The wacky world of Match Play returns

By Doug FergusonFebruary 19, 2014, 3:26 am

MARANA, Ariz. – Rory McIlroy makes his American debut this week in the Match Play Championship. The only goal is to make sure it's not a short week.

McIlroy appears to be close to regaining the form that made him No. 1 in the world. He began his season on the European Tour with two good chances to win at Abu Dhabi and Dubai. So his expectations would seem to be high.

Just not here.

''What is a good week?'' said McIlroy, the No. 4 seed in a 64-man field at Dove Mountain. ''You could shoot 67 tomorrow and be going home. It's hard to know. It's hard to even put a sort of number on it. 'OK, if I get to the quarterfinals, it's a good week.' You just have to take it one match at a time.

The Accenture Match Play Championship, which starts Wednesday in the high desert north of Tucson, is the most unpredictable event in golf and probably the reason it's played so infrequently. It can be maddening for the top 64 players available from the world ranking in 18-hole matches.

Tiger Woods is the only No. 1 seed to win, and he's not at Dove Mountain this year.

Woods, Masters champion Adam Scott and British Open champion Phil Mickelson are skipping this World Golf Championship, leaving Henrik Stenson as the No. 1 seed. He opens with Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, and there's no telling what will happen.

A year ago, Luke Donald was the only player among the top four seeds who survived the first round. Donald lost in the second round.

That's one reason Scott chose not to play.

''My record speaks for itself in Arizona,'' Scott said at the start of the year. He only made it to the second round twice since it moved to Dove Mountain in 2007.

Mickelson's two youngest children have spring break this week (Mickelson has skipped three of the previous four years, anyway), while Woods was planning on being at Sochi for the Olympics until girlfriend Lindsey Vonn re-injured her knee. He decided to take this week off, anyway.

Not that the absence of those top players will give anyone else an advantage.

Asked about his chance, McIlroy only knew that he played Boo Weekley in the opening round. And that he and Weekley don't have a lot in common.

''I've never been hunting before in my life,'' McIlroy said.

Matt Kuchar is the defending champion, and he's still trying to get a copy of the draw just to marvel at how he did it. Kuchar already has the bracket from when he won the 1997 U.S. Amateur.

Kuchar was the No. 21 seed last year. So was Hunter Mahan when he won the year before. Woods is the only player from among the top eight seeds to have won the Match Play Championship over the past 10 years.

Among the most compelling matches in the first round are Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler, with similar games and style. At least they won't have to bring ski jackets - the opening round last year was suspended by snow, and the weather is expected to be warm and sunny.

And then there's Graeme McDowell and Gary Woodland, who are no strangers. They live at Lake Nona in Florida. They even flew out on the same plane together.

''We'll have one Lake Nona player through to the second round - we know that much,'' said Stenson, who also was on the plane. ''You're probably going to bump into one of your good friends at some stage when you're playing a tournament like this, if you're doing well. So it doesn't really matter. It's all to how you play. It's good fun no matter what. You just go out there and try to do your best. If it's your week, it's your week.''

Stenson remembers winning in 2007 when he figured he was headed home on Wednesday. Zach Johnson had a birdie attempt to go 2 up with three holes to play, with Stenson in trouble. The Swede saved par, Johnson missed, Stenson birdied the next two holes and he was on his way.

''If I wouldn't have made that up-and-down and he would have made his putt on 15, I wouldn't have won that year,'' Stenson said. ''That's how small the margins are here.''

The bracket is peculiar in one respect. Half of the matches Wednesday feature players from the United States against Europe - in a Ryder Cup year, no less. Among them are Dustin Johnson vs. Peter Hanson and Jordan Spieth vs. Pablo Larrazabal, who won this year at Abu Dhabi.

Does this week identify the best player?

''There's no 'yes' and there's no 'no' to that question, really. It's a stupid question. Take it away,'' Stenson said with a smile.

But there's a big paycheck for the winner - $1.53 million to the winner, and even $48,000 just for showing up.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 10:15 am

Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.


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McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:53 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.

McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.

But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.

Said Harmon:

“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.

“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”

McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.

“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”

McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.

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How The Open cut line is determined

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:57 am

Scores on Day 1 of the 147th Open Championship ranged from 5-under 66 to 11-over 82.

The field of 156 players will be cut nearly in half for weekend play at Carnoustie. Here’s how the cut line works in the season’s third major championship:


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


• After 36 holes, the low 70 players and ties will advance to compete in the final two rounds. Anyone finishing worse than that will get the boot. Only those making the cut earn official money from the $10.5 million purse.

• There is no 10-shot rule. That rule means anyone within 10 shots of the lead after two rounds, regardless of where they stand in the championship, make the cut. It’s just a flat top 70 finishers and ties.

• There is only a single cut at The Open. PGA Tour events employ an MDF (Made cut Did not Finish) rule, which narrows the field after the third round if more than 78 players make the cut. That is not used at this major.

The projected cut line after the first round this week was 1 over par, which included 71 players tied for 50th or better.

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.