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Ranking the top 10 performers in this WGC-Dell Match Play

By John AntoniniMarch 20, 2018, 12:30 pm

It’s fitting that the PGA Tour’s version of March Madness is held at the same time as the world’s most famous win-and-advance, bracket-busting event. Like the NCAA’s Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, golf’s not-quite-one-and-done grind held this week at Austin (Texas) CC requires a similar formula for success. To advance at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play golfers, like hoopsters, must stay in the moment, read the opponent, and maintain the advantage. The Match Play also requires a steely resolve not necessary for the PGA Tour’s weekly 72-hole marathons. 

Although a rule change instituted in 2015, allowing for pool play during the first three days of the Match Play, took the luster away from the knock-out aspect of the tournament – Henrik Stenson says it’s why he skips the event – winning remains the key component. Since 2015, every player who reached the championship match was 3-0 in pool play. Winning, it seems, breeds winning.

So who are the tournament’s best match-play winners?

First, a few parameters: Although we take into consideration performances in other match-play tournaments, such as the Ryder Cup or the NCAA Championship, the focus of this exercise falls on the Dell Technologies Match Play. So to be considered for our top 10 a player must have a winning record in this tournament. That eliminates Justin Thomas, whose fine play in last year’s Presidents Cup can’t offset his 1-5-0 record in two Match Play appearances.

Second, we’re interested in recent history, giving priority to the last few years. Ian Poulter might be one of the greatest performers in tournament history, but he hasn’t played this event since 2015 or been on a Ryder Cup team since 2014. Thus, he’ll join Thomas on the sidelines.

Finally, to be on this list, you have to be playing this week. There’s no sense telling you how great a match-play performer Justin Rose or Rickie Fowler might be if you won’t see them play the format until the Ryder Cup.

Here’s our top 10 list of best match-play performers playing in this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

1. Rory McIlroy: Prior to last year’s Match Play, McIlroy identified ruthlessness, selfishness and pride as the key facets as to why he’s so good in this format. “I'm too proud to be beaten,” he said. “I won't let anyone get up on me. I think too much of myself to let anyone do that to me.” McIlroy has a career record of 23-9-2 in the Match Play and is 12-3-2 the last three years. He won in 2015 and lost in the semifinals in 2016, and he’s in pretty good form coming off his API triumph. Factor in his winning record in all three formats of play in the Ryder Cup and you should agree that match play is a perfect fit for McIlroy’s personality.

2. Jason Day: Day is a two-time winner of the Match Play (2014, 2016) and his career record of 21-9-0 is better than it looks, because he was given three losses when he withdrew during the first round of last year’s tournament to be with his ailing mother. In the last six Match Plays, Day is 5-0 against players in our top 10, including a 1-up win over McIlroy in the semifinals in 2016. Day ranks second because Rory has played better in all recent match-play competitions, and ultimately we can’t forgive Day’s underwhelming play in the last two Presidents Cups (1-7-2 record).



3. Dustin Johnson: The defending champion deserves kudos for his 12-3-0 record in the last three Match Plays. Johnson was so overwhelming a year ago, that he never trailed at any point during the week. His raw power and self-confidence are an intimidating combination. “It's amazing how he's able to keep cool the entire round,” said Jon Rahm after losing to Johnson in the 2017 final. “It amazes me. He's just a perfect, complete player."

4. Louis Oosthuizen: It’s hard to believe someone with the nickname Shrek could have a killer instinct, but you can’t argue with the results. Oosthuizen is 15-4-0 in the Match Play since 2014, losing in the championship match to Day in 2016, and reaching the quarterfinals two other times. He also has been the International team’s best player in the last two Presidents Cups, with a combined record of 6-2-2, including a 1-0-1 mark against Patrick Reed in singles.

5. Patrick Reed: Perhaps golf’s best current team performer, Reed’s fist-pumping, finger-waving singles victory over McIlroy in the 2016 Ryder Cup is what legends are made of. Reed is 10-4-4 in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup play, and was 6-0 in match-play competition for Augusta University during the NCAA Championship. But although he excels in team formats, his performance in this week’s event leaves us wanting. Reed has advanced out of pool play just once in three years, and ultimately his 6-5-1 record keeps him out of our top four.



6. Jon Rahm: The latest in a long line of great Spanish match-play performers, Rahm appears to be a worthy successor to Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia. He’s such a young pro that there’s not much to go on other than his 6-1 record in 2017, where he took Johnson to the 18th hole before losing in the finals. He won two matches in the 2014 U.S. Amateur and reached the quarterfinals in 2015.

