Tag:match play wednesday
Posted on: February 22, 2012 8:07 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 12:16 pm

With win, McIlroy at one with the world

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- All of a sudden, as he looked at the scoreboard, his future flashed before him.

OK, so he might not get there this week, but the possibility certainly exists, thanks to the first-round results at the Accenture Match Play Championship.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy was on the course Wednesday afternoon when he saw a leaderboard which noted that world No. 1 Luke Donald had been upset in the opening round. That creates the very real possibility that, with a victory tis week, the 22-year-old U.S. Open champ could ascend to the rankings top spot with a victory Sunday.

God bless McIlroy, who freely admitted that he will use the ranking as a motivational carrot the rest of the way -- and there are another five matches he must win -- to climb to the highest rung in the game.  Many players would not allow themselves to think about it, much less discuss it, openly.

Donald was drilled by Ernie Els, 5 and 4, while McIlroy won his match, 2 up, against a surprisingly resilient George Coetzee.

You gotta love anybody who begins a sentence in this overly-protective, mind-games era with the words, "to be honest." Which is exactly what McIlroy did when I asked him about becoming numero uno.

"To be honest, I came in here yesterday and talked about if I play well and just win matches, that will take care of itself," he said. "But obviously, it's another incentive waking up each morning and knowing that if you win your match at the end of that day, at the end of the week you could be world No. 1.

"I saw the result on one of the scoreboards on No. 17, I think. So, yeah, we'll see what happens. I have to get through a lot of matches before that, but it definitely gives me an added incentive this week."

McIlroy, who rejoined the PGA Tour for 2012, could become the fourth player in a year to climb to the top spot, joining Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Donald.

We'll see how McIlroy feels if the media asks him about the No. 1 ranking for the next four days in succession, but for now, he doesn't believe it will be a distration. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"I think, if anything, it gives you just a little bit of extra motivation, especially if you find yourself maybe a couple down through five or six holes that you say to yourself, come on, you've got to win this thing or you've got to win this match to give yourself a chance [at No. 1], at least.

"So in that way you can use it to your advantage, as well."

Posted on: February 22, 2012 7:25 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 12:16 pm

No. 1 Donald gets dispatched, well, big and easy

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- OK, so the opponent was Ernie Els, a former world No. 1 and a seven-time winner at the European Tour's match-play event.

Defending champion Luke Donald would have had trouble beating practically anybody in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship on Wednesday.

"I don't think it would have mattered who I played today," said Donald, the top-seeded player in the field and the current world No. 1. "I just didn't play well."

He didn't play long, either.

Els hammered Donald, 5 and 4, closing out the defending champion with four birdies in their 14 holes, though that wasn;t so much the determining factor.

Donald, one of themost unerring players of the era, was all over the map and made four bogeys, making it easy for the Big Easy.

"I'm not sure where to start," Donald said. "I just didn't play well. It's disappointing. I;ve been working really hard.To lose control of the golf ball like I did today is really frustrating."

It marked the third time in event history that the No. 1 overall seed was kicked to the curb on the first day of play, with Donald joining early departures Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.

Given the seeding and ranking, it lends new meaning to "one and done."

"I gave away too many holes and made too many mistakes," Donald said. "You can't do that in match play against anyone, let alone Ernie."

Posted on: February 23, 2011 7:17 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2011 7:43 pm

Woods kicked to curb, then kicked around

MARANA, Ariz. -- The last time he played, Tiger Woods committed an act on television that made some folks want to cover their eyes.

This time, sensitive types could well have covered their ears.

Moments after he lost a first-round match for only the second time in 10 trips to the Accenture Match Play Championship, Woods uttered a vulgarity to describe both his game and state of mind.

Asked where he was in the yearlong process of rebuilding his sliding game, Woods looked Golf Channel/NBC reporter Roger Maltbie in the eye and said, "Pissed. That's where I'm at right now."

After a back-and-forth fight with Thomas Bjorn, Woods made a clutch 8-footer on the 18th hole to extend the match, then shoved his 3-wood tee shot on the first extra hole into the desert, where his next shot failed to extricate the ball from a thorny bush. Woods eventually conceded the match on the green.

"I was trying to hit a ball in play," he said. "The fairway is what, 200 yards wide? That's very disappointing."

The three-time Accenture champion lost in the first round only once before, to Peter O'Malley, in 2002.

"I had the momentum going to the 19th hole and I blew it," Woods said dejectedly.

Woods hadn't played in the event since 2009, when he was making his first start after having reconstructive knee surgery. He was bounced in the second round by Tim Clark. Bjorn confirmed the obvious, admitting it wasn't particularly pretty on either front.

