Monday Scramble: Playing favorites at the PGA

By Ryan LavnerAugust 7, 2017, 2:30 pm

Hideki Matsuyama bags another big title, the PGA Championship takes shape, Steph Curry debuts, I.K. Kim earns major redemption, the Solheim Cup teams are finalized and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

From our seat, at least, this has been one of the most memorable major seasons in years.

There was a long-awaited breakthrough (Sergio Garcia). A U.S. Open record (Justin Thomas). A 62 (Branden Grace). And a comeback for the ages (Jordan Spieth).

And now the game’s best head to Quail Hollow, a big ballpark that tends to produce drama and star-studded leaderboards.

At 24, Spieth can become the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam, but even if he misses out there’s reason to believe this PGA will be won by a mega-talent. Too many top players are in form, from Rory McIlroy to Matsuyama to Rickie Fowler to Dustin Johnson.

Here’s hoping there is a fitting end to this unforgettable major season. 

1. By now we know that Matsuyama has high standards. There’s no other way to describe his one-hand follow-throughs and looks of disgust after iron shots that still plop 15 feet from the cup.

But this was a completely different type of fake-out.

CBS’ on-course reporter Dottie Pepper said on air Sunday that Matsuyama’s pre-round range session was one of the worst she’d ever seen. “It was so rough,” she said.

Not surprisingly, Matsuyama concurred: “I was nervous all the way around, because I really wasn’t sure of my swing today.”

So, of course, he went out in 30. So, of course, he birdied his last three holes. So, of course, he shot a course-record-tying 61, the lowest final round ever by a WGC winner.

2. Will someone other than Matsuyama and DJ win a WGC event? They’ve won the last five, dating to last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Matsuyama’s two WGC titles (HSBC Champions in Shanghai) have been won by a whopping 12 shots.

The 25-year-old Japanese star now has six victories and three runners-up in his last 20 starts. Scorching.

3. Matsuyama has joined the conversation for PGA Tour Player of the Year, and the winner should emerge over the next six weeks.

Right now, there are four candidates, in this order: Spieth, DJ, Matsuyama and Thomas. Of that group, only Spieth has won a major this year, so he gets the edge.

But Matsuyama or DJ could become the frontrunner if they win this week’s PGA. That’d give them a major along with multiple WGC titles and a regular Tour victory – or a better résumé than Spieth’s.

If they don’t win at Quail Hollow, however, then Spieth would take the lead heading into the playoffs, and it’d take a big postseason push to dethrone him. 

4. Here are one man’s favorites for the PGA Championship:

1. Rory McIlroy: Finally in form and pounding his driver as he heads to Quail Hollow, one of his personal playgrounds, where he has two wins and a playoff loss. (A rainy forecast plays into his hands, as well.)

2. Hideki Matsuyama: No longer trending, he's a serious force. Big Sunday at Firestone, and top-15s in every major so far this year.

3. Jordan Spieth: Won’t be fazed by the Grand Slam pressure. A bigger concern is whether he can find the fairway at a course that should have thick, juicy rough.

4. Rickie Fowler: Form has dipped a bit over the past two months, but he’s a former winner at Quail Hollow whose game is perfectly suited for a shootout PGA.  

5. Brooks Koepka: Has only played twice since Erin Hills, but both of those starts went for top-20s. Like Rory, his driver is a big weapon.

6. Dustin Johnson: The model of consistency has been erratic ever since he slipped before the Masters. Bummer. The world No. 1 is capable of turning it on at any moment, but a top-10 in Canada was his only notable result in the past three months. 

7. Jason Day: Has finished in the top 2 in each of the past two PGAs, and he’s beginning to show signs of life after a quiet year.  

8. Jon Rahm: Was undone by one bad round at Bridgestone. If he keeps his driver on the planet, he should be in the mix.  

9. Sergio Garcia: Shook off the post-wedding rust with a pedestrian showing at Firestone. Here is one last chance to make this an epic year.

