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First Look: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play groups

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 2:20 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Although professional golf’s version of March Madness is considered just plain maddening in some circles following the switch to round-robin play three years ago, it’s still one of the game’s most compelling weeks after a steady diet of stroke play.

With this week’s lineup having been set Monday night via a blind draw, we take a deep dive into WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play bracketology (current world golf rankings in parentheses):

Pool play will begin Wednesday, with the winner from each of the 16 groups advancing to knockout play beginning Saturday:

Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger

Teeing off: This sounds like the beginning of a joke that’s made the rounds at the United Nations, but what do you get when a pair of South Carolinians, a Canadian and an Austrian walk onto the first tee? Group 1 and what, on paper, looks like it could be the week’s most lopsided pod with the world No. 1, who never trailed on his way to victory last year, poised to pick up where he left off.


Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas, (21) Francesco Molinari, (48) Patton Kizzire, (60) Luke List

Teeing off: This isn’t exactly an Iron Bowl rematch, but having Thomas (Alabama) and Kizzire (Auburn) in the same group seems to be pandering to the Southeastern Conference crowd.


Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm, (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, (43) Chez Reavie, (63) Keegan Bradley

Teeing off: The Asian John Daly (aka Aphibarnrat) will have his hands full with Rahm, who lost the championship match to Johnson last year; while Bradley may be this group’s Cinderella after making a late push to qualify for the Match Play.


Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth, (19) Patrick Reed, (34) Haotong Li, (49) Charl Schwartzel

Teeing off: This may be the week’s most awkward pairing, with Spieth and Reed turning what has been one of the United States' most successful tandems (they are 7-2-2 as partners in Presidents and Ryder Cup play) into an early-week highlight. It will be “shhh” vs. “Go Get that.”


Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama, (30) Patrick Cantlay, (46) Cameron Smith, (53) Yusaku Miyazato

Teeing off: Cantlay could be the Tour’s most reserved player, Smith isn’t much more outspoken and Matsuyama and Miyazato speak limited English. This will be the quietest pod, and it’ll have nothing to do with gamesmanship.


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Group 6: (6) Rory McIlroy, (18) Brian Harman, (44) Jhonattan Vegas, (51) Peter Uihlein

Teeing off: We're going to declare this the “group of death,” with McIlroy coming off a commanding victory last week at Bay Hill and Harman being one of the Tour’s most gritty competitors.


Group 7: (7) Sergio Garcia, (20) Xander Schauffele, (41) Dylan Frittelli, (62) Shubankhar Sharma

Teeing off: Three weeks ago, Phil Mickelson confused Sharma for a member of the media when he tried to introduce himself at the WGC-Mexico Championship. As a public service announcement: it’s SHAR-ma. You may be hearing it a lot this week.


Group 8: (8) Jason Day, (25) Louis Oosthuizen, (42) Jason Dufner, (56) James Hahn

Teeing off: This pod has a Presidents Cup flair to it, but Day and Oosthuizen should hope for a better outcome considering the International side’s awful record in the biennial bout.


Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter

Teeing off: We showed up in Austin and a Ryder Cup broke out. Fleetwood is all but a lock to make this year’s European team, and fellow Englishman Poulter (23-14) has forged a career on his match-play prowess. For Berger and Chappell, who both played last year’s Presidents Cup, it’s a chance to impress U.S. captain Jim Furyk.


Group 10: (10) Paul Casey, (31) Matthew Fitzpatrick, (45) Kyle Stanley, (51) Russell Henley

Teeing off: Casey has a stellar record at the Match Play (23-13-1) and having finally ended his victory drought two weeks ago at the Valspar Championship the Englishman could likely seal his Ryder Cup fate with a solid week at Austin Country Club.


Group 11: (11) Marc Leishman, (23) Branden Grace, (35) Bubba Watson, (64) Julian Suri

Teeing off: The best part of March Madness is the potential upsets, and while Suri, the last man in the field, isn’t exactly UMBC over Virginia, don’t be surprised if the little-known player from St. Augustine, Fla., stuns some big names this week.


Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton, (22) Charley Hoffman, (36) Brendan Steele, (55) Alexander Levy

Teeing off: If Levy hopes to make the European Ryder Cup team he should consider this his audition. That is if captain Thomas Bjorn is watching.


Group 13: (13) Alex Noren, (29) Tony Finau, (39) Thomas Pieters, (61) Kevin Na

Teeing off:  Finau and Pieters have the firepower to play with anyone in the field and Noren’s record the last few months has been impressive, but Na looks like one of those Princeton teams who can wear down anyone.


Group 14: (14) Phil Mickelson, (17) Rafael Cabrera-Bello, (40) Sotashi Kodaira, (59) Charles Howell III

Teeing off: Mickelson has been rejuvenated by his victory at the last World Golf Championship, Cabrera Bello is poised to earn a spot on this year’s European Ryder Cup team and Howell is playing some of the best golf of his career. Note to Kodaira, don’t try to introduce yourself to Lefty before your match. 


Group 15: (15) Pat Perez, (24) Gary Woodland, (37) Webb Simpson, (50) Si Woo Kim

Teeing off: Perez explained that during a practice round on Monday he was talking trash with Branden Grace. Not sure Kim will be down for some trash talking, but it would certainly be entertaining and probably a little confusing for him.


