Sergio touted as the prohibitive favorite

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2008, 4:00 pm
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Open ChampionshipSOUTHPORT, England -- In betting parlors and inside the ropes, Sergio Garcia has never had better odds of winning a major.
No one has more top 10s in the British Open this decade than Garcia, who has gone into the final round within four shots of the lead six times in the last seven years. He is considered among the best ball-strikers in golf. He is not lacking imagination or creativity for the variety of shots required on links courses.
And it sure doesnt hurt that Tiger Woods isnt around.
When you dont have the No. 1 player in the world playing here'and obviously, we know how good he is and how well hes done in the majors'it gives you a little bit more of a chance, Garcia said Tuesday. But it doesnt mean that its yours to win.
The British bookmakers believe otherwise.
Woods had season-ending knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines for his 14th career major, leaving the British Open up for grabs. Bookies have installed Garcia as the favorite at Royal Birkdale, with odds as low as 8-to-1.
There was a reason for such high hope, even before Woods began to wobble on one leg.
Garcia ended a three-year victory drought in May when he captured The Players Championship in a sudden-death playoff over Paul Goydos, despite taking 18 more putts in regulation. Two weeks ago, he finished strong to finish runner-up at the French Open.
I feel like my game is probably as good as its ever been, he said. I dont feel complete, but I feel like Im closer.
Among majors, no place feels like home more than the British Open.
Garcia has felt the affection of these galleries since he was an 18-year-old amateur at Royal Birkdale in 1998, when he tied for 25th. The Spaniard thrives on emotion, and the reception he gets throughout Britain only makes him play better.
Theyve been very good to me, he said. And that always helps.
But he has given them only close calls to celebrate, especially the last two years.
Garcia was one shot behind Woods and played with him in the final group at Royal Liverpool in 2006. But consecutive three-putt bogeys, followed by an eagle from Woods, the Spaniard was five shots behind just five holes into the last round and never caught up.
A year ago was the most devastating of all.
Garcia took a three-shot lead going into the final round at Carnoustie, and despite struggling on the greens, he still had a 10-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to win the claret jug. The putt dipped slightly into the cup before staying out, and Garcia stared at it in disbelief.
Then came a playoff against Padraig Harrington, who made up a six-shot deficit in regulation. Garcia took bogey on the first of four holes in the playoff, had a 3-iron bounced off the pin on the par-3 16th and wound up one shot behind.
Distraught over his misfortune, he blamed everything and everybody but himself.
Sunday night and Monday were a little bit tough, he said. Other than that, you think about the week, you think about everything you did, and you realize that you did the best you could.
Putting remains a problem, despite his work the last six months with putting guru Stan Utley, but there is less demand on the greens at the British Open than other majors because the contours and speed are not as severe as a Masters or U.S. Open.
Garcia is considered among the best players to have never won a major, but perhaps not for long.
The title used to belong to Phil Mickelson, who was far more accomplished before he finally broke through at the 2004 Masters. Mickelson understands the hollow feeling of coming so close, having watched Payne Stewart in the 1999 U.S. Open and David Toms in the 2001 PGA Championship make par putts on the final hole to beat him by one shot.
A major championship is very close in his realm, Mickelson said. And the fact that he came close last year in the Open Championship and didnt win, I dont think its something to really worry too much about. I think that his major championship is coming very soon.
Ernie Els, whose six top 10s in the British Open this decade include a victory at Muirfield in 2002, said he wasnt the least bit disappointed that Woods was not at Royal Birkdale. Even so, Els knows as well as anyone that winning a major is never easy.
He was challenged over the final 40 holes at Royal Troon in 2004 before losing to Todd Hamilton. And even in his victory at Muirfield, Els went into a sudden-death overtime after the four-hole playoff to hold off unheralded Thomas Levet.
Els believes the bouncy British Open is where the chances are a little more level, even with Woods in the field. It is the only major played on links courses, and Garcia has been playing on this turf since he was 12.
Take Woods out of the equation, and the odds get better.
Lets face it, Sergio is very much a factor over here, Els said. He feels very comfortable here.
But the Spaniard is not so comfortable that he feels he only has to show up on Thursday. Opportunity abounds this year for Adam Scott or Steve Stricker to win his first major, for Justin Rose to live up to his dynamic debut at Royal Birkdale in 1998 when he tied for fourth as a 17-year-old amateur, or for Vijay Singh to capture a major he figured he would win long ago.
Still, the odds start with Garcia in the first major without Woods since the 1996 PGA Championship.
It doesnt mean that its going to help me, like my chances are going to be better because of that, Garcia said. I still have to perform and give myself a shot at winning the trophy.
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    List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

    By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

    AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

    List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

    “Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

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

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

    Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

    “I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

    The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

    “He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

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    Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

    By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

    Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

    Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
    (1) D. Johnson (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm (4) J. Spieth
    (32) K. Kisner (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed
    (38) A. Hadwin
    (48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li
    (52) B. Wiesberger
    (60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel
    Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
    (5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day
    (30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
    (18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen
    (46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner
    (53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn
    Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
    (9) T. Fleetwood (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
    (26) D. Berger (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
    (33) K. Chappell (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
    (58) I. Poulter (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
    Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
    (13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar
    (29) T. Finau (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher
    (39) T. Pieters (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda
    (61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson
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    Hot Seat: The driver is burning Tiger

    By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 6:51 pm

    The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.

    Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:

    Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods

    Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.

    The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.

    Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.

    That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create. 

    Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does. 

    Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.

    “Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

    Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.

    Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson

    The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.

    With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.

    Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.

    Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.

    It doesn’t rankle Johnson.

    “It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”

    Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.

    Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.

    Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.

    Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng

    The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.

    The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

    Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.

    They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.

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    Match-by-match: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

    By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 6:32 pm

    Here is how things played out on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play:

    Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas def. (60) Luke List, 2 up: In perhaps the most entertaining match of the morning, Thomas edged List in a rematch of last month's Honda Classic playoff despite List spending much of the round putting with a wedge after bending his putter. Thomas was 3 up with four to play before List pushed the match the distance.

    Group 2: (21) Francesco Molinari def. (48) Patton Kizzire, 3 and 1: Molinari turned a tight match into a victory thanks to a few timely errors from Kizzire. Pars on Nos. 14 and 17 were good enough to win the hole for Molinari, with the latter sealing his victory and moving him a step closer to a potential winner-take-all battle with Thomas on Friday.

    Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth def. (49) Charl Schwartzel, 2 and 1: The top seed in the group scored an early point in a battle between former Masters champs. Spieth never trailed and took control of the match with three straight wins on Nos. 12-14.

    Group 4: (19) Patrick Reed def. (34) Haotong Li, 3 and 2: Reed's much-anticipated match with Spieth is still two days away, but he dispatched of Li in his opener by winning the opening hole and never trailing the rest of the way. Li got to within one of Reed after 10 holes but the American won three of the next five to separate.

    Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama def. (53) Yusaku Miyazato, 2 and 1: This all-Japanese battle went to the group's top seed, as Matsuyama poured in a birdie on the par-3 17th to close out the match. Miyazato got off to a strong start, holding a 2-up lead through six holes, before Matsuyama turned the tables with two birdies over the next three holes.

    Group 5: (46) Cameron Smith def. (30) Patrick Cantlay, 2 up: Smith never trailed in the match, but it turned into a closer contest than it appeared when the Aussie held a 3-up lead with four holes to play. Uihlein won the next two holes, but he couldn't get any closer as Smith earned a critical victory as he looks to earn a Masters spot by staying in the top 50 in the world rankings after this week.

    Group 8: (8) Jason Day def. (56) James Hahn, 4 and 2: Day is a former winner of this event, and he separated from Hahn on the back nine to score an early point. Hahn offered a concession on No. 13 to fall 3 down, then conceded again on No. 16 to close the match.

    Group 9: (58) Ian Poulter def. (9) Tommy Fleetwood, 3 and 2: The match between Englishman went to the veteran, as Poulter took his putter from the 2012 Ryder Cup out of the closet and put it to quick use. Fleetwood won only two holes during the match, none after the eighth hole, and he now faces the prospect of early elimination as the group's top seed.

    Group 9: (33) Kevin Chappell def. (26) Daniel Berger, 3 and 2: Chappell and Berger were Presidents Cup teammates in the fall, but the opener went to Chappell. Berger won the 13th hole to draw all square, but Chappell reeled off three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 in response to close out the match.

    Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton def. (55) Alexander Levy, 3 and 2: Hatton won the opening hole with a par and never trailed the rest of the way. Levy's win on the eighth hole proved to be his only victory of the day, as Hatton barely had to break a sweat after building a 3-up lead through five holes.

    Group 12: (36) Brendan Steele def. (22) Charley Hoffman, 1 up: Steele never trailed in the match and at one point held a 4-up lead, but coming down the stretch it took everything he had to keep Hoffman at bay. Hoffman won four in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 13-17, but a par on the final hole was enough to give Steele the full point.

    Group 13: (61) Kevin Na def. (13) Alex Noren, 4 and 2: The biggest upset from the early matches came here, as Na turned a close contest into a blowout. The two men were all square after 11 holes, but Na won three of the next four and then closed out the match when Noren conceded on the par-5 16th.

    Group 13: (29) Tony Finau def. (39) Thomas Pieters, 2 and 1: Two of the longest hitters in the field squared off in this tilt, with Finau notching a full point despite losing two of the first three holes. The American birdied the 15th to take a 2-up lead, then closed out Pieters with a par on the 17th hole.

    Group 15: (15) Pat Perez vs. (50) Si Woo Kim, halved: The first match of the day ended up in a draw, as the top seed rallied from a deficit to salvage half a point. Kim won three of the first six holes and held a 3-up lead with seven holes to go, but Perez fought back with four birdies over the next six holes to draw even.

    Group 15: (24) Gary Woodland vs. (37) Webb Simpson, halved: This group remains entirely up for grabs since nothing was decided on the opening day. Woodland took a 3-up lead at the turn, but Simpson rallied by winning four of the next seven holes, including a birdie on No. 17 that brought him back to all square for the first time since the third hole.