Woods to Face Love in Match Play Final

By Sports NetworkFebruary 28, 2004, 5:00 pm
CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Tiger Woods, the defending champion and No. 1 seed in the Bobby Jones bracket, defeated Stephen Leaney, the eight seed in the Ben Hogan bracket, 2 and 1, in one of Saturday's semifinal matches at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Woods will face Davis Love III, the No. 1 seed from the Sam Snead bracket. Love needed 21 holes to beat 2000 Match Play champion Darren Clarke, the three seed from the Gary Player bracket, 1-up in the other semifinal.
The Love/Clarke match needed extra holes when Love reached the green in two at La Costa Spa & Resort's difficult, par-5 closing hole. He lagged his 30-foot eagle try to concession range and Clarke missed a 10-foot birdie putt that erased a 2-up lead with two to play.
The par-4 10th was the first playoff hole and Love seemed to have an advantage because Clarke drove into the left rough and could only advance his ball a few yards. Love hit his second on the fringe 15 feet from the hole, while Clarke knocked his third to five feet. Love's birdie try came up a foot short and Clarke ran home his amazing par save to extend the match.
The par-4 15th was the second extra hole and Love looked to be in command once again. He had close to 20 feet for birdie, while Clarke had 35 feet. Clarke ran his birdie putt almost three feet past the hole and Love narrowly missed his birdie try. Love was conceded his par and then gave Clarke his par putt that the newly thin European could have easily missed.
'These greens are bumpy,' said Love. 'We didn't want to putt the two-foot putts just because we didn't want it to end that way.'
At the par-3 16th, Love hit a 7-iron to 10 feet. Clarke pulled his 40 feet left of the hole and his birdie putt flew left of the hole.
Love's birdie putt fell into the middle of the cup and that put the 1997 PGA Champion in the final. But the 39-year-old might be pretty tired when he gets there.
'We felt like we lost shots,' said Love, who is making his first appearance in the final match. 'We're wearing down. Mentally, we're frazzled and physically, we're frazzled. Darren's a great guy and it was a fun match.'
Woods and Love will be the first two No. 1 seeds to meet in the final since the event went to four brackets. The final on Sunday will be 36 holes with a consolation match between Clarke and Leaney for third place.
The quarterfinals and semifinals were both played on Saturday. Since Thursday's action was washed out, both the second and third rounds were played on Friday and that means for the duo in the final, it will be 36 holes for three consecutive days.
'You just need to hang in there,' said Woods, who is the only player to own all four World Golf Championships titles. 'The rough is approaching eight or 10 inches. You have to keep your patience and make sure you get your par and at least make him work for it.'
Woods squandered a 2-up advantage on the back nine starting at the par-three 12th. Woods went over the green with his tee ball then duffed a chip that did not even reach the fringe. Leaney lagged a birdie try close and was conceded par. When Woods missed his chip for par, the lead was down to 1-up.
Leaney, who defeated No. 1 seed Mike Weir in the second round, drained a 25- footer for birdie at the 14th to square the match with four holes remaining.
The two halved the par-4 15th but Leaney landed in a greenside bunker right of the hole at the par-3 16th. Woods knocked his tee ball 12 feet short of the stick. Leaney hit a great shot out of the trap and Woods conceded the par to his opponent. It would not matter as Woods sank his birdie try to go 1-up with three holes to play.
'He played a wonderful little bunker shot there without much green to work with,' said Woods, referring to Leaney's shot at 16. 'To bury that putt and take the lead just gave me that little bit of a cushion on the last couple of holes.'
Both Woods and Leaney found the fairway off the tee at 17, but Leaney hit his approach into a left bunker. Woods played his second to six feet and the pressure was on Leaney to try and make his bunker shot. Leaney's blast rolled 20 feet past the hole and he missed the par putt coming back and was given his bogey putt.
Woods needed two putts to win the match, but canned his birdie try to move on to the finals for the third time.
Woods did not play wonderfully early in his match with Leaney. He had three 1-up leads until a two-putt birdie at the long, par-5 11th hole. Woods may have never established a large margin, but he never trailed throughout the match.
The Love/Clarke match changed leads several times, including twice on the back nine. Love took a 2-up advantage with a birdie at No. 11, but Clarke cut into the lead with a par win at 12 and squared the match with a six-foot birdie at the 14th.
Clarke snuck a 10-foot birdie putt into the right side of the cup for birdie and the win at the 15th. Love's par putt at the 16th hit the left edge of the cup and rolled out, giving Clarke a 2-up lead with two to play.
At the 17th, Clarke hit the cart path twice on the right side, then missed the green short. Love drove into the left rough but knocked his approach to 30 feet. Clarke chipped 12 feet past the hole and Love lagged his to tap-in range. Clarke's par save never touched the hole so Love won and was only 1- down.
Then it was 18 and Love's tremendous 3-wood, which helped him win the hole and eventually got him into the final.
Related Links:
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  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.