Day, McIlroy set for a rare heavyweight duel

By Ryan LavnerMarch 26, 2016, 11:29 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Savor this while we can, the blockbuster clash between two of the top three players in the world.

It doesn’t, and won’t, happen very often.

For dimpleheads, it’s the barroom debate that has raged since last summer: At the peak of their powers, who's the best: Jason Day, Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth?

Spieth withdrew himself from consideration this week with a loss in the round of 16 at the WGC-Dell Match Play, much to the disappointment of the partisan crowd here that has lustily cheered the three-semester Longhorn. But Day and McIlroy both won their quarterfinal matches in convincing fashion Saturday, setting up a rare duel between two of the most physically gifted players on the PGA Tour, between the last two winners of this grueling, five-day, seven-match slugfest.

“I’d really relish it,” McIlroy said, when the matchup wasn't yet guaranteed. “I’d really be up for it.”

“I’m looking forward to being able to play against Rory, especially in this format,” Day said about an hour later. “We don’t get to do that too much.”

No, they don’t. It’s only the second time in the event’s history that two of the top three players in the world have faced off in the semifinals (No. 2 McIlroy beat No. 3 Lee Westwood in 2012).

And to think, four days ago they seemed so unlikely to meet.

Four days ago, Day was hobbling up the 16th fairway, holding his back, dropping to one knee, his bulging disk inflamed and putting the rest of his week – and his Masters readiness – in doubt.

Four days ago, McIlroy was coming off a sloppy performance at Bay Hill and in a dogfight with the unheralded Thorbjorn Olesen, in need of a par on the last for a 1-up victory in his opening match.

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

Since then, Day has lived on the massage table while still finding a way to drive par 4s, and McIlroy’s confidence has grown to the point that, whatever happens Sunday, he believes he is fully prepared for the rigors of the year’s first major, now just 12 days away.

As often as they’re linked by fans who crave a rivalry and a modern Big 3, Sunday’s semifinal match will provide a deeper look into their similar games and disparate styles.

Yes, they boom tee shots, launch sky-high irons and rack up birdies. But Day is violent, and aggressive, and tenacious. McIlroy is an insouciant ball-striker who struts around the course.

“On the green is going to be the biggest difference tomorrow between me and Rory,” Day said. And if that’s the case, if their match becomes a putting contest, the Australian would enjoy a significant advantage, for he is the No. 2-ranked putter on the PGA Tour this season, while McIlroy, who recently switched to a cross-handed method, is ranked 95th.

Though Day says he is still limited by a sore back that has required treatment, stretching and good rest each night, he has played 19 fewer holes this week than McIlroy (69-88), a byproduct of stellar play, slumping opponents and Paul Casey conceding after six holes Friday because of a stomach virus.

“Any sort of advantage I can take,” Day said, “I need against him. He’s obviously a fit-looking bloke, so I don’t think he’s going to have any trouble with that.”

But the back soreness doesn’t appear to be hindering Day’s game, either.

One up against Brooks Koepka, he smashed a 367-yard drive, then hit a towering 8-iron from 189 yards to 10 feet for a conceded eagle on 12. On the next hole, the short 13th, he drove the green. Two holes later, he took a seemingly unthinkable line over a hospitality tent, a 368-yard bomb that all but secured his quarterfinal victory.

Funny, because his week that began with him nearly withdrawing because of injury culminated Saturday with his return to world No. 1.   

“It’s the weirdest thing,” he said.

There’s been nothing odd about McIlroy’s week. After steamrolling Chris Kirk with four back-nine birdies, McIlroy now has a 12-match unbeaten streak and is just two more wins from joining Tiger Woods as the only players to defend their Match Play titles.

All spring, McIlroy’s goal was to get a win before Augusta. Sunday is his final chance, and he’ll have to get past not only Day, but also the winner of the Louis Oosthuizen-Rafael Cabrera Bello match.

“Getting wins, you do get momentum with every single round that you get through,” McIlroy said. “You can feel it build and you can go with it.”

Obviously, one 18-hole match won’t provide a definitive answer about who is better, McIlroy or Day, but these head-to-head battles between stars are increasingly rare, especially in this fickle format.


Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.