Plenty of drama in store for final day of pool play

By Ryan LavnerMarch 25, 2016, 12:51 am

AUSTIN, Texas – The final day of group play at the WGC-Dell Match Play should have just about everything.

Winner-take-all matches.

Sudden-death playoffs.

And hey, who knows? Maybe even a few dustups between players with nothing to play for but pride and a few points.

Another marathon day at Austin Country Club finally brought some much-needed clarity to the PGA Tour’s version of Royal Rumble, but so much remains unsettled.

By adding half points and eliminating the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Tour has restored a bit of drama and intrigue to the final day of group play. No one has clinched a spot in the knockout stage, even though 13 players – including Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson – sport a 2-0 record this week.

Four matches are win-or-go-home Friday, and Bill Haas and Charl Schwartzel need only a half point in their respective matches to advance.

But no third-round match will be as intriguing as the bout between Mickelson and Patrick Reed.

WGC-Dell Match Play: Full coverage | Bracket

After a 5-and-4 victory in his opening match, Mickelson was fortunate to escape with a 1-up decision over Daniel Berger on a day when neither player had his best stuff. Reed, meanwhile, has been ruthlessly efficient so far, leading for all but two of the 33 holes he’s played.

“He doesn’t make any mistakes,” Mickelson said. “He keeps the ball in play, he’s a very good ball-striker, and he’s a good putter. He doesn’t give holes away like Daniel and I did today. I’ve got to bring a lot better golf tomorrow.”

Reed has always thrived in a match-play setting, even going back to his days as a junior golfer. In college, he went 6-0 in singles while leading Augusta State to back-to-back NCAA titles. He went 3-0-1 in his Ryder Cup debut in 2014. Last year, Reed went 2-1 in the round-robin format, but he couldn’t overcome an opening loss and was sent packing.

Now, he’s fully in control of his own fate.

“That’s all I can hope for,” he said, “is to be in the driver’s seat rather than hoping on other guys. I finally got myself in the right position and hopefully can continue to play well.”

McIlroy also will start the knockout stage a day early – his match Friday against Kevin Na will be for a spot in the Round of 16.

Indeed, of all the myriad scenarios at this Match Play – and there are many, too many – theirs is the simplest: Win or go home.

“It’s nice because you can go out on the golf course and not have to look at the other match in your group and see how you’re doing,” said McIlroy, who has won 15 of his last 18 matches in this event. “There’s clarity in your mind. You go out and you try to win, and that’s it.”

Louis Oosthuizen, who has reached the quarterfinals in this event each of the past two years, will square off against Andy Sullivan in the only other battle of the unbeatens. Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar, both of whom are 1-0-1 this week, will also face off to see who moves on to the weekend.

Spieth is undefeated so far but will play against his close friend Justin Thomas in a match that means just a bit more than bragging rights. Though Thomas (0-2) has already been eliminated, Spieth is guaranteed at least a head-to-head playoff regardless of the outcome. To advance, all he needs is to tie Thomas.

“But even if he’s out of it, he’ll still want to beat me,” Spieth said. “That’s kind of who we are. As much as I just want to halve the match and stay in tomorrow and practice, I don’t think he’s going to want that to be the case. I’m going to have to bring my A game.”

It’s anyone’s guess what kind of game those in the six meaningless matches will bring.

Remember last year? Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose-to-nose during the final day because of a disputed ruling. Few expected that in the genteel world of pro golf, but the situation was ripe for such a blowup, with two players who were winless, frustrated and probably embarrassed having to play a match with only a few FedEx Cup points and a bit of cash up for grabs.

A repeat would be good fun, of course, but it would detract from what figures to be a wild and wacky final day of group play, with 26 matches of significance.

And so forget about the pools, the point totals and the possibilities. The real match-play tournament is about to begin.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.