10. Charley Hoffman: Remarkably, he has seven missed cuts in eight career PGA starts, but never has he performed this well, or this consistently. His third-place showing at Firestone was his fourth top-10 in his last six starts, and he has finished 22nd or better in the first three majors of the year. 

5. A reminder that Quail Hollow will look different than its last appearance on the world stage, during the 2016 Wells Fargo.

In an ambitious 90-day project, four holes on the front nine were redone, all of the greens were re-grassed (to a different strand of Bermuda) and thousands of trees were removed.

Among the biggest changes:

• The first hole used to be a benign, 418-yard par 4. Now, it’s a dogleg-right par 4, and the longest on the course, at 524 yards.

• The second hole was a 178-yard par 3. Now, it’s a 452-yard par 4.

• The fourth hole used to be a 483-yard par 4. Now, it’s a brand-new, 184-yard par 3.

• The fifth hole used to be a 570-yard par 5. Now, it’s a dogleg-right, 449-yard par 4.

• Bunkers were also added to the 11th hole, and the green pushed back. 

It adds up to a par-71 layout of about 7,600 yards.

6. This week, the PGA of America is expected to confirm its long-rumored move of the PGA Championship from August to May, beginning in either 2019 at Bethpage Black or 2020 at Harding Park.

This makes sense for many reasons, but mostly because it allows PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to shorten the season. Under the proposed changes, the Tour Championship would wrap up on Labor Day weekend, before the NFL kicks off. It would also reduce the congestion every four years with the Olympics.

The PGA has been played in August all but twice since 1969, so the move will take some getting used to. But so did the FedExCup playoffs. A decade later, it’s an integral part of the schedule. 

7. With all due respect to the World Golf Championship event and the fourth women’s major, the biggest happening last week, at least for two days, was the Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic, where NBA superstar Steph Curry made his long-awaited debut.

Curry missed the cut by 11 shots, after consecutive rounds of 74, but that mattered little. He was competitive and engaging. He was grateful for the opportunity, but he also left with a better understanding of what separates golf’s minor leagues and everyday amateurs.

That’s all that could be hoped for from this experiment.

8. Curry attracted big crowds at TPC Stonebrae and casual sports fans online, many of them pointing out on social media that this was the first time they’d ever checked out a Tour leaderboard. Maybe those same fans didn’t stick around until the end of the event, won by Martin Piller, but at least now there’s more awareness of the Tour’s equivalent of the D-league.

The Web will always be starved for attention, at least until they revamp the schedule (perhaps to a Sunday-Wednesday format, in bigger markets) and boost the purses. But these types of one-off definitely can’t hurt.  

9. For those who whined that Curry – one of the tournament’s UNRESTRICTED sponsor exemptions – was taking up a spot: He finished three shots behind Sam Ryder, who won two weeks ago and is No. 2 on the money list, and two back of Aaron Wise, the 2016 NCAA champion and future PGA Tour star.

Oh, and by the way, Colt McNealy (Maverick’s brother) earned the other unrestricted sponsor exemption, after he took medalist honors at a Junior Tour of Northern California qualifier. McNealy finished last, at 21 over par – or 13 shots worse than Curry.

This type of scenario plays out every week … only this time, the spot went to one of the most famous athletes on the planet. No complaints here.

10. With a few fortunate breaks and a red-hot putter, I.K. Kim built a huge lead and then held on for a two-shot victory at the Women’s British Open.

It was the LPGA’s feel-good story of the year, after Kim missed a 14-inch putt to win the 2012 ANA Inspiration. (She later lost in a playoff.) That’s a massive mental hurdle to overcome. 

Think about it: Kim went to sleep with a six-shot lead Saturday night, but she also knew that she’d been close before, 14 inches away, and lost it. Her peers knew it. The fans watching knew it.

And she still got it done. It’s hard to find a more redemptive performance this year. 

11. It was written in this space multiple times that the LPGA was primed for an exciting year, with Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn poised to dominate not just this season but for the foreseeable future. It hasn’t panned out that way. At all.

