Opening day of Match Play full of surprises

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2012, 1:21 am

MARANA, Ariz. - Luke Donald won’t be playing the 18th hole at Dove Mountain this year, either.

Donald, so dominant in winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship last year that he closed out every match before the 18th hole, became only the third No. 1 seed to lose in the opening round Wednesday in another predictably crazy day on Dove Mountain.

Ernie Els, who only got into the 64-man field when Phil Mickelson took his family on a ski vacation, delivered the biggest shocker in the first round with a 5-and-4 victory.


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“I don’t think it would have mattered who I played today. I just didn’t play well,” Donald said. “I struggled. I gave away too many holes and made too many mistakes. You can’t do that in match play against anyone, let alone Ernie.”

Tiger Woods nearly found that out against Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

Woods had to play left-handed in one of his three journeys into the desert. He trailed the Spaniard with four holes to play, and both of them looked beatable. That changed when Woods drove the par-3 15th green to win with a two-putt birdie, won the 16th with a par and then closed out the Spaniard with an 8-foot par putt for a 1-up win.

“We both made our share of mistakes, there’s no doubt about that,” said Woods. “But somehow, I was able to move on.”

That was the only objective in this World Golf Championship, a single-elimination format in which the only proper use of the word “upset” is the mood of the 32 guys who are headed home.

Among them:

— Ian Poulter, the Match Play winner two years ago, suffered his worst loss in nine appearances when Bae Sang-moon beat him, 4 and 3.

— Bill Haas, coming off that monster win at Riviera just three days ago, looked like a winner when he was 1 up on the 17th green and had a 5-foot birdie putt. Ryo Ishikawa holed from 18 feet, Haas missed, and the Japanese star made par on the 18th to win.

— In the most thrilling match of the opening round, Jim Furyk was on the verge of sending Dustin Johnson home early for the fourth straight year when Johnson hit his tee shot into the desert and had to take a penalty drop on the 20th hole. Furyk chipped across the green and three-putted for bogey to lose.

— Rafael Cabrera-Bello was 3 up with three holes to play against Jason Day when he bogeyed three straight holes, and Day beat him with a 4-foot birdie putt on the 19th hole.

The other top seeds didn’t have too many problems, although U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy had a nervous moment.

He won four straight holes on the back nine to seize control against George Coetzee and was 3 up with three to play when McIlroy lost the next two holes with bogeys, then popped up a tee shot and made par a challenge. Coetzee, however, blew his approach some 60 feet long on the 18th and three-putted for bogey, giving McIlroy a 2-up win.

Lee Westwood never trailed in his 3-and-1 win over Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium. The test for Westwood comes on Thursday against Robert Karlsson, when he tries to advance to the third round for the first time. Martin Kaymer easily dispatched Greg Chalmers, while Steve Stricker outlasted Kevin Na.

McIlroy and Westwood now have a chance to replace Donald at No. 1 in the world if either were to win this week.

Donald will head home to Florida to shake off a poor start to his season.

“It’s a terrible ride home, believe me,” said Els, who has lost five times in the opening round. “I feel for Luke. He’s got a lot of pressure on him. Yeah, I know exactly what it feels like.”

A year after becoming the first player to win money titles on the PGA and European tours, Donald was not a factor at Abu Dhabi or Riviera, and this the first time he’s had three straight events out of the top 30 since August 2009.

“I’m not sure where to start,” Donald said. “I just didn’t play very well. It’s disappointing. I’ve been working really hard. To lose control of the golf ball like I did today is really frustrating, but I believe the hard work will start paying off soon.”

Fernandez-Castano got some attention this week for saying Woods was “beatable” and not at his best. “He’s beatable, too,” Woods replied, and the way they played, both were right.

Woods lost the opening two holes and looked as though he might fall 3 down until making a 10-foot par save. Woods won three of the next five holes, one of them with a 50-foot birdie putt, and that’s when the match became a case of give-and-take.

Woods was on the verge of going 2 up until he three-putted the ninth and Fernandez-Castano got up-and-down for bogey. Three holes later, Woods had to make a par to avoid falling 2 down.

He wasn’t wild all the time, but it cost him when he was – a left-handed shot out of the desert on No. 2, too much club that sent him over the 11th green and into the desert. But he settled down right about the time the Spaniard began to struggle with the putter, missing putts inside 10 feet on the 15th and 16th holes that enabled Woods to take the lead.

“I think if there was one day to beat Tiger Woods, this was it,” Fernandez-Castano said. “I didn’t take the opportunity. I missed a few shots. And of course, you can’t miss spots if you want to beat one of the greatest in history.”

Johnson had no business winning his match.

He already was 3 down when he drove into the desert. He was given relief, but didn’t check the path of his swing, and his club hit a cactus on the way back, leading to a muffed shot that stayed in the desert and required a penalty drop. He was hitting his fourth shot from the desert. Furyk was hitting his third from the desert.

Johnson wound up winning the hole with a bogey.

He managed to take the lead going to the 18th, only to bogey. Then, on the par-5 second hole, Johnson had to take another penalty drop from the desert and appeared to be beaten until Furyk chopped up the rest of the hole for bogey.

“It’s a funny golf course. Anything can happen,” Johnson said. “And I just hung in there.”

It never looked more bizarre than when Retief Goosen hit into the desert, took a penalty drop, pitched out and holed a 156-yard shot for his birdie. Snedeker jarred a 40-foot birdie putt to halve the hole. It was only fitting that their match was the longest of the day, going 21 holes until Snedeker won with a par.

Next up for Woods is Nick Watney, who had little trouble disposing of British Open champion Darren Clarke. Woods has not made it out of the second round the last two times he has played.

moves on to play Anders Hansen, who beat K.T. Kim, 5 and 3. The Big Easy is in dire need of ranking points as he tries to get into the next World Golf Championship at Doral in two weeks, and tries to get into the top 50 by the end of March to avoid missing the Masters for the first time in nearly 20 years.


Watch live coverage of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship on Golf Channel, Thursday/Friday 2-6PM ET; Saturday noon-2PM ET; Sunday 8AM-1PM ET. NBC coverage can be seen live Saturday/Sunday, 2-6PM ET.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.


Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open


Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.