Had to see it to believe it

By Jason SobelAugust 15, 2011, 2:59 am

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Admit it: If you were told at the beginning of the week that the 93rd PGA Championship would come down to a playoff between Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner, you would have planned a Sunday afternoon escape route. Maybe play 36 at the local muni or get caught up on that honey-do list or start studying Swahili. Anything to avoid watching what sounds like a glorified Nationwide Tour leaderboard unfold at a major.

You would have missed one hell of a final round.

There was Dufner looking like the second coming of Ben Hogan for most of the day, placidly hitting fairways and greens with all the emotion of a guy playing a Tuesday morning pro-am in Dubuque. There was Bradley dipping into Jean Van de Velde territory with his ill-fated triple-bogey on the brutal 15th hole.

And that was just the beginning. 

Bradley turned things around, posting birdies on two of his last three holes, and Dufner inexplicably imploded, parlaying a five-shot lead into a two-man playoff. Each player showed tremendous guile and determination in extra holes, but it was Bradley – a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie – who prevailed in the end, becoming just the third player in the past century to win in his first major championship appearance.

That’s right. A rookie knocked off a guy who can best be described as rank-and-file – and it just may have been the best tournament of the year.

If we learned anything at Atlanta Athletic Club, it’s that drama doesn’t check nametags in the underwear. The venerable Golf Gods don’t place entertainment value merely on the inclusion of certain one-named superstars, instead serving up goosebumps without prior warning.

“There's a lot of good players out here,” Dufner explained afterward, his voice cracking from grief. “These fields are deep. A lot of guys can play. There are new names coming out that people should be excited about. It's not all about everybody you see on TV. There's a lot of guys that can really play and they are going to play really good golf for a long time out here.”

In other sports, the unknown is celebrated, from the 1980 Olympic hockey team to Buster Douglas to the George Mason men’s basketball team that reached the Final Four. Since the wild-card system was implemented in Major League Baseball, four such teams have won the World Series. Just last year, the Green Bay Packers were the sixth and final seed in the NFC playoffs, but won the Super Bowl.

For whatever reason, underdogs are met with scorn in golf. Jack Fleck? A fluke. Larry Mize? No prize. Even for the Davids who didn’t beat Goliath. Bob May? No way.

Entering the final round of this PGA Championship, it seemed that everybody was ready to play the Blame Game in conjuring excuses for the lack of familiar faces on the leaderboard that not only included Bradley and Dufner, but the likes of Brendan Steele, Anders Hansen and Scott Verplank. All talented players, but let’s face it – they don’t pass the grandmother test, which is to say, your grandma’s never heard of ‘em and couldn’t pick ‘em out of a lineup.

Maybe the no-names were Rees Jones’ fault, his dastardly redesign of the Highlands Course leveling the playing field to the extent that nobody held an advantage. Maybe it was the PGA of America’s fault, setting up the course so long and fierce that the world’s best had their talents negated. Maybe it was Mother Nature’s fault, her scorching temps melting away the elite players. 

The truth is, it was nobody’s fault, because there was no blame to be had. Instead, we should be crediting the aforementioned parties for showcasing a theater that provided a thrill ride, both of the positive variety and the negative.

The treacherous final four holes – call ‘em Rees Jones’ Locker, because so many golf balls found their watery grave – were panned by players and caddies alike for being too quirky and possibly even unfair, but they equated to excitement personified. It was a stretch included all the bumpiness of a wooden roller coaster ride, with just as much queasiness, too.

This may not be remembered as the day that changed everything when it comes to judging tournaments based on name recognition, but it should serve as yet another reminder that drama can be uncovered even in the unlikeliest of situations.

“Everybody out here is so good now,” Bradley said afterward, the Wanamaker Trophy glistening just a few feet away. “From the last guy in to the first guy can win.”

If you glanced at the leaderboard on Sunday morning and decided to play golf or pare down the honey-do list or even work on that Swahili, you missed quite a show. And if you watched, well, you’ll forever remember that entertainment doesn’t come in direct correlation to star power.

Getty Images

Ko (68) off to best start of year at Kia Classic

By Randall MellMarch 23, 2018, 12:39 am

Lydia Ko didn’t take long to put last week’s missed cut behind her Thursday at the Kia Classic.

She got off to her best start of the year.

With a 4-under-par 68, Ko was tied for seventh, just two shots off the lead, with the afternoon wave off at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, Calif.

“I would say I didn't hit the ball fantastic, but just being able to hole some good birdie putts was key,” Ko said.

Ko scrambled her way to her low opening round of the year in light rain. She hit just seven of 14 fairways and 11 greens, but only needed 25 putts.

