New Match Play format, but familiar results

By Rex HoggardApril 30, 2015, 2:26 am

SAN FRANCISCO – The new-look WGC-Cadillac Match Play clung to an old modus operandi on Wednesday.

For all the tinkering – new format, new venue, new sponsor – the basic blueprint was unchanged on Day 1, which is to say the status quo remains irrelevant at the PGA Tour’s only individual match-play outing.

Put another way, betting chalk at the Match Play can be costly.

Consider that seven of the day’s first nine matches went to the lower-ranked player and that when the final putt dropped past 10 p.m. on the East Coast things had only gotten slightly better for the favored, with 13 of 32 matches going to the lower seed on Day 1.

It’s always been the axiom at the Match Play, which defies the pathological desire in sports to clearly define favorite and underdog. This, however, is no NCAA tournament, where Cinderella stories are the stock in trade.

In golf, parity isn’t measured by ranking points, not when it comes to the big league’s only head-to-head tilt.


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The best example of this came when Henrik Stenson became the highest-ranked player (No. 3) to drop his Day 1 match, a 19-hole bout that went to John Senden; while No. 67 Ben Martin, the lowest-ranked player in the field, edged Matt Kuchar, 1 up, thanks to a timely hole-in-one at the 17th hole.

“When you’re playing the best 64 players in the world it’s not like you’ll have an easy match,” Martin said.

Even Jason Day, No. 7 in the world and this week’s defending champion, wasn’t immune to match play’s capricious ways, dropping his opening game to No. 50 Charley Hoffman, 4 and 3.

“There were a ton of upsets already from what I’ve seen,” Day said. “Again, no one’s a favorite here in formats like this. You really have to go out and win that match and try and get through to the next round. There’s obviously favorites, but you have to be cautious about it.”

What was supposed to be different this year was the urgency that comes with the old one-and-done format previously used at the World Golf Championship.

Officials changed the format this year to allow for three days of round-robin play, similar to the World Cup, which would assure at least three days of play for all 64.

But as players began doing the math and figuring the various permutations, the liberation of round-robin play began to clear like the marine layer that blanketed Harding Park earlier this week.

Etched into the faces of many of those who ended up on the wrong side of the win/loss column on Wednesday was a much different reality. Although they weren’t packing for a flight out of town, as has been the case for the last 16 years, first-round losers now face two days of diminishing returns.

Consider Justin Rose’s plight. The Englishman dropped a 3-and-2 decision to Marc Leishman on Wednesday and will likely need to win his next two group matches – on Thursday he plays Anirban Lahiri, who won, and Ryan Palmer, who lost to Lahiri, on Day 3 – and will need some help from Leishman if he’s going to make it to Saturday’s Sweet 16.

“You're definitely swimming upstream if you lose that first match,” said Rory McIlroy, who easily defeated Jason Dufner, 5 and 4. “You lose that first one, and it is tough because all of a sudden you're not in control of your own destiny. You're looking at the other guys in your pool and seeing what they're doing, and you're not fully focused on yourself.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Friday’s round will be perfunctory. McIlroy’s victory combined with Billy Horschel’s 5-and-4 triumph over Brandt Snedeker sets the stage for a potential Day 3 showdown between the world No. 1 and the reigning FedEx Cup champion. If both players make it to Friday undefeated it would be a compelling match to decide who advances.

But then it seems just as likely that there will be more than a few players who will have already booked a tee time on Saturday at Harding Park before Day 3 play begins.

Martin, for instance, on Thursday will play Hunter Mahan, who easily beat Stephen Gallacher (7 and 6). If Martin, who would be the NCAA equivalent of Weber State in this tournament, beats Mahan he’s assured a spot in the Sweet 16, making Friday’s match a glorified practice round.

But as this tournament proves on an annual basis there are no upsets in professional golf at this level, regardless of the name on the standard or his status in the world ranking.

The new lesson on Wednesday that players and fans were quickly learning was that round-robin play is not the forgiving mulligan many may have thought.

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Aiken, Waring tied at Nordea; Olesen three back

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 5:45 pm

MOLNDAL, Sweden – Paul Waring of England and Thomas Aiken of South Africa share the lead, three shots clear of their rivals, after the third round of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour on Saturday.

Waring was tied for first place with Scott Jamieson after the second round and shot a 1-under 69.

While Jamieson (75) slipped down the leaderboard, Aiken caught up Waring after shooting 67 - despite three straight bogeys from No. 15. He bounced back by making birdie at the last.