"You didn't know who was going to hit a bad shot next," the Dane said.

We used to always assume it would be the other guy. Not anymore.

When the subject of his next appearance was raised and whether he might add another tournament -- Woods has played nine competitive rounds this year and doesn't seem to building through a breakthrough moment -- he was his typically evasive self.

"I'm not in a good mood for that right now," he said.

Barring any surprise changes in his schedule, Woods is expected to play at Doral and Bay Hill before making the trip to Augusta. He hasn't won in 16 months on the PGA Tour, the longest skein of his career.

Three weeks ago in Dubai, Woods spat on a putting green in frustration, drawing a fine and public rebuke from the European Tour for his behavior and an earful from a network analyst covering the event.

His former coach, Hank Haney, who took plenty of heat over his former client's driving accuracy over the years, weighed in on Woods via his Twitter account.

"For all the talk of Tiger's poor driving the last 6 years, I have never seen him drive it out of play with a match or tournament on the line," Haney wrote.

That wasn't the only slap of the day, either. Earlier, while broadly discussing the rise of young stars over the past two years, 21-year-old Rory McIlroy pondered a question about Woods, Phil Mickelson and the older American players near the top of the world rankings. Even after pausing for several moments to consider his words, McIlroy underscored the current player mindset as it relates to the once-invincible Woods.

"I mean, I don't think Tiger and Phil have gotten any ...," McIlroy said, pausing. "I don't think Phil has gotten any worse. I mean, Tiger isn't as dominant as he used to be, and Phil, I mean Phil won the Masters last year."

Category: Golf
Posted on: February 23, 2011 6:31 pm

Safe and sane Phil roars into second round

MARANA, Ariz. -- Phil Mickelson's record in conventional stroke play events is pretty much unassailable. Only one active player has more victories.

In match play, well, maybe his gunslinging reckless streak has gotten the better of him at times. It's been mostly forgettable.

Wednesday at the Accenture Match Play Championship, Mickelson laid a 6 and 5 whipping on Australian Brendan Jones, the second largest margin of victory in his 11 appearances in the event.

Mickelson, the top seed in his 16-man bracket, hasn't exactly been awful, amassing a 15-10 mark entering this week's event. But he's never made the finals and only once has advanced past the third round.

"The key for me winning this match was driving it," Lefty said. "I drove the ball well and kept it in play and didn;t give any holes away.

"My opponent is a heckuva player, but he hit two or three into the desert and ended up giving me a few holes."

Mickelson, who badly wants to win a tournament before the Masters, has three birdies and no bogeys over his 13 holes and will face Rickie Fowler in the second round on Thursday. Mickelson, who did some work with swing coach Butch harmon before the round, is playing in his sixth straight event.

Category: Golf
Posted on: February 23, 2011 5:28 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2011 6:06 pm

McIlroy on slumping Tiger and Generation Next

MARANA, Ariz. -- There's been plenty of talk over the past year about how Tiger Woods has lost much of his aura, about how the younger players aren't nearly as cowed, much less intimidated.

The first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship reaffirmed that notion, in words if not in actions.

After he won his opening round, world No. 7 Rory McIlroy was in the middle of a discussion about the youth movement -- even at 21, there are three players younger than McIlroy in the 64-man field -- when the delicate question was posed about whether the game is in transition.

Woods is 35, while Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, the three other Americans flitting around the world top 10 for the past few seasons, all are north of 40. 

McIlroy sensed that he was about to walk on eggshells -- if not landmines -- and chose his words very, very carefully.

But then he went there, anyway.

"I definitely think there's an opportunity for the younger guys to come and show what they've got on tour," McIlroy said. "I mean, regardless of [whether] Tiger or Phil or Steve Stricker or Jim Furyk are coming towards the end of their careers, I think the young guys are good enough to compete with them."

Then it got interesting, if not a little amusing. McIlroy paused several times in an attempt to be deferential, then laid it out there on the table, anyway. That's right, he said it.

"I mean, I don't think Tiger and Phil have gotten any ...," he said, pausing and generating snickers. "I don't think Phil has gotten any worse. I mean, Tiger isn't as dominant as he used to be, and Phil, I mean Phil won the Masters last year.

"They're great players and they're going to continue to be great players until their mid 40s. I think it's just, I think it's a good opportunity for guys, the younger generation to come through and show what they have."

And before everybody buries the kid for popping off, ask yourself this -- it's an honest answer and he's not exactly wrong, is he?