7. Rafael Cabrera-Bello: If Rahm is not Spain’s next match-play hero, perhaps it’s this 33-year-old star. A latecomer to the world golf scene compared to his Spanish compatriots, who all blossomed in their early 20s, the Canary Islands native is a worthy performer. He was unbeaten (2-0-1) in his first Ryder Cup in 2016, and has an 8-4-1 record in four Match Plays, including a 3-and-2 victory over McIlroy in the 2016 consolation match. He also reached the semifinals of the 2012 Volvo World Match Play.

8. Phil Mickelson: After a four-year absence from the Match Play, Mickelson barely missed advancing out of pool play in 2016 and reached the quarterfinals in 2017. A perennial member of U.S. Cup teams, he has an incredible 10-2-3 combined Presidents and Ryder Cup record since 2014 with a 3-0-1 mark in singles.



9. Jordan Spieth: He’s here because of his 9-4-1 record in the Match Play, his two U.S. Junior Amateur victories and because he beat Thomas in the 2012 NCAA Championship. So we’ll conveniently forget that he’s 0-5-0 in singles play in the Presidents and Ryder Cups.

10. Paul Casey: A two-time runner-up in the Match Play (2009, 2010), Casey is 7-4-1 (including a conceded loss) since pool play began. 

Others of note: Matt Kuchar’s career record is even better than Casey’s (21-8-2), but he’s just a pedestrian 4-4-2 since 2015. … Thomas Pieters doesn’t qualify for the top 10 because he’s just 2-2-2 in the Match Play, but he was 4-1 as a Ryder Cup rookie in 2016 and beat Spieth in 2012 and Thomas in 2013 during the NCAA Championship. … Like Pieters, keep an eye on Kiradech Aphibarnrat. He’s only 2-2-0 in the Match Play, but two of his four European Tour victories are of the match-play variety (2015 Paul Lawrie, 2018 World Super 6 Perth).

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.

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Maggert and Parnevik lead at Bass Pro Shops

By Associated PressApril 19, 2018, 10:49 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik shot an 8-under 63 in better-ball play Thursday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' chilly Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

''It was very relaxing for me because I felt like terrible,'' Parnevik said. ''I was so stiff this morning. It was freezing cold. I thought if I can just try to make some pars in case he ever makes a bogey, but I didn't even have to do that.''

Playing together for the first time in the team event, Maggert and Parnevik eagled the par-5 eighth and had six birdies in the cool and breezy conditions on Big Cedar Lodge's Buffalo Ridge course.

''We play well together,'' Maggert said. ''We both contributed a lot. Jesper had a lot of birdies and an eagle on our final nine. It was so cold this morning, I just was going to come out and just try to hit fairways and greens. Really I wasn't thinking about making birdies, I was just trying to play steady and give myself an opportunity to have some birdie putts.''


Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf


The next three rounds will be played on par-3 courses. Maggert and Parnevik will play the 18-hole Top of the Rock on Friday and Sunday, and the 13-hole Mountain Top on Saturday.

Mark Calcavecchia and Woody Austin were a stroke back. They also eagled No. 8. Austin won the 2016 title with Michael Allen. Calcavecchia won the Boca Raton Championship this year.

''I lucked in a few birdies on the back, but it was tough, tough conditions,'' Calcavecchia said. ''Even when it warmed up a little bit, it was still tough to make birdies out there. All in all, 7 under's a pretty good start.''

Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman were at 65 along with Davis Love III-Scott Verplank, 2015 winners Billy Andrade-Joe Durant, Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett and Steve Flesch-David Toms.

''We kind of brother-in-lawed or ham-and-egged it or partnered it,'' Love said. ''Neither one of us were playing great, but we had one guy in every hole and that's kind of what you have to do. We're going to have to go to the par 3 courses and get two birdie putts on a hole is what you really want to do and we didn't do that enough today.''

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week for his first senior title.

Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were tied for 22nd at 68.

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Dredge, Quiros share early lead in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 19, 2018, 8:41 pm

RABAT, Morocco - Bradley Dredge reeled off three birdies in his last five holes to share the lead with Alvaro Quiros after the opening round of the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II event Thursday.

Quiros finished with two straight birdies as the big-hitting Spaniard joined Welshman Dredge on 5-under-par 67.

Dredge, who made seven birdies in all, has won twice before but his last triumph came in 2006.


Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II


Quiros, who has claimed seven victories, last won at the Rocco Forte Open in Sicily last year.

The joint leaders have a one-shot advantage over Oliver Fisher, Joakim Lagergren, Erik Van Rooyen and Lorenzo Gagli at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course.

Former U.S. Masters champion Danny Willett, without a win since his victory at Augusta two years ago, opened with a 1-over 73.