Day 1 losers still have a life - barely

By Ryan LavnerMarch 24, 2016, 12:09 am

AUSTIN, Texas – The format might be different for the WGC-Dell Match Play, but Day 1 is still more about the losers than the winners.

Only now, the top seeds have a safety net.

Last year, only three players who lost their opening match reached the Round of 16. It required stellar play over the next two rounds of pool play – and some help.

“If you don’t win the first day, you’re definitely not controlling your own destiny,” said Jordan Spieth, who won his opening match, 3 and 2, over Jamie Donaldson. “I control my own destiny. It’s huge. You don’t want to lose a match at all. You don’t want to rely on a playoff. You never know what happens.”

Of the top 16 seeds, only four lost on opening day at Austin Country Club: Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Branden Grace.

The most notable loss was by Fowler, one of the pre-tournament favorites, who was defeated, 3 and 2, by Jason Dufner. After Fowler won three holes on the back nine to return the match to all square, Dufner birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to earn the full point.

“If you lose your first match, you’re pretty much behind the gun,” Dufner said. “So I’m happy to get away with the win and see how it goes tomorrow.”

WGC-Dell Match Play Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Graeme McDowell was frustrated with himself following a 3-and-2 loss to Jason Day, who tweaked his back on the 15th hole, hobbled home and now is uncertain for the rest of the week.

“I felt like I maybe played the better golf,” McDowell said, “but at the end of the day he beat me pretty easily.”

And now he has work to do.

After his opening loss, McDowell must win his next two matches – against Paul Casey on Thursday and Thongchai Jaidee on Friday – to have any chance of advancing to the weekend. His best-case scenario? A playoff tiebreaker against either Day or Jaidee.

“This is do or die the next two days,” McDowell said, “and you need a bit of luck as well.”

Even those who won Wednesday don’t feel safe.

Rory McIlroy didn’t lead his match until the very end, when his par on the last was good enough to steal a 1-up victory over Thorbjorn Olesen. He described his play as “scrappy” and said that he’d need to improve if he wanted to repeat, but all that matters on Day 1 is the victory. 

“Match play is all about just getting through,” he said, “especially this time you don’t have to play your best golf these rounds. You have to get through and get by and get into the weekend.”  

In his match against longtime European Ryder Cup teammate Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia halved only three holes but escaped with a 1-up win after making a 12-footer for par on the last green. Afterward, he was relieved, not ecstatic.

“This win doesn’t get me anywhere,” he said.

Maybe not yet, but players in Garcia’s position at least are in control of their own fate. And if nothing else, they already have avoided the dreaded lame-duck scenario on Friday that became a big topic of discussion last year, when winless Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez nearly came to blows in a meaningless match.

“I think the percentages of moving on after a first-day loss is pretty low,” Dufner said. “So even if you lose the first match, you’re kind of stuck out here playing, and there were a lot of matches last year where guys were kind of not playing for much. We had some heated exchanges because of that.”

Wednesday at the Match Play used to be one of the best days in golf – the uncertainty, the upsets, the brutality of the knockout format.

That buzz is gone, unfortunately, replaced by a few win-or-else scenarios and a hectic third round with juicy matchups and tiebreaker playoffs.

No one was mathematically eliminated Wednesday, but that will soon change.

Getty Images

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

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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