countless practice rounds when the two were members at central Florida’s Isleworth Country Club, yearly bouts in the Tavistock Cup and all the way back to a third-round tilt at the 1996 U.S. Amateur, as best he could remember Howell had never clipped the guy in the red shirt in a head-to-head duel.

But on Thursday as players and officials raced daylight in an attempt to make up for Wednesday’s white-out that dumped nearly 4 inches of snow on the Dove Mountain layout, that “Tiger moment” never arrived.

For the day Woods missed birdie attempts from 10 feet (No. 1), 11 feet (No. 10), 10 feet (No. 11) and 11 feet (No. 16). After four long days of waiting and anticipating this was not what Howell had come to expect from his former high-profile neighbor.

“It's part of the getting beat by him so many times, yeah, you're just waiting for it.  It's kind of like a whipped dog; you know it's coming,” said Howell, who has climbed from 117th in the world rfanking to 66th thanks to a solid start to 2013. “It caught me off guard that he missed the putt on 16. I really thought he would make that one. That's in his wheelhouse.”

But then this season began with out-of-character performances by both of the game’s leading men when Woods missed the cut in his debut in Abu Dhabi following a two-stroke penalty that resulted from an incorrect drop and McIlroy made a mess of his Nike Golf debut with rounds of 75-75 and an embarrassing return to his old Scotty Cameron putter for Round 2 in the Middle East.

Woods recovered to win his second start at Torrey Pines; the jury is still out on McIlroy who headed back down Dove Mountain not sounding anything like a player who is on an 0-for-2 schneid.

“I’m hitting the ball so much better off the tee, which is a huge positive,” said McIlroy, whose next start is the Honda Classic. “I’m more comfortable with everything around the greens.”

Perhaps, McIlroy has proven adept at avoiding panic attacks when things aren’t going his way. Maybe the fix for both superstars is warm south Florida skies and 72 holes of stroke play. But that reality wasn’t going to make things any easier on the Match Play marquee.

Another weekend in the desert, another weekend without the world’s top two players.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."