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.

WGC-Accenture Match Play scoring

WGC-Accenture Match Play bracket

WGC-Accenture Match Play: Articles, videos and photos

“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.

Getty Images

Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook played a six-hole stretch in 6 under and shot an 8-under 64 in breezy conditions Saturday to take the lead at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook began the run at La Quinta Country Club with birdies on Nos. 4-5, eagled the sixth and added birdies on No. 7 and 9 to make the turn in 6-under 30.

After a bogey on the 10th, he birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 15 and saved par on the 18th with a 20-footer to take a 19-under 197 total into the final round on PGA West's Stadium Course. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player is making his first start in the event. He won at Sea Island in November for his first PGA Tour title.

Fellow former Razorbacks star Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were a stroke back. Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 on the Stadium Course. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. They are both winless on the PGA Tour.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Jon Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium Course to reach 17 under. The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3, Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

Scott Piercy also was two strokes back after a 66 at the Stadium.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course, and Harkins shot 68 on the Stadium Course.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium Course to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time.

The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. The Southern California recruit had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over for the week.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine – and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

Getty Images

Mickelson misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

Getty Images

Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Getty Images

LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.