Last year, McIlroy created a brief stir when he said he wanted to face Woods at the Ryder Cup, and so would each of his teammates, because Woods was in the midst of a particularly poor stretch of play. He had a valid point, though it was viewed at the time as something akin to heresy, given the kid gloves with which Woods has long been handled.

Guess what? The gloves these kids are wearing feel a lot more like bare knuckles.

Category: Golf
Posted on: February 23, 2011 5:06 pm

Teen bids arrivederci to world No. 8 Stricker

MARANA, Ariz. -- Can a 17-year-old with about a year of professional experience win an event featuring the top 64 players in the world?

Darned likely not.

But after what happened at the Daytona 500 on Sunday, when a 20-year-old unknown won, nobody is about to dismiss the possibility that Italy's Matteo Manassero could steal this sucker at the finish line. Especially not after what took place Wednesday.

The youngest player ever to tee it up at the Accenture Match Play Championship dispatched world No. 8 Steve Stricker in the first round, 2 and 1, and turned even more heads with his astounding poise and maturity.

Stricker celebrated is 44th birthday on Wednesday -- OK, so celebrated might not be the right word -- and got a glimpse of the future of the game. Manassero, who last year became the youngest player ever to win on the European Tour, said he was surprised he won, but his body language was exuding a bit more confidence.

When he ran across Rory McIlroy, a relative graybeard at age 21, Manassero actually winked at the North Irishman from the interview stand. McIlroy noted that, earlier in the day on the range, he was warming up alongside Manassero and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, who is all of 19. Stricker was there, too, wrecking the average age by a wide margin.

McIlroy, who played a practice round with Manassero this week, was at least as happy that the Italian won his match as he was to advance to the second round himself. Two years ago, McIlroy made his U.S. debut in this event and has since become a fixture in the world top 10.

"Yeah, everything is experience, you know?" McIlroy said. "It's a great experience for him. It's all these little things are -- he's still learning and they're put into the memory bank and it can only serve him well in the future and that's why all the experience that I've had, good and bad, they should serve you well in the future. 

"And to get all these experiences so young. By the time Matteo and myself, 24, 25, you know, we'll have tons of experience that we can use and hopefully use it to our advantage."

Why wait? Manny, as he is known, is already characterizing the week as a huge success, for good reason.

"It's already a big achievement for me," said Manassero, in flawless English. "I'm not expecting that much out of match play, because I'm not used to playing match play against such big players. So this is already very good for me, and we'll see what happens next round. But here everybody is very good."

Posted on: February 23, 2011 4:25 pm

Newbie or not, Day busts out tricks

MARANA, Ariz. -- For a kid who is still learning the ropes in golf's big leagues to some degree, Jason Day has this match-play stuff fairly well figured out.

The popular Aussie, 23, who won for the first time last year at the Byron Nelson, had plenty of match-play experience as an amateur in competitions back home. So, while the Accenture Match Play Championship is a different animal, it's still the same species.

Day won 3 and 2 over Korea's Kyung-Tae Kim and wasted little time using some time-honored match-play devices to increase his odds of winning. Day, one of the most engaging players around, freely volunteered afterward that he resorted to some gamesmanship right from the start.

"It's just different strategy," Day said, sagely. "I made him putt 1 1/2-foot putt on the first hole, just to say, 'I'm not going to give you any of those.' Just to know that, you know, it's going to be a hard match to play."

That wasn't all. 

"I made the choice to walk in front of him all the time, to be in front of him, just to show him that I was there, show him that I'm still around, instead of walking behind him and him being in front," Day said. "So it was a little bit of a tactic to say, 'I'm still here, I'm still going to fight and I'm going to try and win as good as I could.'"

Category: Golf
Posted on: February 23, 2011 4:04 pm

Holmes gets physical: 'I killed that one.'

MANANA, Ariz. -- Let's forget for the moment that the Accenture Match Play Championship is being held in the thin desert air, at an elevation in excess of 2,000 feet.

J.B. Holmes, and a few of his ball-mashing brethren, are playing a game with which few mortals are familiar.

Holmes, who dismantled 2010 semifinalist Camilo Villegas 4 and 2 on Wednesday, used his distinct power advantage to maximum effect on the 13th, a 573-yard par 5.

Get this: After whalloping a drive of 372 yards, he knocked an 8-iron to 14 feet and rolled in the putt for eagle. He birdied Nos. 15 and 16 to send Villegas home.

"I hit it really good," Holmes said. "I looked at my caddie and said, 'I killed that.'"

The 8-iron to 14 feet from 202 yards wasn't bad, either. He took a 3-up lead with the eagle and cruised in for his first match-play win. He was eliminated in the first round in his only other appearance, in 2008.
Category: Golf
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