Who will step up with no Tiger, Phil on Sunday?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 26, 2014, 1:39 am

SAN DIEGO – Well, if nothing else, the stage is clear.

Tiger Woods, world’s best player, hightailed it home after matching his second-worst score as a pro.

Phil Mickelson, hometown hero, is probably face down in a physiotherapy trailer somewhere.

So what remains here at Torrey Pines is a largely unproven leaderboard, with two very notable exceptions: the uber-talented Gary Woodland, who after two injury-plagued seasons seems poised to cash in on his considerable potential; and American wunderkind Jordan Spieth, vying to become the youngest two-time PGA Tour winner in more than 80 years.

Hey, what the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open lacks in star power, it makes up for in game-changing potential.

So now that the stage is clear, now that the event’s two headliners are no longer on the marquee, who will step forward?

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, videos and photos

If Saturday was any indication, the big winner might be Torrey Pines’ South Course, which more closely resembles a U.S. Open venue than a regular Tour stop.

The municipal course checks in just shy of 7,700 yards.

The rough is long, patchy and thick, and it’s more brutal the closer you get to the fairway.

The greens are firm and fast, baking out quickly under a warm sun.  

Bogey-free rounds here are a rarity; in Round 3, in fact, there were none.

So it would seem that Woodland, 29 and a two-time winner, has an advantage – if only because, for now, he’s perched perilously atop the leaderboard.

“I played beautifully today,” said Woodland, who squandered a three-shot advantage late by three-putting each of the last two greens. He settled for a 70 and 8-under 208 total, one clear of Marc Leishman (72) and Spieth (75).  

In control off the tee, Woodland says he’s playing more aggressively than he has in the past, which is a tantalizing proposition from a player who last year ranked fourth in driving distance (nearly 304 yards per pop).

Said Pat Perez, who played with Woodland on Saturday: “With his length and short game, he’s going to be hard to beat tomorrow just because the spots he hits it in.”

So far this week Woodland has put himself in the fairway and leads the field in greens in regulation, hitting no fewer than 13 greens per day. “If I drive the ball in play,” he said, “I’m playing a little different golf course than most guys are playing.”

Spieth is no short-knocker himself, but his big stick put him in a few big predicaments Saturday at Torrey Pines.

Staked to his first outright lead on Tour through 36 holes, the 20-year-old denied being nervous on the first tee despite his relative inexperience in that position. Of course, his play told a different story: He snap-hooked his first tee ball miles left, then didn’t even hit the hole with his 2 1/2-foot par putt.

Yes, Spieth made more bogeys on Day 3 than he did during the first two rounds combined. But on a day for positioning, he did not shoot himself out of the tournament, which was no small feat considering where some of his shots came to rest. He hit just five fairways in all, but the good news, Spieth said, was that the issue was easily corrected.

“My clubface is a little shut at the top and a little upright,” he explained. “I know what my problem is; I just need to get to the range to fix it.”

Some players have criticized a largely unimaginative setup this week that has yielded few birdies and even fewer roars. But with 12 players within three shots of the lead, Sunday figures to be anything but dull.

If not Woodland or Spieth, then maybe Sunday will be Marc Leishman’s day. The International Presidents Cup member prefers big, tough venues, which helps explain why he posted a pair of top 15s in the majors last year.  

Or perhaps it’ll come down to Nicolas Colsaerts, nicknamed the “Belgian Bomber” for his titanium-denting length, who could reassert his dominance on the par 5s – he bogeyed three of the four on Saturday – and post a low number.

Or maybe the prize will go to Pat Perez, the San Diego native who has long considered this week as his fifth major. After all, he used to clean carts and drive the range picker here at Torrey Pines as a boy, and his father, Tony, is set to announce him on the first tee again Sunday.

Given his experience here, Perez was asked if there was any way to predict the final-round outcome. He wouldn’t budge.   

“If I could do that,” he said, “I wouldn’t have to play golf. I’d go play the lottery.”

Good point, but the one thing we know for sure: The winner won’t be Tiger or Phil. 

Getty Images

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.

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

“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.

Getty Images

List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

“Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

“I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

“He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

Getty Images

Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-1-0 (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm:  (4) J. Spieth: 1-0-0
(32) K. Kisner: 0-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed: 1-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 0-0-1
(48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li: 0-1-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-0-0
(60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-1-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 0-1-0 (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day: 1-0-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
(18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-0-0
(46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner: 0-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 1-0-0 (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn: 0-1-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 0-1-0 (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman: 0-1-0 (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-1-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace: 0-1-0 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-0-0 (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson: 1-0-0 (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
(58) I. Poulter: 1-0-0 (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri: 1-0-0 (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 0-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar: 0-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 1-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher: 0-1-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-1-0 (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-0-0
(61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III: 1-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-0-1
Getty Images

Hot Seat: The driver is burning Tiger

By Randall MellMarch 21, 2018, 6:51 pm

The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.

Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:

Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods

Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.

The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.

Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.

That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create. 

Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does. 

Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.

“Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”

Dustin Johnson at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship.

Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson

The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.

With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.

Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.

Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.

It doesn’t rankle Johnson.

“It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”

Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.

Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.

Shanshan Feng during Round 2 at the 2017 Japan Classic.

Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng

The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.

The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.

Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.

They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.