“This is a pretty tough golf course,” Ko said. ”I think putting is a huge key around this course, where if you do miss a green, making those clutch par putts and then making those birdie opportunities that you get.”

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Aviara’s poa annua greens have been known to give players fits, but Ko had her flatstick working. After making the turn at 1 over, she made five birdies on her second nine.

Ko, 20, won at Aviara two years ago but missed the cut there last year.

“I love Carlsbad,” Ko said “I would say it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s nice to come back to a place where you’ve played well and love the area.”

Ko, seeking her first victory since July of 2016, has her new coach, Ted Oh, working with her in Carlsbad this week. Oh made the trip to Asia last month, helping Ko to her tie for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship. But, she missed the cut in Phoenix last week in her next start.

“All I can do is try my best,” Ko said. “Hopefully, I'll be able to keep this good momentum going.”

Getty Images

Match-by-match: WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 2

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:32 am

Here is how things played out on Day 2 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play. Click here for Day 1 match results:

Group 1: Adam Hadwin (38) def. Dustin Johnson (1), 4 and 3: After a dominating performance at last year’s Match Play, where he never trailed in any match, Johnson is already mathematically eliminated. He got routed on Thursday by Hadwin, after the Canadian built a 2-up lead at the turn and then poured it on with wins on the 11th and 13th holes.

Group 1: Kevin Kisner (32) def. Bernd Wiesberger (52), 5 and 4: Kisner made three consecutive birdies midway through the front nine to set the tone, then kept the pressure on Wiesberger, who knocked off DJ on Wednesday, to earn the full point and stay in the mix to advance.

Group 2: Justin Thomas (2) def. Patton Kizzire (48), 3 and 1: After DJ’s early exit, Thomas now has a clear path to world No. 1, if he can win the Match Play this week. Thomas did his part, improving to 2-0 after taking a 3-up advantage and then making birdie on 16 and 17 to close out Kizzire. That sets up a winner-take-all match against Francesco Molinari on Friday.

Group 2: Francesco Molinari (21) def. Luke List (60), 3 and 2: Molinari dropped seven birdies on List and won the 13th, 14th and 16th holes to move to 2-0 this week.

Group 3: Chez Reavie (43) def. Jon Rahm, 1 up: On the verge of surrendering a big lead against Rahm, Reavie’s par on 18 was enough to secure a 1-up victory. He led 3 up with three to go, but Rahm birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to send the match to the last. But there, from just short of the green, Rahm hit his pitch shot well past the flag and couldn’t make birdie. Now 0-1-1, Rahm, last year's finalist, is now eliminated.

Group 3: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (28) def. Keegan Bradley (63), 1 up: Bradley once again kicked away a late lead. One day after coughing up a 2-up lead with three to play, he squandered a 1-up lead with three to play against Aphibarnrat. Bradley made bogey on 17, then was stymied behind a tree after his drive on 18. Barnrat rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to improve to 2-0.

Group 4: Jordan Spieth (4) def. Haotong Li (34), 4 and 2: Spieth held up his end of the deal, winning the fifth hole with a birdie and never trailing from there. He poured it on late with the Chinese star, winning the 13th, 14th and 16th holes. He'll play Reed, his Ryder and Presidents Cup partner, on Friday in a winner-take-all match.

Group 4: Patrick Reed (19) def. Charl Schwartzel (49), 1 up: In a wild match that saw that only three halved, Reed hung on to defeat Schwartzel, 1 up. Two up with three holes to play, Reed lost the 16th, escaped with a bogey halve on the 17th and then was out of position on the final hole. But he nearly holed his wedge shot, rattling the stick and leaving his ball on the front edge for a conceded birdie and narrow victory.

Group 5: Cameron Smith (46) def. Hideki Matsuyama (5), 1 up: One down with five to play, Smith won the 14th with a par, then chipped in for birdie on 16 to take a 1-up lead. At 2-0, he’s now in control of the group.

Group 5: Patrick Cantlay (30) def. Yusaku Miyazato (53), 1 up: In control throughout, Cantlay bogeyed the 17th hole to return the match to all square. On the home hole, he busted a drive to the front-left corner of the green, then made birdie to win and improve to 1-1.

Group 6: Rory McIlroy (6) def. Jhonattan Vegas (44), 2 and 1: Needing a victory to avoid an early exit, McIlroy won two consecutive holes before the turn and then added a win on 13 to give himself the cushion he needed down the stretch, holing a 6-footer for par on 17 to close out Vegas. McIlroy now has a chance to advance with a victory over Harman on the final day of pool play.

