Els wins thriller to advance in Australia

By Sports NetworkJanuary 5, 2001, 5:00 pm
Top-seeded Ernie Els parred the first playoff hole to defeat Jean Van de Velde 1-up in a third-round match at the WGC-Match Play Championship at Metropolitan Golf Club.
Craig Stadler, seeded 57th in this event, also needed an extra hole to defeat Andrew Coltart 1-up, while 55th-seeded Steve Stricker trounced seventh-seed Justin Leonard 6 & 5.
Elsewhere, unheralded Nick O'Hern of Australia, who knocked out second-ranked Hal Sutton in the first round, beat 18th-seeded Dudley Hart to advance to Saturday's quarterfinals.
Also, fourth seed, Tom Lehman lost to Brad Faxon 1-up and 21st- ranked Pierre Fulke upset fifth seed Michael Campbell 1-up. Toru Taniguchi beat Stuart Appleby 2 & 1 and Shigeki Maruyama bettered Mark McNulty 4 & 3 on Friday.
Van de Velde, best-known for his 1999 British Open collapse, had a chance to upset the top seed and took his first lead of the match when he knocked his approach shot at the 16th to within two feet. Els holed a 30-footer at the next hole to square the match. At 18, Van de Velde drained an 18-foot birdie putt, pumping his fist as the ball fell into the cup. Els halved the hole after drilling a six-footer to force extra holes.

Neither man got off the tee well at the first extra hole. Els drove right into the trees and Van de Velde's shot was headed in the same spot until his ball hit a branch and moved sharply left into a bunker. Els played his second shot into a left greenside bunker while Van de Velde played his shot short of the green. Van de Velde made a mistake with his third shot as he chipped it over the green, the hit his fourth to within three feet for his par effort. However, Els' sand shot landed inside of two feet and he made the birdie putt after Van de Velde knocked in his par putt.
Els has not had an easy time this week. In the first round, he beat 64th seed Greg Kraft 3 & 2 and posted a 1-up victory on Thursday in beating Hidemichi Tanaka.
'The guys are playing at a high level right now,' said Els, who finished second in three majors in 2000. 'The guys aren't going to hang back. They're out there to win.'
Els will face Stadler on Saturday. Stadler came back to force extra holes after being 3-down with six holes to play. Stadler squared the match at the 16th after holing a 10-foot birdie putt.
The players halved the final two holes before going to number-one for the playoff. Coltart hit his second shot from 156 yards, landing the ball seven feet from the stick. Stadler was better. His second shot landed inside of two feet. Coltart pushed his putt right and then conceded the match to Stadler.
'I wasn't planning to be in this spot right now,' stated Stadler, referring to his deficit with six holes to play.
Stricker was dominant from the beginning in his match against Leonard, going nine-under through the first 12 holes.
'I was trying to put as much pressure on him as I could,' Stricker said. 'He's hit so many heroic shots at the Ryder Cup. At one point, I didn't want him to win a hole.'
Over 46 holes in three matches, Stricker has never trailed.
Stricker will meet O'Hern on Saturday. O'Hern, who is in this event because Jarmo Sandelin was a late withdrawal, has defeated three Americans on his way to the quarterfinals. O'Hern beat Sutton in 21 holes and defeated Tim Herron 5 & 3 on Thursday.
O'Hern spoke of his fourth-round match against his fourth American.
'If I can get ahead, we'll see what happens,' said the left- handed O'Hern. 'It's match-play so anything can happen.'
Faxon, winner of the 1993 Australian Open on this course, needed 18 holes to defeat the fourth-seeded Lehman. At number-16, Lehman left it in the bunker for his second shot. The miscue allowed Faxon two putts from 20 feet to take the advantage. He needed only one.
On the 17th green, Lehman had an opportunity to square the match, as his approach at the par-four hole landed five feet from the cup. Lehman was not able to capitalize, missing the putt.
Lehman needed to roll home a 25-footer for birdie at the closing hole to force a playoff but narrowly missed the putt right.
The Fulke/Campbell match came down to the final hole also. Campbell, ranked fifth in this tournament, made a five-footer to square the match at 17.
Both players hit the green in regulation at the par-four closing hole. Fulke had 25 feet and snaked a right-to-left putt into the cup. Campbell missed his birdie slightly left, giving the Swede a 1-up victory.
Taniguchi, fresh off a defeat of third-seeded Vijay Singh on Thursday, forced Appleby to concede on the 17th green. Despite hitting the lip of a fairway bunker at 16, Appleby halved the hole but was 2- down with only two holes to play.
At 17, Appleby drove left into the trees. His second shot landed in the rough with a tree obstructing his shot at the stick. Appleby hooked his third shot into a bunker and with Taniguchi on in two, the Australian conceded the match.
Maruyama, who came back on Thursday to beat Bob May, had little trouble in his match against McNulty. McNulty won the fourth hole but Maruyama squared the match at the next hole and never looked back.
In a tournament that featured only four of the world's top-10, only one has made it into the quarterfinals. Of the eight remaining golfers, three are seeded in the bottom-10.
The quarterfinals will be played Saturday morning and the winners will advance to the semifinals later that afternoon.
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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

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The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

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As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.