Johnson, Spieth, Reed making Match Play look easy

By Ryan LavnerMarch 26, 2016, 12:35 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Is your head still spinning from all of the points and the playoffs, the standings and the scenarios?

At least Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson and Patrick Reed have made it easy on us: Three days, three matches, three wins … and they’ve trailed for a total of one hole.

Friday at the WGC-Dell Match Play was all about survival, but it turned into another stress-free round for Spieth, Johnson and Reed.

Spieth, the hometown favorite and No. 1 overall seed, disposed of friend and rival Justin Thomas, 3 and 2, to punch his ticket to the round of 16.

Johnson enjoyed another blowout – this time a 4-and-3 victory over Shane Lowry – that left enough time to scout the last three holes.  

But it was Reed who starred on the third and final day of group play. Playing in one of the four winner-take-all matches, Reed turned the day’s most-anticipated duel into a rout, thumping Phil Mickelson, 5 and 4, to remain unbeaten.

Neither Spieth (46 holes) nor Reed (47) have trailed at any point this week; Johnson lost the first hole during his second-round match against Martin Kaymer – and then went on to win, 8 and 6.

Reed was asked if it’s felt as easy as he’s made it look.

“I wish,” he said with a laugh.

On Friday, he jumped all over Mickelson after Lefty butchered the first two holes to fall into an early hole. Staked to a quick lead, Reed poured it on, making birdie on the fourth and fifth holes, and then eagling No. 6 after dropping a 44-footer. Six up at the turn, Reed holed a 95-yard wedge shot to provide the exclamation point.

All Mickelson could do was walk up to Reed and give him a fist-bump.

Reed’s three days here have reinforced the belief that he’s one of the best match-play performers in the world, his skills honed at Augusta State – where he went 6-0 in match play during a back-to-back NCAA title run – and then strengthened two years ago at Gleneagles, when he posted a 3-0-1 record and was one of the few bright spots during another U.S. loss.

“I relish every time I get to go in this format and go up against one guy,” he said. “It’s something that I love and something I’m pretty good at – just going out and getting in a dogfight.” 

WGC-Dell Match Play: Full coverage | Bracket

Reed’s dominance has overshadowed the superb play of Johnson, who has made such quick work of his competition this week that he played the 16th, 17th and 18th holes Friday afternoon for practice because he hasn’t needed to play them during a match.

His stellar play isn’t a surprise – he’s coming off a top-10 last week at Bay Hill and Austin CC, this event’s new home, is a strategic Pete Dye layout that rewards steady golf and strong iron play, both of which are Johnson’s strengths.

That’s what makes his Round of 16 match against Rory McIlroy all the more compelling, because it’s a fun clash of styles.

McIlroy, the defending champion, is riding a 10-match winning streak in this event, but he has needed to rally in each of his first three matches here. The latest comeback came Friday against Kevin Na, in a win-or-go-home match that went 20 holes and ended when Na hooked his tee shot into the hazard.

“It’s a sigh of relief,” McIlroy said.

Spieth was pleased just to get past Thomas, his college rival and one of his best friends on Tour.

“We were in a tricky situation,” Spieth said. “I know he wanted to beat me pretty bad. And that made it a tough match for us.”

No one has played fewer holes this week than Jason Day, a dose of good fortune after he injured his back during his opening match. He played only six holes Friday, with Paul Casey conceding the match because of a stomach virus.

“I’ll take it,” Day said with a smile.

It's the first time since 2006 that the top three seeds reached the round of 16.

The final day of pool play wasn’t as chaotic as anticipated. There were only four sudden-death playoffs to determine a group winner, and only seven matches of significance reached the 18th hole.

Eight of the 16 top seeds advanced to the weekend, including each member of the so-called Big 3. The biggest surprise was 63rd-seeded Patton Kizzire, who defeated Emiliano Grillo, 2 up, to emerge from a stacked group that included big-hitting Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes. A late addition to the tournament, the PGA Tour rookie is only the fourth player in the last decade seeded 61st or worse who made the round of 16.

Saturday begins the knockout stage of the tournament, as the Match Play reverts to its simplest form: Win or go home.

“It only gets harder from here,” Reed cautioned.

Unless, of course, he never trails.

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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray

On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta

On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.