Ko hasn't won in 13 months, and she hasn’t finished in the top 10 in her past six majors (and was outside the top 30 for her third consecutive major). Jutanugarn has won once, but her missed cut at Kingsbarns was her third in a row in golf’s biggest events.

Ko has seemingly changed everything over the past couple of years – swing coaches, caddies, equipment – and continues to plummet in the world rankings, while Jutanugarn is once again dealing with a balky right shoulder and confidence issues.

There’s one major left, and so there’s time to salvage their lost seasons. But they’ve shown no signs that turnarounds are imminent. 

12. The top 10 players in the U.S. Solheim Cup standings entering the Women’s British Open ended up making the team after the final qualifying event.

With a team full of veterans (save for U.S. Women’s Open champion Danielle Kang), captain Juli Inkster opted for a pair of rookies as her wildcard picks: Angel Yin and Austin Ernst.

Yin has been an exciting newcomer and a no-brainer pick for Inkster, after racking up five top-15s. But the captain played it too safe with the Ernst selection.

Ernst was next in line in the points standings, but that was based largely on what she accomplished last year and early this spring. She doesn’t have a top-10 in her last 13 starts. Frankly, she just isn’t playing well enough right now to warrant a spot.

Still, Inkster said: “I just felt like last time (in 2015), she was on the outside looking in and I had to tell her no. This year, she was the same, kind of on the outside looking in. I just felt she deserved a chance to see what she can do.”


Inkster should have taken Nelly Korda, the 19-year-old sister of Jessica and a player who figures to be a fixture on these teams for the next decade-plus. She already has five top-20s and would have a ready-made pairing with her sister (who is currently battling an arm injury). 

European captain Annika Sorenstam filled out her team with Anna Nordqvist, Caroline Masson, Emily Pedersen and Madelene Sagstrom.

These matches aren’t won on paper, however, and that’s a good thing for the Europeans. They would be massive underdogs. 

That Curry shot 74 in his Tour debut surprised many ... and probably even Curry himself. player Dawie van der Walt was so convinced that it was a fluke, in fact, that he told ESPN that he would eat his golf bag if Curry broke 80 in the second round.

We all know what happened next, so van der Walt followed through: 

This week's award winners ... 

One Way to End a Winless Drought: Chris Stroud. Entering Reno 0-for-289 in his Tour career, he recorded nine birdies and an eagle in regulation (including on the 72nd hole to force a playoff), then made a pair of birdies in overtime to vanquish rookie Richy Werenski. Stout. 

Everyone Digs the Long Ball: Rory. Fifty-two of his 56 drives last week traveled 300 yards or more. Have mercy.

Don’t Forget About: Phil Mickelson. Sure, he has looked a bit lost since splitting with longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay, but Lefty has a ridiculously good record at Quail Hollow: Seven top-5s and 11 top-12s in 13 appearances. 

Best Player-Caddie Exchange of the Week: Charley Hoffman and Brett Waldman. Sizing up his second shot on the 667-yard par-5 16th, Hoffman overruled his bagman and went for the green in two shots, saying, “I’m three back with three to play. I’m trying to win a golf tournament. I’m tired of finishing second.” Alas, he made par and finished third. 

Better Luck in 2019: Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel. The Solheim Cup stalwarts were passed over after poor seasons in 2017 (though Creamer has played better in the past month). It’ll be the first cup without them in a decade.  

As If The Walker Cup Race Couldn’t Get Any More Crowded: Norman Xiong. He nearly blew a huge lead on the back nine, but the Oregon sophomore (and NCAA Freshman of the Year) won the Western Amateur in 22 holes. The condensed schedule makes the Western the most difficult amateur event to win, and Xiong earned medalist honors and breezed through the match-play portion. That should be enough to put him on the U.S. squad.  

No Good Very Bad Luck: Stewart Hagestad. The mid-am standout apparently had his clubs stolen out of his car – about a week before the start of the U.S. Amateur. Fortunately, a few equipment companies stepped in to offer assistance. (Nice work, TaylorMade.) 

Nothing Lasts Forever: Pat Perez. His 72-hole scoring record at the Junior PGA held up for 24 years, but Perez's mark was shattered last week by Akshay Bhatia, a 15-year-old left-hander from North Carolina who shot 22 under (including a 61 in the second round). 

Too Soon: Spieth and Matt Kuchar. The two protagonists from Birkdale were paired again Sunday at Firestone, which not nearly as much at stake. (They shot matching 68s.) Wonder if they had anything to talk about? 

Said No One Ever: Ted Bishop. Yeah, um, some opinions are best kept to yourself:

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Rose. Winless since the Olympics last summer, he still has racked up five top-5s since Rio. Three of his four career top-5s at Firestone have come since 2012, but he threw up a clunker last week, breaking par only once and tying for 63rd. Sigh. 

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New dad Garcia removes shoes, wins match

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:48 am

AUSTIN, Texas – In one of the day’s most explosive matches, Sergio Garcia rolled in an 8-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to defeat Shubhankar Sharma, 1 up, at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

The duo halved just nine holes on Day 1 at Austin Country Club, with Garcia going from 2 up through four holes to 1 down with five holes to play.

But the Spaniard rallied with five birdies over his final eight holes and pushed his record to 20-17-1 in the Match Play. He also gave himself his best chance to advance out of pool play since the format began in 2015.

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The victory continued what has already been a memorable week for Garcia, whose wife, Angela, gave birth to the couple’s first child last Wednesday.

“I already feel like I’m a winner after what happened on Wednesday,” Garcia said. “Obviously, it's something that we're so, so happy and proud of and enjoying it as much as possible.”

The highlight of Garcia’s round on Wednesday came at the 12th hole when he took a drop on a cart path. After considering his options, he removed his shoes and hit his approach from 212 yards to 29 feet for a two-putt birdie to halve the hole.

“I have spikes. So if I don't take my shoes off, I'm going to slip. It's not the kind of shot that you want to slip,” Garcia said. “I had tried it a couple of times on practice swings and I was already slipping a little bit. So I thought I would just take my shoes off, try to get a little bit in front of the hole and it came out great.”

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On a wild Wednesday, DJ, Rory, Phil saved by the pool

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 12:39 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Call it black Wednesday, but then the one-and-done aspect of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was dulled three years ago with the introduction of round-robin play that assures every player at least three matches in pool play.

Otherwise Wednesday at Austin Country Club would go down as one of the championship’s darkest hours for the top of the dance card. In order, world No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson dropped his Day 1 match, 3 and 1, to world No. 56 Bernd Wiesberger; last week’s winner Rory McIlroy lost to PGA Tour rookie Peter Uihlein, 2 and 1, and Phil Mickelson, the winner of the last WGC in Mexico, dropped a 3-and-2 decision to Charles Howell III.

All told, 11 lower-seeded players pulled off “upsets” on Wednesday, although it’s widely held that the Match Play is more prone to these types of underdog performances than the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

But if it wasn’t March Madness, it was at the least March Mayhem, particularly for those who shuffled around Austin Country Club in a state of mild confusion.

Although there were plenty of matches that went according to plan – with top-seeded players Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama and Sergio Garcia all winning – it was still a tough day for chalk with three of the top 10 players in the world ranking either losing or halving (world No. 3 Jon Rahm halved his duel with Keegan Bradley) their matches.

At least McIlroy made things interesting after finding himself 5 down through 13 holes. The Northern Irishman played his last six holes in 5 under par to push the match to the 17th hole, but Uihlein closed out the bout with a par.

“If he birdies seven straight on you, hats off to him. It is what it is,” Uihlein said of McIlroy’s late surge. “I felt like if I just kind of kept giving myself a chance, I didn't want to give him any holes. He made me earn it, so hats off to it.”

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Johnson couldn’t say the same thing.

After not trailing in any match on his way to victory at last year’s Match Play, Johnson hit a ball in the water, two out of bounds (on the same hole, no less) and began to fade when he made a double bogey-5 at the 11th hole. Although scoring is always skewed at the Match Play because of conceded putts, Johnson was listed at 9 over through 17 holes before his day came to a merciful end.

“We both didn't have a great day. I think we only made three birdies between us, which is not a lot out here,” Wiesberger said. “Obviously it wasn't his best day. It wasn't the best of my days. I think we both have to do a little bit of work this afternoon.”

Although not as scrappy as Johnson’s round, Mickelson has also seen better days. Lefty made just a single birdie and played 17 holes in even par to lose just his second match in pool play.

But then this event hasn’t exactly been kind to Lefty, who has advanced to the weekend just twice in 13 starts.

“I was fortunate today, obviously, to get past him,” said Howell, who is the second-lowest seeded player to advance out of pool play when he did it in 2017 as the 61st player in the field. “But with this pod play the way it goes now, you never know. You've got to keep playing good. Last WGC we had, he won. So he's never out of it.”

That will be the solace those high-profile players who find themselves on the wrong side of the round-robin ledger now cling to. There is a path back.

Since pool play began, just four players have lost their Day 1 matches and went on to win their group. One of those players is Johnson, who lost to Robert Streb on Wednesday in 2016 but still advanced to the quarterfinals.

But if that helps ease the sting for those who now embrace the Match Play mulligan, it did little to quiet the crowds on what turned out to be a wild Wednesday.

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Match-by-match: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

By Will GrayMarch 22, 2018, 12:22 am

Here is how things played out on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play:

Group 1: (52) Bernd Wiesberger def. (1) Dustin Johnson, 3 and 1: Down goes the defending champ. Johnson never trailed in any match en route to victory last year, and he won five holes against Wiesberger. But that wasn't enough as the Austrian turned an all-square affair into an upset victory by winning three straight from Nos. 15-17.

Group 1: (32) Kevin Kisner vs. (38) Adam Hadwin, halved: This was a tight one throughout, as neither player held more than a 1-up lead. Kisner held a lead for much of the back nine, but Hadwin birdied the 17th to draw even and the match was halved when they both made par on the final hole.

Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas def. (60) Luke List, 2 up: In perhaps the most entertaining match of the morning, Thomas edged List in a rematch of last month's Honda Classic playoff despite List spending much of the round putting with a wedge after bending his putter. Thomas was 3 up with four to play before List pushed the match the distance.

Group 2: (21) Francesco Molinari def. (48) Patton Kizzire, 3 and 1: Molinari turned a tight match into a victory thanks to a few timely errors from Kizzire. Pars on Nos. 14 and 17 were good enough to win the hole for Molinari, with the latter sealing his victory and moving him a step closer to a potential winner-take-all battle with Thomas on Friday.

Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm vs. (63) Keegan Bradley, halved: Rahm was a runner-up at this event last year, but he got all he could handle from one of the last men in the field. Bradley was 2 up with three holes to play, but bogeys on two of the final three holes opened the door for the Spaniard to escape with a draw.

Group 3: (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat def. (43) Chez Reavie, 3 and 2: Aphibarnrat took the lead in his group with a victory over Reavie during which he never trailed. The globetrotting Thai held a 2-up lead at the turn and closed things out with a birdie on No. 16. Reavie won only two holes all day.

Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth def. (49) Charl Schwartzel, 2 and 1: The top seed in the group scored an early point in a battle between former Masters champs. Spieth never trailed and took control of the match with three straight wins on Nos. 12-14.

Group 4: (19) Patrick Reed def. (34) Haotong Li, 3 and 2: Reed's much-anticipated match with Spieth is still two days away, but he dispatched of Li in his opener by winning the opening hole and never trailing the rest of the way. Li got to within one of Reed after 10 holes but the American won three of the next five to separate.

Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama def. (53) Yusaku Miyazato, 2 and 1: This all-Japanese battle went to the group's top seed, as Matsuyama poured in a birdie on the par-3 17th to close out the match. Miyazato got off to a strong start, holding a 2-up lead through six holes, before Matsuyama turned the tables with two birdies over the next three holes.

