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.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry