Match Play offers unique test two weeks before Masters

By Ryan LavnerMarch 22, 2016, 8:28 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – So it doesn’t sound like Adam Scott was glued to his television watching the two-hour selection show for this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

He barely noticed his draw.

“I don’t think it really matters who’s in your group here,” he said Tuesday. “Every match is going to be tough, and I feel like I’ve got the ability to beat anyone in this field, so that’s why I think I didn’t have a reaction to my group.”

Scott might be the hottest player in the world, with two wins and a runner-up in his last four starts, but he certainly has a score to settle in this event.

Heading into Wednesday’s first-round bout with Thomas Pieters, Scott has lost six consecutive WGC matches dating to 2010. Last year, he went 0-3 in the round-robin format, which is odd, because he was a formidable match-play opponent early in his career, reaching the third round three of the four years he played at La Costa (2002-05).

“Once I left La Costa, I think my game left, as well,” he said with a smile. “I’d like to turn it around because I don’t really want to get a beatdown this week and go home Friday.”

WGC-Dell Match Play: Full coverage | Bracket

Much like World Cup soccer, players will face each of the other three members in their group during pool play, with the top point earner advancing to the single-elimination knockout stage on the weekend.

Opinions on the move away from the traditional bracket to a round-robin format remain divided.

Some prefer this setup because they are guaranteed three days on-site instead of possibly getting bounced after only a few hours. In theory, this system is fairer and rewards those who are playing the best, rather than the guy who simply catches fire at the right time. And no one will argue with a few extra reps with the Masters now only two weeks away.

Others contend that pool play robs the event of its drama and intrigue, especially early. Match play is so compelling because of its win-or-go-home ethos, but the sense of urgency is removed when a loss on Wednesday or Thursday doesn’t necessarily doom a player’s chances.

“It can’t hurt your confidence coming here,” Jason Day said, “but it can definitely give you confidence the longer you stay around this week.”

This year’s edition of the Match Play features two new wrinkles.

The most obvious is the move to Austin Country Club, an arrangement that will run through at least 2019. The Pete Dye design is a strategic track that forces players to position their shots, a task that will be made even more difficult with wind gusts expected up to 30 mph during pool play. The back nine, in particular, should produce plenty of pyrotechnics.

The second is a tweak to the scoring. None of the round-robin matches will go extra holes, with each player receiving a half point if the match is tied after regulation. This should help cut down on the number of lame-duck matches Friday, but there still will be a few meaningless matches between players with 0-2 records. That’s the scenario that led Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez to go nose-to-nose last year; a few players felt as though they were trotted out and embarrassed, and emotions can run high when only pride and a few FedEx Cup points are at stake.

The event’s new position on the schedule only heightens the anticipation for what is already one of the most fun weeks of the year. Just 11 days before the start of Masters week, the Match Play provides one final tuneup for players like Scott, Day and Rory McIlroy.

Not that a few of them need it.

Scott and Day already appear to be in peak form, having combined for three wins during the Florida swing, but the Match Play might be just what McIlroy needs at the moment.

The defending champion has a stellar record in head-to-head play, boasting an 18-6 record in this event while going 2-0-1 in Ryder Cup singles. But he is coming off an uneven trip through the Sunshine State, with a missed cut (Honda), a blown 54-hole lead (Doral) and a six-double performance (Bay Hill) in the past four weeks. He blamed a poor attitude for his inconsistent play, and the temporary move to 18-hole match play could help put him in the proper frame of mind – after all, one blowup hole won’t cost him this week.

“I just need to beat the person that’s in front of me,” he said.

For others, the Match Play will serve as an audition of sorts.

Young Americans Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Smylie Kaufman and Brooks Koepka all have ambitions of playing on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and they can be sure captain Davis Love III will be watching with keen interest. On the European side, Matt Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan and Thomas Pieters hope to follow Danny Willett’s lead and use the WGC as a springboard for a huge season.

“You get to see the guys’ games under pressure in a different kind of way,” Willett said. “We all know that anybody out there, the top 64, can win. They’re in this because they’re a great golfer. All that stands in the way each day is one person at a time.”

Assuming, of course, that they even bother to notice their opponent.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 146th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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Knox relishes round with 'mythical figure' Woods

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Russell Knox was expecting the worst and hoping for the best Thursday at The Open.

Playing with Tiger Woods tends to have that effect.

The native Scot received a treat earlier this week when he saw his name on the tee sheet alongside his boyhood idol, Woods.

“Felt good out there, but obviously my swing, it was just like I had too much tension,” Knox said after an opening 73. “I just wasn’t letting it go as normal. First round with Tiger, I expected to feel a little bit different. The way I felt was better than the way I swung.”