Group 5: (46) Cameron Smith def. (30) Patrick Cantlay, 2 up: Smith never trailed in the match, but it turned into a closer contest than it appeared when the Aussie held a 3-up lead with four holes to play. Uihlein won the next two holes, but he couldn't get any closer as Smith earned a critical victory as he looks to earn a Masters spot by staying in the top 50 in the world rankings after this week.

Group 6: (57) Peter Uihlein def. (6) Rory McIlroy, 2 and 1: McIlroy won last week at Bay Hill, but he's now playing catch up after a decisive loss to Uihlein. The American held a 5-up lead before McIlroy reeled off five straight birdies to cut the lead to 2-up, but a par from Uihlein on the 17th hole sealed the upset.

Group 6: (18) Brian Harman vs. (44) Jhonattan Vegas, halved: This was a tight match throughout, with Harman clinging to a 1-up lead for most of the back nine. But Vegas rolled in a birdie putt on the final green to salvage half a point, much to the delight of the Austin galleries who were out supporting the former Longhorn.

Group 7: (7) Sergio Garcia def. (62) Shubankhar Sharma, 1 up: Garcia and Sharma took turns leading this match throughout the day, with the Indian holding a 1-up advantage through 13 holes. But Garcia won the next hole to square the match, then earned a full point with a birdie on the 18th hole in his first competitive start since becoming a father last week.

Group 7: (20) Xander Schauffele def. (41) Dylan Frittelli, 1 up: The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year got the best of the former Longhorn in a tight match that went the distance. Schauffele led for much of the afternoon before Frittelli drew level with wins on Nos. 14 and 15. But Schauffele won the next hole and held on from there.

Group 8: (8) Jason Day def. (56) James Hahn, 4 and 2: Day is a former winner of this event, and he separated from Hahn on the back nine to score an early point. Hahn offered a concession on No. 13 to fall 3 down, then conceded again on No. 16 to close the match.

Group 8: (25) Louis Oosthuizen def. (42) Jason Dufner, 1 up: Oosthuizen appeared poised for an easy point before Dufner rallied with three straight wins on Nos. 14-16 to square the match. But Oosthuizen regained a lead with a par on No. 17 and held on for a hard-fought victory.

Group 9: (58) Ian Poulter def. (9) Tommy Fleetwood, 3 and 2: The match between Englishman went to the veteran, as Poulter took his putter from the 2012 Ryder Cup out of the closet and put it to quick use. Fleetwood won only two holes during the match, none after the eighth hole, and he now faces the prospect of early elimination as the group's top seed.

Group 9: (33) Kevin Chappell def. (26) Daniel Berger, 3 and 2: Chappell and Berger were Presidents Cup teammates in the fall, but the opener went to Chappell. Berger won the 13th hole to draw all square, but Chappell reeled off three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 in response to close out the match.

Group 10: (10) Paul Casey def. (51) Russell Henley, 1 up: Casey is making his first start since winning at Innisbrook, and he scored an early point after rallying back against Henley. The Englishman didn't lead in the match until the final hole, when Henley's tee shot found the hazard leading to an ill-timed concession.

Group 10: (45) Kyle Stanley def. (31) Matthew Fitzpatrick, 1 up: Stanley is making his first match play appearance since 2012, and he got off to a promising start by edging the Englishman. Fitzpatrick was 2 up with five holes to go, but Stanley won three holes the rest of the way including a birdie on the 18th hole to secure a full point.

Group 11: (64) Julian Suri def. (11) Marc Leishman, 3 and 2: Suri was the last man to get into the field following the withdrawal of Joost Luiten, but he's already on the board with an early point. Suri won each of the first two holes and never trailed in the match, closing out Leishman with a birdie on the par-5 16th.

Group 11: (35) Bubba Watson def. (23) Branden Grace, 5 and 3: Watson was absolutely unstoppable in the biggest rout of the day. The two-time Masters champ made seven birdies over his first nine holes, making the turn with a 6-up advantage. Grace never stood a chance.

Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton def. (55) Alexander Levy, 3 and 2: Hatton won the opening hole with a par and never trailed the rest of the way. Levy's win on the eighth hole proved to be his only victory of the day, as Hatton barely had to break a sweat after building a 3-up lead through five holes.

Group 12: (36) Brendan Steele def. (22) Charley Hoffman, 1 up: Steele never trailed in the match and at one point held a 4-up lead, but coming down the stretch it took everything he had to keep Hoffman at bay. Hoffman won four in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 13-17, but a par on the final hole was enough to give Steele the full point.

Group 13: (61) Kevin Na def. (13) Alex Noren, 4 and 2: The biggest upset from the early matches came here, as Na turned a close contest into a blowout. The two men were all square after 11 holes, but Na won three of the next four and then closed out the match when Noren conceded on the par-5 16th.

Group 13: (29) Tony Finau def. (39) Thomas Pieters, 2 and 1: Two of the longest hitters in the field squared off in this tilt, with Finau notching a full point despite losing two of the first three holes. The American birdied the 15th to take a 2-up lead, then closed out Pieters with a par on the 17th hole.

Group 14: (59) Charles Howell III def. (14) Phil Mickelson, 3 and 2: Mickelson is making his first start since his WGC win in Mexico, but he's now on the ropes after Howell put together a strong back nine that included three birdies in a four-hole stretch from Nos. 10-13 to take control of the match.

Group 14: (17) Rafael Cabrera-Bello def. (40) Satoshi Kodaira, 2 and 1: Cabrera-Bello made a run to the semifinals at this event two years ago, and he's off to another good start following a match in which he never trailed and lost only three holes. With the match tied through 11 holes, Cabrera-Bello's birdies on Nos. 12 and 13 proved pivotal.

Group 15: (15) Pat Perez vs. (50) Si Woo Kim, halved: The first match of the day ended up in a draw, as the top seed rallied from a deficit to salvage half a point. Kim won three of the first six holes and held a 3-up lead with seven holes to go, but Perez fought back with four birdies over the next six holes to draw even.

Group 15: (24) Gary Woodland vs. (37) Webb Simpson, halved: This group remains entirely up for grabs since nothing was decided on the opening day. Woodland took a 3-up lead at the turn, but Simpson rallied by winning four of the next seven holes, including a birdie on No. 17 that brought him back to all square for the first time since the third hole.

Group 16: (16) Matt Kuchar vs. (54) Zach Johnson, halved: This draw likely felt like a victory for Johnson, who was facing a 4-down deficit with four holes to play before closing with four straight birdies to steal half a point.

Group 16: (47) Yuta Ikeda def. (27) Ross Fisher, 2 and 1: Ikeda now holds the top spot in the group after ousting Fisher, who made the quarterfinals last year. Ikeda squared the match with wins on Nos. 6 and 7 before a pivotal birdie on No. 15 gave him a 2-up lead he would not relinquish.

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Aggressiveness pays off for Spieth vs. Schwartzel

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 9:32 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On Tuesday, Jordan Spieth said he hoped this week’s format would free him up and allow him to play more aggressively.

Although that wasn’t the case early in his Day 1 match against Charl Schwartzel, Spieth was able to get his week off to a solid start with a 2-and-1 victory.

After playing his first nine holes in even par, Spieth moved ahead in the match when Schwartzel made bogey at the par-5 12th hole and the American hit his approach at the par-4 13th hole to 3 feet, a shot he said was “pivotal,” and he added another birdie at the 14th hole to pull away.

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“I had a couple of iffy numbers and some swirly winds. I did not play aggressively,” Spieth said of his opening nine. “Once I got a couple numbers where I could put really nice, solid swings on, zeroed in at the target with no worry about anything else around, I did just that and it led to three or four birdies from the eighth hole on. You have to go at flagsticks to make birdies here.”

The early victory puts Spieth on a collision course with Patrick Reed, who also won his first-day match against HaoTong Li, 3 and 2. Spieth and Reed, who are a combined 7-2-2 when teamed together in the Ryder and Presidents Cup, will play each other in the final day of round-robin play on Friday.