Westwood gets revenge on Watney

By Doug FergusonFebruary 24, 2012, 11:10 pm

MARANA, Ariz. — Lee Westwood had every reason to pack light for the Match Play Championship. He never made it out of the second round in his 11 previous trips to this tournament, and he never could understand why.

Now it seems as if Westwood can do no wrong.

He has led after 48 of the 49 holes he has played through three rounds at Dove Mountain, barely breaking a sweat under the blazing sun in the high desert. And he erased more bad memories Friday with a 3-and-2 victory over Nick Watney, who had eliminated Westwood each of the last two years.

 “You want to come out and get momentum as quickly as possible,” said Westwood, who birdied the opening two holes for the second straight match. “And the only way to do that is by winning holes.”

Now, Westwood is two matches away from a shot at his first World Golf Championship, and a return to No. 1 in the world.

But he’s not alone.

Rory McIlroy also can go to No. 1 in the world for the first time in his young career by winning the Match Play Championship. He also had an easy time, winning on the 17th hole over Miguel Angel Jimenez.

Westwood and McIlroy are on track to face each other Sunday morning in the semifinals. The battle for No. 1 – made possible by Luke Donald losing in the opening round – put some interest into an otherwise dull afternoon at Dove Mountain.

None of the matches went the distance until the final last one, when Bae Sang-moon missed a 6-foot putt on the 17th hole, only to finish off John Senden with a par putt from about the same distance on the 18th hole.

Two of the matches only made it to the 17th, and four of the third-round matches ended on the 15th hole.

McIlroy has struggled to block out the idea that he could go to No. 1. Instead, he’s trying to use it as an advantage.

“It’s a nice incentive,” McIlroy said. “It’s nice to have in the back of your mind. And if you’re struggling in a match and find it hard to get yourself up, or get any sort of momentum, if you think about that and you think if you can really dig deep, you still have a chance to become No. 1.”

Westwood was No. 1 a year ago, and it’s a less of a priority than to capture his first World Golf Championship. Just getting to the quarterfinals is a small achievement.

“I’m just happy to be looking for a different restaurant for Friday night,” Westwood said. “I had a little chuckle watching The Golf Channel on Wednesday morning and listening to them make all their predictions and things like that. I don’t think they got many right.”

And where did the prognosticators have Westwood?

“On the BA 289 on Thursday night,” he said, referring to his usual British Airways flight.

Westwood next plays Martin Laird, who won the battle of Scotland by taking down former British Open champion Paul Lawrie, 3 and 1.

Next up for McIlroy is Bae, the South Korean surprise in his first Match Play Championship. Bae won three times last year on the Japan Golf Tour. And while he made it through Q-School to earn a PGA Tour card, he ended last year at No. 30 in the world.

He is no stranger in global golf, as McIlroy knows all too well.

They played in the final group of the Korea Open in 2009, where McIlroy and Kim Dae-sub were tied for the 54-hole lead. Bae closed with a 67 and beat them both.

Bae had the only match that went 18 holes in one of the dullest third rounds ever at the Match Play Championship. He took a 1-up lead on the 16th hole against Senden when the Australian played a poor chip. Senden missed a 20-foot birdie putt to square the match on the 18th, and Bae completed a long two-putt par with a 5-footer.

“He’s been very impressive this week,” McIlroy said.

In other matches:

— Hunter Mahan took advantage of some mental lapses by Steve Stricker to build a big lead and held on for a 4-and-3 win. Mahan will play Matt Kuchar, a 4-and-3 winner against Martin Kaymer, a finalist last year at Dove Mountain. That assures there will be an American in the semifinals at the Match Play for the first time since 2009.

— One year after Mark Wilson was drubbed in the second round by big-hitting Bubba Watson, he overwhelmed another power player by beating Dustin Johnson for the second straight year. Johnson was too wild too often and couldn’t make putts, a bad combination in match play. Wilson will play Peter Hanson of Sweden, who dismantled Brandt Snedeker during a quiet, effective march to the quarterfinals.

“I know people keep talking about how I hit it so short that I can’t compete,” said Wilson, who has won three times on the PGA Tour in the last 14 months. “First of all, I don’t hit it very short. And secondly, it all comes down to putting. It really does. So I just don’t know how many times I have to explain it.”

Watney eliminated Tiger Woods on the 18th hole Thursday, despite a poor round of putting. His stroke didn’t get much better, and that left him little chance against Westwood.

Watney’s only hope for a shift in momentum came on the par-5 13th, when he was 10 feet away for birdie. Westwood was just short of the green in two, and his pitch hit the flag and caromed about 12 feet away. The Englishman holed his birdie putt to stay 3 up, and they halved holes the rest of the way.

“I couldn’t sit at his lunch table,” Watney said, poking fun at Kobe Bryant’s comment about the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Stricker holed a 20-foot birdie on the fifth hole that looked as if it would square the match until Mahan matched him with a birdie from 15 feet just off the green. Two holes later, Mahan took the lead. Stricker hit a driver into the desert on the 10th to lose the hole, then pulled his 3-wood into the desert on the next hole.

Stricker knew he was doomed on the par-3 12th, when he watched Mahan roll in a 55-foot birdie putt with perfect pace. Stricker stood off the green and smiled, walked over to retrieve the ball from the cup and started to hand it to Mahan. Then he stopped, and heaved the ball into the grandstand as Mahan laughed.


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

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari

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5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

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5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello