No such thing as upsets at Match Play

By Rex HoggardFebruary 20, 2014, 12:43 am

MARANA, Ariz. – It’s not so much a lie as it is a misconception.

Like many things in golf, certain concepts in sports just don’t translate to the fairways. As upset Wednesday swallowed one higher-seeded player after another, your scribe was cornered by the unmistakable feeling that there are no real upsets at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

On paper, world No. 67 Kiradech Aphibarnrat – the last man into the Match Play field – is no match for No. 2 Henrik Stenson, the week’s highest-ranked player. But the Swede found himself down early in his match and needed a pair of late birdies to advance to Round 2.

All told, nine lower-seeded players won on Day 1 at Done Mountain ... eh, Dove Mountain – which was not even close to the record number of Round 1 upsets (18) established in 1999 – but no one stormed the court after the match to cut down the flag.

This may not match the official company line, but the difference between the top and bottom of this week’s field is measured in inches.

In short, there are no real upsets at the Match Play.

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“I don’t think anyone was giving me much of a chance,” said Graeme McDowell, who survived a 19-hole shootout with Gary Woodland. “On a course he can decimate with his length, yeah, I consider it an upset.”

Point taken, but in McDowell’s case it was more of a moral victory over Woodland than a bona fide upset.

On a day filled with all manner of emotional peaks and valleys no one covered the psychological spectrum better than McDowell, who readily admitted that his relationship with the Match Play has been more hate than love in recent years.

McDowell set out against the slugger Woodland on Day 1 at Dove Mountain and found himself in familiar territory, playing catchup off the tee and on the scoreboard.

The Ulsterman lost the first three holes and was 4 down through seven. By the time he arrived at the 16th tee he was 3 down with three to play.

“He hit 6-iron all over the flag on 16 and the (courtesy cars) were circling,” McDowell said. “I could see (manager Colin Morrissey) on the phone. I thought, right, hopefully he’s got me a flight booked.”

Woodland’s approach flew long, however, and he made bogey. G-Mac birdied No. 17, was conceded a birdie at the last and converted from 6 feet at the first extra frame to win in 19 holes.

“I thought it was over. You’re 3 down against a guy like that,” McDowell said.

McDowell’s was every bit the compelling comeback, but considering his resume –he did win Europe’s World Match Play last year – and the fact he was the higher-seeded player in his match it’s difficult to label his victory an upset. Or any of the Day 1 games at pro golf’s version of March madness.

Peter Hanson may have surprised Dustin Johnson, the fifth-highest-ranked player in the field, with his 4-and-3 whipping, but when you consider the Swede’s record at this event (he advanced to the quarterfinals in 2012 and has lost in Round 1 just once in his last three starts) he may have busted some brackets but not the status quo.

Even Rickie Fowler’s 2-and-1 victory over Mr. Match Play, Ian Poulter, qualifies as a surprise, but an upset?

Still, it’s not as though Fowler – who was the 14th-seeded player in the Ben Hogan bracket while Poulter was the third-seeded player – didn’t savor the chance to take down the Ryder Cup giant-killer from England.

“It’s nice to get a victory against anyone, but Poulter is one of the most well-known match-play players in the game,” Fowler smiled.

Richard Sterne (a 16th-seeded player) over Zach Johnson (a No. 1 seed), Matteo Manassero (14th seed) over Luke Donald (fifth seed), Harris English (ninth seed) over Lee Westwood (eighth seed), George Coetzee (14th seed) over Steve Stricker (third seed), Jonas Blixt (11th seed) over Keegan Bradley (sixth seed) may all be upsets according to the Official World Golf Ranking, but on this the math misses the mark.

Although Zach Johnson’s loss was the day’s biggest paper upset, he has not advanced past the second round at the Match Play since 2006, when the event was played at the more user-friendly Gallery course next door; and before this week Stricker hadn’t hit off real grass since mid-December.

Much like the term “playoff” doesn’t fit neatly into the Tour’s season-long points race, the concept of an upset just doesn’t dovetail with the capricious ways of match play, which has a tendency of steamrolling preconceived notions as well as the world’s best players.

“Thirty-two guys arrived here this week as one of the top players in the world and leave today feeling like a 10 handicap,” said Denis Pugh, the swing coach for Francesco Molinari, who lost on Day 1.

Given the depth of professional golf, however, none of them left Dove Mountain feeling as if they’d been upset.

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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