Match Play offers snapshot of golf scene


MARANA, Arizona (AP)—The PGA Tour could have skipped the West Coast swing andgone straight to the Match Play Championship, which provided a perfect snapshotof everything going in the world of golf.

Europe looked as strong as ever.

Martin Kaymer showed why he is No. 1 in the world ranking. Lee Westwood madepeople wonder why he was.

Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler , when they’re not making videos for Twitter,offered more evidence that their homemade golf swings are just as compelling astheir fashion accessories.

Martin Kaymer of Germany hits …
AP - Feb 27, 5:26 pm EST

And has anyone seen Tiger Woods ?

Europe has been the strongest continent in golf over the last year, and DoveMountain was no exception. Luke Donald of England and Kaymer (Germany) reachedthe championship match, the second straight year for an all-European final.

Donald was so good that he never trailed after any hole in any of his sixmatches, and wound up playing fewer holes (89) than the winner of the Bob HopeClassic (92). Who would have guessed that?

After winning, Donald said European golf was going through a “purplepatch.”

For the Americans, it’s more black-and-blue.

Only two Americans have reached the championship match in the last fiveyears—Woods and Stewart Cink in 2008. One year ago, Americans were Nos. 1-2-3in the world ranking. Europe now occupies the first four spots in the rankingfor the first time in nearly two decades. Woods is the highest-ranked Americanat No. 5, his lowest position since the week before he won the 1997 Masters.

Before anyone writes the Americans off too quickly, they have had sixwinners on the PGA Tour this year. Then again, their average ranking when theywon was No. 171. Watson at Torrey Pines was the only winner inside the top 75.

The best American at the moment? Good question.

Mark Wilson has won twice, at the Sony Open and Phoenix Open, which doesn’texactly make him a favorite at the Masters, where he will be playing a major foronly the fourth time.

Wilson advanced to the second round of the Match Play, and that wasnoteworthy for whom he beat—Dustin Johnson .

There was little debate that Johnson was the most promising young Americangoing into 2011, if not one of the emerging talents in the world. Two monthsinto the season, however, he has only made news because of Natalie Gulbis andJim Gray.

He was linked romantically to Gulbis until the LPGA star said that Johnsonwas handling their PR. Meanwhile, Gray was sent home by the Golf Channel forasking Johnson in the middle of his round why he was late to the tee for atwo-shot penalty.

Speaking of tardiness, the Match Play Championship renewed talk about thepace of play.

One week after Kevin Na nearly turned Riviera into a five-day tournament,J.B. Holmes took some of the shine off a riveting match because he was sodeliberate. Watson rallied from 5 down with eight holes to play to square thematch on the 18th and win it on the 19th. But the match took nearly five hoursto play, and not all of that is down to rulings from the desert on the final twoholes.

The opening match of the tournament between Cink and Ian Poulter took overfour hours before it reached the 18th hole. Part of the delay was when they eachmade double bogey on the par-3 sixth, prompting rules official Stephen Cox totell Poulter on the next fairway, “Look, I realize you’ve both taken a trip toIn-N-Out for a double-double, but I’d appreciate it if you would pick up thepace.”

Watson and Fowler won’t get accused of slow play.

Both of them bring old-school qualities to the game, and both are reachingthe point where they can move the needle.

Watson, with the pink shaft in his driver and a $525,000 watch he sportedfrom a Richard Mille endorsement, came within one hole of winning the PGAChampionship last year. He held off Phil Mickelson to win at Torrey Pines, andshowed off his tremendous shotmaking at Dove Mountain. He’s always had rawtalent. Now he is getting comfortable with the spotlight.

Fowler, dressed in pink from his shoes to his cap, hit two of the mostimpressive shots all week with his 4-iron to 15 feet for eagle on the 11th and a4-iron to 2 feet for eagle on the 13th to hand Mickelson is worst loss ever inthe event.

Fowler went down the next day, not unusual at this tournament. He has allthe tools to be a star except the most important asset, which is a trophy. Butas Mickelson said in defeat, “I think he’s going to do a lot for Americangolf.”

Mickelson remains an enigma. He played six straight weeks, from Abu Dhabi toDove Mountain, with only one chance at winning.

That’s still one more chance than Woods, who remains the biggest mystery ingolf.

There is not much to say about the former No. 1, although that didn’t stopTV commentary from gushing that swing coach Sean Foley said Woods’ spin rate andlaunch angle were leveling out. Good to know.

He lost on the 19th hole to Thomas Bjorn with a swing Woods had to rehearsetoo many times and a 3-wood into the desert. It wasn’t as awful as it looked,for the right side of the fairway is the best angle to make birdie. Even so, hewould have been better off missing the 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole thatforced overtime than losing the way he did.

Johnny Miller compared Woods with Mike Tyson, not because of Iron Mike’scriminal behavior and outrageous comments, but because he was never the sameafter losing to Buster Douglas.

The longer Woods goes without winning, it’s not unreasonable to wonder aboutthat.