Match Play, McIlroy have unfinished business

By Rex HoggardMay 3, 2015, 3:52 am

SAN FRANCISCO – In sports terms it’s best to consider the WGC-Cadillac Match Play firmly entrenched in a transition year. You know, like the Chicago Cubs every season for, say the past century.

An unpopular new format, a Sunday field that wouldn’t move the needle in Reno, Nev., and the misfortune of competing for eyeballs on arguably the most crowded weekend sports calendar this year with the Kentucky Derby, the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight, NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs and NFL draft.

It’s telling that the most exciting thing that’s happened this week at Harding Park involved two players (Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez) who had no chance of advancing to Saturday and were in desperate need of a timeout.

The gray gloom that has gripped Harding Park for two days was a fitting metaphor for an event mired in transition and virtually bereft, at least when play was called on Saturday because of darkness, of the kind of marquee one would expect at a World Golf Championship.

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The ultimate fate of this WGC-Match Play hangs in the balance early Sunday when world No. 1 Rory McIlroy will set out at 6:45 a.m. (PT) to complete his heated quarterfinal match against Paul Casey.

Otherwise, the standard will fall to Jim Furyk at fifth in the Official World Golf Ranking to carry the marquee, which – with all respect to the ageless and endearing champion – is not exactly a riveting answer to Mayweather/Pacquiao.

Match play is fickle and even without McIlroy this would not be the lowest-ranked Final Four in event history. That honor belongs to the 2006 edition when Nos. 23, 41, 52 and 59 squared off on Sunday.

Still, when the world No. 1 bounced his approach shot off an empty grandstand adjacent to the 14th green on the 19th hole of the match, in near darkness it was a fitting metaphor for an event that continues to be mired in an identity crisis and in desperate need of some buzz.

“You know, it's been like that before,” said Gary Woodland, who at 52nd in the world is the lowest-ranked player to advance to Sunday. “I remember being at the World Cup in 2011 and people saying, you know, America didn't have the best team there. That fuels me, that's fine. That's one of the best weeks I've ever played that week, too.”

Woodland may well breathe life into the WGC-Match Play thanks to a fearless game that has forged an impressive path through the field.

Just once in five matches has he been challenged, a 19-hole victory on Day 1 against Jimmy Walker, and on Saturday he never saw the 18th hole, rolling through the Australian contingent of Marc Leishman, 2 and 1, and John Senden, 2 and 1.

Early Sunday he will face Danny Willett, a little-known Englishman who has battled back from a back injury and may well become a household name on both sides of the Atlantic, but just not this week.

This week depends on McIlroy, who was sloppy from the outset in his match against Casey. He missed the fairway left at No. 1, the green right at No. 2, the green left at No. 4. He did hit the sixth green. Unfortunately, he was playing the par-5 fifth hole at the time.

It was a tough 1-2 combination for McIlroy to endure. Not only is he in danger of being bounced from the Match Play, he was also unable to attend the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight.

“That's fine. I have to do it. It's the position I'm in and I'll be here at 6:45 in the morning,” McIlroy said. “I'll try and come out fast and win that hole and try to advance to the last four.”

Even Furyk, who ended a 100-event winless streak with his victory last month at the RBC Heritage, conceded that the new-look Match Play, which included round-robin group play for the first three days, needed some work.

“I think there can be tweaks, but I like the format better than in the past,” Furyk said. “That's a little bit of a homer thing, too, because I've never made it this far.”

The Match Play transitions to a new venue, Austin (Texas) Country Club, and a new spot on the calendar, late March, next year and there appears to be a strong desire to assure success.

“We’ll talk to the players, we’ll probably get some fan input, we’ll talk to our television partners, we’ll evaluate the telecast and it will be all part of the setup for Austin because Austin is a different kind of golf course,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said this week. “We want to have a good start to that run in Austin.”

There will be a winner on Sunday. He may even be named Rory, which would be an undeniable boost for an event that has felt like a bust all week. But even that doesn’t change the fact that this is very a much a transition year for the Match Play.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.