Match Play provides snapshot of the world of golf

By Doug FergusonMarch 2, 2011, 2:02 am

2005 WGC Accenture Match PlayMARANA, Ariz. – The PGA Tour could have skipped the West Coast swing and gone straight to the Match Play Championship, which provided a perfect snapshot of 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 made people 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 as their fashion accessories.

And has anyone seen Tiger Woods?

Europe has been the strongest continent in golf over the last year, and Dove Mountain was no exception. Luke Donald of England and Kaymer (Germany) reached the 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 six matches, and wound up playing fewer holes (89) than the winner of the Bob Hope Classic (92). Who would have guessed that?

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

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

Only two Americans have reached the championship match in the last five years – Woods and Stewart Cink in 2008. One year ago, Americans were Nos. 1-2-3 in the world ranking. Europe now occupies the first four spots in the ranking for the first time in nearly two decades. Woods is the highest-ranked American at 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 six winners on the PGA Tour this year. Then again, their average ranking when they won 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’t exactly make him a favorite at the Masters, where he will be playing a major for only the fourth time.

Wilson advanced to the second round of the Match Play, and that was noteworthy for whom he beat – Dustin Johnson.

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

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

Speaking of tardiness, the Match Play Championship renewed talk about the pace 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 so deliberate. Watson rallied from 5 down with eight holes to play to square the match on the 18th and win it on the 19th. But the match took nearly five hours to play, and not all of that is down to rulings from the desert on the final two holes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He lost on the 19th hole to Thomas Bjorn with a swing Woods had to rehearse too 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, he would have been better off missing the 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that forced overtime than losing the way he did.

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

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

Getty Images

Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.


Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open


Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

Getty Images

New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

Getty Images

McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).


Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship


''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

Getty Images

Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.


Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."