Group 16: (16) Matt Kuchar, (27) Ross Fisher, (47) Yuta Ikeda, (54) Zach Johnson

Teeing off: If any of these matches comes down to a tie, may we suggest officials go to a sudden-death ping-pong match. No one can compete with Kuchar on a table, but it would be must-see TV nonetheless.

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Reed match taught McIlroy the need to conserve energy

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:18 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – One of the most memorable Ryder Cup singles matches in recent history was also one of the most exhausting.

Rory McIlroy was asked on Wednesday at Le Golf National about his singles bout with Patrick Reed two years ago at Hazeltine National, when the duo combined for eight birdies and an eagle through eight frenzied holes.

“I could play it for nine holes, and then it suddenly hit me,” said McIlroy, who was 5 under through eight holes but played his final 10 holes in 2 over par. “The level sort of declined after that and sort of reached its crescendo on the eighth green, and the last 10 holes wasn't quite as good.”


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In retrospect McIlroy said the match, which he lost, 1 down, was educational and he realized that maintaining that level of emotion over 18 holes isn’t realistic.

“It looked tiring to have to play golf like that for three days,” he said. “I learnt a lot from that and learnt that it's good to get excited and it's good to have that, but at the same time, if I need and have to be called upon to play a late match on Sunday or whatever it is, I want to have all my energy in reserve so that I can give everything for 18 holes because I did hit a wall that back nine on Sunday, and it cost me.”

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U.S. team gives Tiger 'cold shoulder' after Tour Championship win

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:08 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods was one of the final members of Team USA to make it to the team room late Sunday in Atlanta after his travel plans were delayed by his victory at the Tour Championship.

As the team waited, captain Jim Furyk concocted a plan for Woods.

“I ran into Jim Furyk and he said, ‘We were thinking about giving Tiger the cold shoulder like they do in baseball when the guy hits his first home run.’ He asked, ‘Do you think Tiger will be OK with that?’” Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava told Ryder Cup Radio on Sirius/XM. “I was like, ‘Of course he would. He’s got a sense of humor.’”


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The U.S. team had plenty to cheer on Sunday with vice captain Steve Stricker also winning on the PGA Tour Champions. But it was Woods’ reception following his 80th PGA Tour victory and his first in five years that provided the best reaction.

“Tiger shows up about a half-hour later and is looking for some high-fives from everybody and they wouldn’t give him the time of day. They weren’t even looking at him, they all have their backs to him,” LaCava said. “He’s looking at me like what’s going on? He’s not a guy who is looking for fanfare, but these are his boys. He’s looking for 11 guys to run up and give him a good hug.”

LaCava said the team ignored Woods for about two minutes before breaking the silence with cheers and congratulations.

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How FedExCup has changed Ryder Cup prep

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:56 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The improved play of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might be attributed to more than just youthful exuberance or camaraderie.

Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour schedule is also a factor.

Mickelson argued this week that the advent of the FedExCup Playoffs, in 2007, has contributed to the Americans’ better results in the biennial matches. Save for the disastrous blowout in 2014 at Gleneagles, the Americans have either won or been locked in a tight match with the Europeans.

“I think the FedExCup is a big asset for us,” Mickelson said. “In the past, we’ve had six weeks off in between our last competition and the Ryder Cup. This year, although we might be tired, we might have had a long stretch, our games are much sharper because of our consistent play week-in and week-out heading into this event.”


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When presented with Mickelson’s theory, Justin Rose, the new FedExCup champion, countered by saying that the Europeans are the fresher team this week – and that could be more important during such a stressful event.

Seventeen of the 24 players here were in East Lake for the Tour Championship, meaning they not only played the minimum number of events for PGA Tour membership, but also played in at least three of the four playoff events.

Some of the European players, however, have remained loyal to their home tour and taken more time off. Henrik Stenson missed a few events to rest his ailing elbow. Sergio Garcia didn’t play for four weeks. And even Rose has adjusted his schedule during the latter part of the season, to make sure that he was as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup. That meant skipping the pro-am in Boston and flying in on Thursday night, on the eve of the tournament, and reducing his number of practice rounds.

“It’s interesting,” Rose said. “They might feel like they are playing their way in and our guys are going to have a bit of gas in the tank. We’ll have to evaluate it on Sunday, but I’m hoping our strategy is going to be the one that pays off in the long run.”

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Rose hoping for FedEx/Ryder Cup party on Sunday

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:41 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Justin Rose is hoping for the biggest party of all on Sunday night.

With the quick turnaround with the Ryder Cup, the newly crowned FedExCup champion hasn’t had much time to celebrate his season-long title that he earned Sunday at the Tour Championship.

“The FedExCup, for me, it finished on the plane,” Rose said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the plane ride over, but once I landed in Paris, I was one of 12 guys. I didn’t want it to carry over into this week. This week is about another job to do.”


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Rose said his Ryder Cup teammates have resorted to the usual tactics – “Apparently all the drinks are on my tab this week,” he joked – but just as Team USA may have used a boost with Tiger Woods winning, the Europeans can take confidence in having the FedExCup champion on their side.

As for any premature celebrations, Rose said: “I can shelve that for another week or so. I will certainly enjoy it. It’s kind of a season-long title that you really want to enjoy. But I’d like to maybe start that party on Sunday night and here for the right reasons, because of this week.”