Match Play offers unique test two weeks before Masters

By Ryan LavnerMarch 22, 2016, 8:28 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – So it doesn’t sound like Adam Scott was glued to his television watching the two-hour selection show for this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

He barely noticed his draw.

“I don’t think it really matters who’s in your group here,” he said Tuesday. “Every match is going to be tough, and I feel like I’ve got the ability to beat anyone in this field, so that’s why I think I didn’t have a reaction to my group.”

Scott might be the hottest player in the world, with two wins and a runner-up in his last four starts, but he certainly has a score to settle in this event.

Heading into Wednesday’s first-round bout with Thomas Pieters, Scott has lost six consecutive WGC matches dating to 2010. Last year, he went 0-3 in the round-robin format, which is odd, because he was a formidable match-play opponent early in his career, reaching the third round three of the four years he played at La Costa (2002-05).

“Once I left La Costa, I think my game left, as well,” he said with a smile. “I’d like to turn it around because I don’t really want to get a beatdown this week and go home Friday.”

WGC-Dell Match Play: Full coverage | Bracket

Much like World Cup soccer, players will face each of the other three members in their group during pool play, with the top point earner advancing to the single-elimination knockout stage on the weekend.

Opinions on the move away from the traditional bracket to a round-robin format remain divided.

Some prefer this setup because they are guaranteed three days on-site instead of possibly getting bounced after only a few hours. In theory, this system is fairer and rewards those who are playing the best, rather than the guy who simply catches fire at the right time. And no one will argue with a few extra reps with the Masters now only two weeks away.

Others contend that pool play robs the event of its drama and intrigue, especially early. Match play is so compelling because of its win-or-go-home ethos, but the sense of urgency is removed when a loss on Wednesday or Thursday doesn’t necessarily doom a player’s chances.

“It can’t hurt your confidence coming here,” Jason Day said, “but it can definitely give you confidence the longer you stay around this week.”

This year’s edition of the Match Play features two new wrinkles.

The most obvious is the move to Austin Country Club, an arrangement that will run through at least 2019. The Pete Dye design is a strategic track that forces players to position their shots, a task that will be made even more difficult with wind gusts expected up to 30 mph during pool play. The back nine, in particular, should produce plenty of pyrotechnics.

The second is a tweak to the scoring. None of the round-robin matches will go extra holes, with each player receiving a half point if the match is tied after regulation. This should help cut down on the number of lame-duck matches Friday, but there still will be a few meaningless matches between players with 0-2 records. That’s the scenario that led Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez to go nose-to-nose last year; a few players felt as though they were trotted out and embarrassed, and emotions can run high when only pride and a few FedEx Cup points are at stake.

The event’s new position on the schedule only heightens the anticipation for what is already one of the most fun weeks of the year. Just 11 days before the start of Masters week, the Match Play provides one final tuneup for players like Scott, Day and Rory McIlroy.

Not that a few of them need it.

Scott and Day already appear to be in peak form, having combined for three wins during the Florida swing, but the Match Play might be just what McIlroy needs at the moment.

The defending champion has a stellar record in head-to-head play, boasting an 18-6 record in this event while going 2-0-1 in Ryder Cup singles. But he is coming off an uneven trip through the Sunshine State, with a missed cut (Honda), a blown 54-hole lead (Doral) and a six-double performance (Bay Hill) in the past four weeks. He blamed a poor attitude for his inconsistent play, and the temporary move to 18-hole match play could help put him in the proper frame of mind – after all, one blowup hole won’t cost him this week.

“I just need to beat the person that’s in front of me,” he said.

For others, the Match Play will serve as an audition of sorts.

Young Americans Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Smylie Kaufman and Brooks Koepka all have ambitions of playing on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and they can be sure captain Davis Love III will be watching with keen interest. On the European side, Matt Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan and Thomas Pieters hope to follow Danny Willett’s lead and use the WGC as a springboard for a huge season.

“You get to see the guys’ games under pressure in a different kind of way,” Willett said. “We all know that anybody out there, the top 64, can win. They’re in this because they’re a great golfer. All that stands in the way each day is one person at a time.”

Assuming, of course, that they even bother to notice their opponent.

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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