Group 6: Brian Harman (18) def. Peter Uihlein (57), 4 and 2: Harman never trailed in knocking off Uihlein, who soundly defeated McIlroy on Day 1. With 1 ½ points, Harman is in the driver’s seat, but he needs at least a halve against McIlroy on Friday (and a Uihlein loss) to advance.

Group 7: Sergio Garcia (7) def. Dylan Frittelli (41), 2 up: All square with six holes to go, Garcia birdied 13, won 14 with a par and then drove the 18th green for a conceded birdie to close out Frittelli, the former Texas Longhorn, and improve to 2-0 this week. He'll play Schauffele in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

Group 7: Xander Schauffele (20) def. Shubhankar Sharma (62), 3 and 1: Schauffele improved to 2-0 this week by thoroughly handling Sharma, the darling of the recent WGC-Mexico event, never leading by fewer than 2-up on the back nine and playing 3 under.

Group 8: Jason Dufner (42) def. Jason Day (8), 3 and 1: Dufner took down one of the pre-tournament favorites with a steady closing stretch. Five of his six wins came after Day bogeys, but Dufner turned an all-square match on 14 tee into a 3-and-1 victory.

Group 8: James Hahn (56) def. Louis Oosthuizen (25), 3 and 1: Hahn jumped all over the South African, winning the first three holes and never holding less than a 2-up lead on the back nine. With his victory, each player in the group has a 1-1 record.

Group 9: Tommy Fleetwood (9) def. Kevin Chappell (33), 7 and 6: Avenging an opening-day loss, the Englishman won the first four holes and needed to make only three birdies in a monster rout of Chappell. The 2017 Presidents Cupper made five bogeys and conceded two other holes but still has a chance to win the group.  

Group 9: Ian Poulter (58) def. Daniel Berger (26), 2 and 1: Playing this event for the first time since 2015, Poulter improved to 2-0 on the week with a solid victory over Berger, one of many young American up-and-comers. Using the same putter that he put in play at the epic 2012 Ryder Cup, Poulter won three of the first four holes and never backed down. He is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday. 

Group 10: Paul Casey (10) def. Kyle Stanley (45), 4 and 2: A winner at the Valspar, Casey stayed hot in Austin, taking a 3-up lead at the turn and improving to 2-0 this week. He needs only a halve on Friday to advance.

Group 10: Russell Henley (51) def. Matthew Fitzpatrick (31), 2 and 1: Shaking off a narrow loss to Casey on Wednesday, Henley took control of an all-square match by winning the 12th and 14th holes and then rolling in a tricky 25-footer on the 17th green to put away Fitzpatrick. Still alive in pool play, Henley needs to beat Kyle Stanley, and hope Casey loses, to force a playoff.

Group 11: Bubba Watson (35) def. Marc Leishman (11), 3 and 2: Coming off an impressive opening victory, Watson erased an early deficit, then won Nos. 12-14 to put away Leishman, who is now eliminated. Watson is guaranteed at least a playoff Friday.

Group 11: Branden Grace (23) def. Julian Suri (64), 2 and 1: After a shaky start, Grace made four birdies over his last 11 holes to knock off the surprise Day 1 winner, Suri, who was the last man into the field. Watson is still in control of the group heading into the final day.

Group 12: Tyrrell Hatton (12) def. Brendan Steele (36), 3 and 2: All square through 12 holes, the Englishman made four birdies and an eagle over his last eight holes to improve to 2-0 this week. Hatton needs only a halve Friday to advance.

Group 12: Alexander Levy (55) def. Charley Hoffman (22), 1 up: Levy led from the sixth hole, but Hoffman slowly cut into the deficit and took the Frenchman to the final hole. Levy’s par was enough to notch his first point and stay alive in pool play.  

Group 13: Alex Noren (13) def. Thomas Pieters (39), 5 and 4: Noren made quick work of Pieters in what could be a match of future Ryder Cup teammates. Noren built a 4-up lead after seven holes and then cruised from there, moving to 2-0 this week and eliminating Pieters. In 30 holes this week, Noren has made 12 birdies and no bogeys.

Group 13: Tony Finau (29) def. Kevin Na (61), 3 and 2: In a contrast of styles, the powerful Finau birdied the first three holes and never looked back against Na, setting up a battle of unbeatens in a winner-take-all match on Friday.

Group 14: Phil Mickelson (14) def. Satoshi Kodaira (40), 1 up: Four down through seven holes, Mickelson was on the verge of being eliminated before running off a series of wins, including on 16 and 17 to push the match to the final hole. Then, on 18, he pitched to 8 feet and drained the birdie putt to complete the remarkable comeback.

Group 14: Charles Howell III (59) def. Rafa Cabrera Bello (17), 3 and 1: After knocking off Mickelson on Day 1, Howell pulled away from Cabrera Bello late, winning the 14th, 15th and 17th holes – only one of which with birdies – to take control of the lead. At 2-0, Howell is assured of at least a playoff.

