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.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.