More Horse Than Course

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2004, 5:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Arnold Palmer owns the golf course.
Tiger Woods owns the tournament.
The Bay Hill Invitational has become a boon for Woods, who can make history this week by becoming the first player on any tour to win the same tournament five straight years.
From the time his streak began in 2000, Woods is 65 under par at Bay Hill and has won his four titles by a combined 20 strokes. A year ago, he had a vicious stomach virus that gave him the dry heaves throughout the final round, and he still doubled his lead and won 11 shots.
It would be easy to explain his success with one of golf's oldest adages: There are horses for courses.
Just don't overlook the horse.
'I've never bought into that,' Fred Couples said. 'Davis Love has won Hilton Head 100 times. Mark O'Meara has won Pebble Beach 100 times. Tiger has won Bay Hill 100 times. They're just really good players.'
Couples was a little off on the math, but his point is well-taken.
Harbour Town in Hilton Head, S.C., winds through tree-lined fairways and has the smallest greens on the PGA Tour. It is hardly considered a power hitter's alley, yet Love has won there five times.
O'Meara has won five times at Pebble Beach, and he still holds the 72-hole scoring record of 20-under 268 in 1997, the year he held off Woods and David Duval.
Jose Maria Olazabal, whose driving is the worst part of his game, has won all four of his regular PGA Tour events on courses that would seem to favor good drivers -- Firestone (twice), revamped Torrey Pines and Castle Pines.
Jim Furyk, known for his accuracy with the driver and steady play, is a three-time winner at Las Vegas. Couples, a power player in his prime, won twice at Riviera and was runner-up two other times.
'What happens is that when players win a tournament, they have such a belief that on Sunday, whether their game is on or off, they believe, 'Hey, I can do this.' That mental aspect gives them an edge,' said O'Meara, who also won a California State Amateur at Pebble.
Still, it would be foolish to suggest the course is not a factor for Woods.
He had three-year winning streaks at two other tournaments, Memorial and the NEC Invitational at Firestone, both suited for guys who hit the ball long and high.
And he clearly has an advantage over the shorter hitters at Bay Hill, especially the last two years when the greens were rebuilt and became so hard that players wondered what blend of concrete Palmer mixed with the grass.
'If you can drive the ball down there and keep it in play, it just makes it so much easier going to the greens with shorter clubs,' Woods said. 'And if you look at most of the guys who have had a chance the four years I've won, most of the guys are longer hitters.'
Love finished four shots behind in 2000, and Phil Mickelson gave Woods the stiffest challenge a year later, losing by one shot when Woods birdied the 18th hole. Mickelson also came close to catching Woods in 2002, until he went for the green on the par-5 16th -- under the trees and over the water -- and came up short.
Last year it really didn't matter who finished second with Woods winning by 11.
But ask Woods why he has won Bay Hill four straight time, and he talks primarily about what he sees and feels.
'I'm sure Davis will say that the golf course (Harbour Town) sets up well to his eye. You hear that a lot,' Woods said. 'You'll hear Riviera with Freddie, the whole golf course sets up to his eye. That's why this golf course, I've had success on it. I don't feel uncomfortable on a lot of the shots. On top of that, I've won here five times.
'The more you win, the more it breeds confidence.'
Five times?
Woods wasn't looking ahead to Sunday, rather looking behind to the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur at Bay Hill, the start of another one of his amazing streaks. Woods is the only player to win three straight U.S. Junior Amateurs.
Not many would be surprised if he were to win Bay Hill again.
'I don't see anything stopping him from winning his fifth tournament,' O'Meara said. 'He's fired up. He wants it. But it's not going to be a pushover. These guys don't lie down for Tiger Woods.'
Love is coming off runner-up finishes in his last two tournaments, losing to Woods in the finals at the Match Play Championship and to Todd Hamilton's 8-iron into 4 feet last week at the Honda Classic.
Vijay Singh is coming off a two-week break and has the classic game for Bay Hill.
And if Bay Hill is only for power hitters, this should be right up Ernie Els' alley. The Big Easy won at Bay Hill in 1998 when he put 13 strokes between him and Woods over the final 36 holes played Sunday.
'I don't want to think about Tiger winning five,' Els said.
'But it's a hell of an achievement, especially in modern-day golf. He's set so many records already, and this will be another one that will stand -- if he does it -- for a very long time.
'You know, he's an amazing player.'
Indeed, Woods is quite a horse.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Getty Images

Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

Getty Images

Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

Getty Images

Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

Getty Images

Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”