Group 15: Webb Simpson (37) def. Pat Perez (15), 3 and 1: Matched up against the fiery Perez, Simpson seized control of the match with wins on the 11th and 12th holes, sank a 20-footer on 15 and then won the 17th after Perez put his tee shot in the hazard. Now 1-0-1, he’ll have a winner-take-all match against Kim on Friday.

Group 15: Si Woo Kim (50) def. Gary Woodland (24), 5 and 3: Kim won the first hole and never looked back, grabbing a 3-up lead at the turn and leading by as much as 5 up after 12 holes. He is now 2-0. 

Group 16: Matt Kuchar (16) def. Yuta Ikeda (47), 1 up: Though he wasn’t nearly as hot as in his opener against Johnson, Kuchar played solidly, going 3 under (including concessions) and making par on 17 to edge ahead of Ikeda and eke out a narrow victory. 

Group 16: Ross Fisher (27) def. Zach Johnson (54), 2 up: After a remarkable comeback against Kuchar to earn a halve on Day 1, Johnson couldn’t summon the same magic on Thursday. Though he won the 15th to cut Fisher’s advantage to 1 up, Johnson couldn’t convert birdie putts on the last three holes.

Getty Images

Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 23, 2018, 12:20 am

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-2-0 (2) J. Thomas: 2-0-0 (3) J. Rahm: 0-1-1 (4) J. Spieth: 2-0-0
(32) K. Kisner: 1-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 2-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat: 2-0-0 (19) P. Reed: 2-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 1-0-1
(48) P. Kizzire: 0-2-0 (43) C. Reavie: 1-1-0 (34) H. Li: 0-2-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-1-0
(60) L. List: 0-2-0 (63) K. Bradley: 0-1-1 (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-2-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-1-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 1-1-0 (7) S. Garcia: 2-0-0 (8) J. Day: 1-1-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 1-1-0
(18) B. Harman: 1-0-1 (20) X. Schauffele: 2-0-0 (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-1-0
(46) C. Smith: 2-0-0 (44) J. Vegas: 0-1-1 (41) D. Frittelli: 0-2-0 (42) J. Dufner: 1-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-2-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 1-1-0 (62) S. Sharma: 0-2-0 (56) J. Hahn: 1-1-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 1-1-0 (10) P. Casey: 2-0-0 (11) M. Leishman: 0-2-0 (12) T. Hatton: 2-0-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-2-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick: 0-2-0 (23) B. Grace: 1-1-0 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-1-0 (45) K. Stanley: 1-1-0 (35) B. Watson: 2-0-0 (36) B. Steele: 1-1-0
(58) I. Poulter: 2-0-0 (51) R. Henley: 1-1-0 (64) J. Suri: 1-1-0 (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 2-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 1-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-1 (16) M. Kuchar: 1-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 2-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello: 1-1-0 (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-1 (27) R. Fisher: 1-1-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-2-0 (40) S. Kodaira: 0-2-0 (37) W. Simpson: 1-0-1 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-1-0
(61) K. Na: 0-2-0 (59) C. Howell III: 2-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 1-0-1 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-1-1
Getty Images

Players lament 'meaningless' Friday WGC matches

By Rex HoggardMarch 23, 2018, 12:17 am

AUSTIN, Texas – The drawback of round-robin play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is that 20 players will tee off on Friday with no chance to advance to the knockout stages.

Although those who haven’t won or halved a match heading into the final day of pool play can still improve their finish, which means more FedExCup points and earnings, they can’t make it to the weekend, which for many makes it somewhat meaningless.

“Knowing that you are playing a match that you might get 2 more FedEx points and $20,000 or whatever it is. It's tough. It's hard,” said Rory McIlroy, who is 1-1-0 and can advance to the weekend if he wins his match on Friday against Brian Harman.

“You try to go out with the mindset that I'm going to maybe try things or if you are working on your golf swing, it's a good round to take advantage of trying different things,” McIlroy said. “[But] there's going to be guys going out there tomorrow that would really just want to be on a plane tonight going home.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Even more curious, there will be players with no way of moving on who will dictate who does make it to the weekend. Matthew Fitzpatrick, for example, is winless this week and will play Paul Casey on Friday. If Fitzpatrick wins it will set up a playoff scenario between Casey, who is 2-0-0, and either Russell Henley or Kyle Thompson, who both have one victory, to decide who advances out of the pod.

“It's not technically meaningless,” Casey said. “But it's frustrating when you know you can't possibly win the golf event. None of us turn up here to gain some points. It's to try and win an event.”