Thorbjorn Olesen (67) and Marc Warren (66) are tied for third.

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Koepka: 'Surreal' Woods waited to say congrats at PGA

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:47 pm

Brooks Koepka was moved by the respect shown when Tiger Woods waited for a half hour at scoring last Sunday to congratulate Koepka for his PGA Championship victory at Bellerive.

While Koepka stands as an example of the new athletes Woods has attracted to the game, he laughs hearing people compare his body to an NFL player’s.

Those were among the observations Koepka shared Friday on "The Dan Patrick Show."

“That was surreal,” Koepka said of Woods waiting to congratulate him. “To hang around on 18, I wasn’t expecting it. It was probably the coolest gesture he could have done.”

Koepka credits Woods for drawing him to the game.

“He’s the reason I am playing,” Koepka said.

Koepka said playing with Woods in contention was a noisy experience that went beyond the roars Woods created making birdies in front of him.

“Even when he makes contact, you know what shot he’s hitting,” Koepka said. “That’s how loud people are.

“When they are putting [his score] up on the leaderboard, you hear it three holes away.”

About those NFL player comparisons, Koepka said his parents wouldn’t let him play football when he was growing up.

“I wasn’t big enough,” he said.

Koepka said he marveled meeting former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

“To be compared to them, it makes me laugh,” Koepka said. “I’m about the size of a cornerback, maybe a free safety.”

Koepka said he’s just over 6 feet tall and weighs 208 pounds.

“I saw Brian Urlacher give an interview,” Koepka said. “It was kind of funny. He said he was impressed at how big I wasn’t ... If I stand next to Justin Thomas, I’m going to look big. Golf doesn’t really have many big guys.”

Koepka told Patrick he is impressed at the athletes just now coming into golf.

“I see the young guys coming out of college,” Koepka said. “They are bombing it past me. They hit it so far, they are leaving me in the dust. It’s hard to think of, because I’ve been one of the longest hitters on tour.”

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McIlroy skipping first FedExCup playoff event

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:19 pm

Rory McIlroy committed to playing the FedExCup Playoffs opener at The Northern Trust, the PGA Tour announced after The Open Championship last month.

But McIlroy left the PGA Championship last week saying he might need to skip the opener to regroup, and that’s just what he is doing.

McIlroy wasn’t on The Northern Trust field list published Friday on the PGA Tour’s website.

“I need to assess where I'm at,” McIlroy said leaving Bellerive last week. “I think the best thing for me to do right now is just sort of take a couple days off, reflect on what I need to do going forward.

“The best thing might be to take that first FedExCup week off and work on my game and come back, hopefully, in a better place for Boston.”

McIlroy also skipped the FedExCup opener in 2015, choosing to make his start in the playoffs at Boston that year. It appears he will do the same this year.

“Historically, the first FedEx playoff event hasn't been my best event of the four,” McIlroy said. “I've played well in Boston. I've played pretty well in the other two.”

McIlroy left Bellerive saying he would do some work on his game and see if he felt ready for the playoffs opener as part of a run of big events leading into the Ryder Cup.

“There's a lot of room for improvement,” McIlroy said. “My swing really hasn't been where I want it to be. It was pretty good at the start of the year. I had a couple of months to work on it, but it's just sort of regressed as the season went on and you start to play tournaments, you start to fall back into some of the habits that you don't want to fall back into."

McIlroy has won once over the last two seasons – at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March – but he has given himself other chances this year with some frustrating finishes. Overall, he has five finishes of third or better in 2018. He got himself in the final pairing with Patrick Reed at the Masters but stumbled to a T-5 finish. He tied for second at The Open last month.

“Inconsistency with the swing has been the big area,” McIlroy said. “If you look at my statistics, especially with approach play on my irons, and even my driving, even though it's been OK, there's been a two-way miss, with sort of everything throughout the bag, and that obviously isn't a good thing. So that's something I need to work on.”

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Watch: Wagner saves season with walk-off eagle dunk

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 18, 2018, 2:45 am

Johnson Wagner kept his FedExCup Playoff hopes alive on Friday at the Wyndham Championship ... and he did it in dramatic fashion.

Needing a birdie on his final hole of the day to make the cut on the number, Johnson used a 9-iron from 153 yards out to dunk his approach for eagle to get inside the cut line.

Johnson's eagle at the last gave him a 66 for the day and earned him two more rounds to try and get inside the FedExCup top 125 for next week's start of the postseason, The Northern Trust.