Knox said that he was nervous playing alongside Woods, a player he’d only encountered on the range. “He’s almost like a mythical figure,” he said.

But after a while, he settled into the rhythm of the round at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I thought it would be worse,” he said, “I feel like I should know what I’m doing. It’s cool playing with Tiger, but I’ve got to get over that. I’m here to win, not just enjoy my walk around the course.”

Knox probably had more interaction with Woods than he anticipated, if only because the third member of the group, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, keeps to himself because of the language barrier.

“It’s kind of a blur,” Knox said. “It’s like, Oh, I’m chatting away with Tiger here like normal. I don’t even remember what I was saying.”

There have been countless stories from this year as the next generation of players – guys who grew up watching Woods dominate the sport – get paired with Woods for the first time.

It was no less special for Knox on Thursday.

“It’s nice for him to say things like that,” Woods said, “and we enjoyed playing with each other. Hopefully we’ll play a little bit better tomorrow.”

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Rain expected to shower Carnoustie Friday morning

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – By the end of the day Friday, we’ll be able to determine which side of The Open draw ended the first two rounds at Carnoustie with more favorable conditions. With rain expected for most of Friday morning, it seems those who played early/late may be more pleased.

According to, there is a 75 percent chance of rain beginning at 2 a.m. local time Friday here in Scotland. That percentage vaults up to 95 percent by 7 a.m., with the first tee time scheduled for 6:35. At 11, the number drops to 55 percent. After 2 p.m., the percentage chances of rain are 25 percent and below for the remainder of the day.

Temperatures during the day are expected to be from the low 50s to the low 60s and winds will vary between 14-18 mph, again per

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

This is The Open’s official weather report for the weekend:

Saturday: A dull start with some drizzle possible. Staying cloudy for much of the day but gradually becoming brighter with a chance of some sunny intervals during the afternoon and evening. Winds light and variable in direction but should predominantly settle in to a SSE 8-12mph during the afternoon. Max temp 20C (68F).

Sunday: Often cloudy but mainly dry. A better chance of some decent sunny spells compared to Saturday. Most likely the windiest day of the Championship; SW 12-18mph with gusts 20-25mph. Feeling warm, especially in any sunshine with a max temp of 23C (73F).

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Bandaged Woods 5 back after even-par 71

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 8:38 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods arrived Thursday with therapeutic tape on the back of his neck.

Carnoustie’s back nine inflicted even more pain.

Playing in the most difficult conditions of the day, Woods’ progress was stalled by two late bogeys as he settled for an even-par 71 that left him five shots off the lead at The Open.

“I played better than what the score indicates,” he said. “It certainly could have been a little bit better.”

Woods created a stir when he showed up with black kinesiology tape on his neck. Afterward, he said that his neck has been bugging him “for a while” and that Thursday was merely the first time that the tape was visible.

“Everyone acts like this is the first time I’ve been bandaged up,” he said, smiling. “I’ve been doing this for years.”

Woods said that the discomfort didn’t really affect his swing, other than a few shots “here and there.” It didn’t seem to affect his score, either, as he went out in 2 under before a few stumbles on the back nine.

On the fast, baked-out turf, he played conservatively off the tee, using driver only once and 3-wood just twice. Apparently he didn’t need the added distance, not with his 6-iron traveling 240 yards. He tried to play to his spots, even if it routinely left him more than 200 yards for his approach.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

That’s the strategy he employed at Hoylake in 2006, where he hit driver just once and captured the third of his Open titles. Despite some of the similarities in firmness, Woods said that Carnoustie presents a different challenge off the tee.

“These fairways are very small,” he said. “They’re hard to hit right now. They’re so fast, and they’re so moundy.”

Finding the fairway wasn’t the chief problem for Woods on Day 1, however. He missed just four fairways but found only 11 greens.

More damaging to his score was his play on the par 5s. Despite having only an 8-iron in, he failed to birdie each of the two par 5s and then bogeyed Nos. 10, 13 and 15 to squander his early momentum.

Though the draw here won’t be a significant factor – or at least not like in recent years, with a wide range in scores from morning to afternoon – it’s clear that Woods (in game 47 of 52) encountered the most difficult of the conditions Thursday, with the wind gusting to 20 mph and the fairways running even faster after another sun-splashed afternoon.

Still, his opening 71 was one of the better scores in the late wave.

“He hit it good,” said playing partner Russell Knox. “He plotted his way around, which I expected him to do, and he was very conservative off the tee. It’s kind of fun to watch him do that, to be honest.”

Even more fun would be a major with Woods in contention.

He hasn’t broken par in the opening round of his last eight majors. Indeed, for Woods, these slow starts have been the real pain in the neck.