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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 22, 2012 6:27 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2012 10:19 am
 

The biggest surprises on Wednesday at Accenture

Luke Donald takes a drop during his match against Ernie Els. (Getty Images)

By Shane Bacon

Unlike March Madness, the Accenture Match Play is easily the biggest toss up in sports. Rankings? They’re meaningless, and anything can happen. That said, we give you our five biggest upsets of the first round of play. 

Ernie Els defeats Luke Donald -- It wasn’t that Donald was a top seed and Els came in the rugged vet holding a 16 seed, but it was a guy most had forgotten about beating the defending champion and world number one in the world! Els played great, and could definitely make a run here after gaining some confidence by smoking past Donald 5 and 4. 

Miguel Angel-Jimenez defeats Sergio Garcia -- Most thought Sergio, coming off a final round 64 at Riviera to tower up the leaderboard, would be a good pick to possibly upset Rory McIlroy in their side of the draw, but he couldn’t even get out of the first round, falling to his fellow Spaniard. The bright side of things? At least his blue shoes looked good.

David Toms defeats Rickie Fowler -- No, the seeds weren’t far apart (No. 8 vs. No. 9), but Toms openly admitted he hasn’t spent much time on his golf game. That didn’t stop him from taking out fan-favorite Fowler 1-up and giving himself a shot at Martin Kaymer in the next round. 

Ryo Ishikawa defeats Bill Haas -- It isn’t easy coming to an event like this after a gutsy win like Haas had last week, but it seemed like he’d roll Ishikawa after being 3-up with five holes to play. Ryo won four of the next five holes and advanced in the one PGA Tour event he seems the most comfortable in. 

Sang-Moon Bae defeats Ian Poulter -- There aren’t a lot of guys you’d call match play specialists, but Poulter is one of them, so to have him fall to such an unknown like Bae is a head-scratcher.

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow Shane Bacon and Eye On Golf on Twitter. 
Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:23 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 6:27 pm
 

Tiger Woods 'survives' in every sense of the word

Tiger Woods survived a tough first round match at the Accenture. (Getty)

By Shane Bacon

If you ever wanted a view of where Tiger Woods’ golf game has been the last two and a half years, you needed to spend a few hours watching his first round match at the Accenture Match Play on Wednesday.

Luck had always been on Tiger’s side for so many years, but the first hole showed that wasn’t really the case anymore. His opponent, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, a man that said Tiger was beatable before the match began, had a short birdie putt on the first hole that went on a victory lap before falling in to put the rather unknown 1-up. Tiger lost the next hole as well, and while he steadied the ship, and eventually won, it was anything but pretty.

Missed opportunities when it seemed like Fernandez-Castano was giving him the hole, powering birdie putts past the hole forcing him to mark and re-putt and looking fairly lost with his golf swing, the greatest thing you can say about Tiger’s Wednesday is he’s lucky he played a guy that didn’t seem ready to slam the door on the 14-time major winner.  

But, he did win, and that’s what this is all about. Tiger made a mess of the 18th hole after missing a fairly routine birdie putt on the 17th hole, but a clutch par save on the last gave him the win, and he advances to the second round to play a red-hot Nick Watney.

Tiger’s game plan on Wednesday seemed off. He had opportunities to play match play golf against someone that might not know exactly how to win these type of matches, but he continued to hit the hero shot and didn’t seem to get away with hit. His drive on No. 2 was just the start, but a few other decisions weren’t exactly right for the format. 

The strangest shot might have come on the final hole, when all Tiger really needed was to find the green and force his opponent to make birdie off a slippery slope, but Woods missed it in the toughest place he could have to leave a nasty up-and-in from the greenside bunker.

He got it, gave a muted fist pump, and is on to Thursday. Was it his best stuff? No, not by a long shot. Is advancing the only thing that matters at Marana? Absolutely, and we will see another freshly pressed Nike shirt in the second round. 

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow Shane Bacon and Eye On Golf on twitter.  

Category: Golf
Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:59 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:54 pm
 

Accenture matches about aptitude, altitude

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- According to the host venue's website, certain points of the Dove Mountain course are located at 3,200 feet above sea level. For those who watched the Accenture Match Play Championship's final pairing last year, when it snowed and hailed, that's certainly no news flash.

For a PGA Tour player, the territorial elements can create unique environmental issues. Or, in the case of this particular track, three of them.

Players teeing off early face the very real prospect that the ball will feel like a piece of desert rock. Temperatures overnight routinely dive down close to freezing. The first matches Wednesday started at 7:25 a.m. local time.

"It's so cold, the ball might even go shorter," Charl Schwartzel said.

So players have to plan around the environmental issues more than usual. Rory McIlroy intentionally waited to play his practice round Tuesday to that it was conducted during the same time frame as his first-round match, for instance. Because, as the weather warms up, the ball can really start to fly. The desert air is notoriously dry, which means the ball takes off like a rocket, especially at this altitude.

"I mean, all the par-5s are reachable," Schwartzel said.

They are listed on the card Wednesday at 573, 579, 599 and 583 yards. The course overall is listed at around 7,800 yards but can play 5-10 percent shorter, morning coldness and occasional winds notwithstanding.

Or even shorter than that, for some.

"It actually depends on how far you hit it in the air," McIlroy said.

Or how hot it gets. The forecast calls for a zero-percent chance of rain and temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70s.

"I think when it gets warmer, which it's meant to, and the adrenalin kicks in, it's close to 10 percent," defending champion and world No. 1 Luke Donald said of the flighting disparity versus sea level tracks like, say, Pebble Beach or Riviera.

"You take the sum of the elevations and the 10 percent difference, suddenly at 250 yards you're hitting a 4 iron, when usually that's a pretty good 3-wood for me. It takes a little bit of getting used to. [Caddie] John [McLaren] and I have done a pretty good job in the last couple of years."

Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:50 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 2:05 pm
 

Man sues golf club for lowering his handicap

Thomas Talbot is suing Hermitage Golf Club for lowering his handicap. (Irish Independent News)

By Shane Bacon

There are only two ways to live with a golf handicap; always wanting to work on your game, redefine the things that aren’t that good, and lower that number each year. Or you can just enjoy ballooning that number so it’s easier to gamble against your friends, always claiming you’re a 15 when really you’re a solid 12.4. 

The latter is a 75-year-old man in Ireland who is so mad about his handicap going down that he is suing his home club for 10 million euros for lowing his handicap. 

According to the Irish Independent, Thomas Talbot is stating damage to his reputation for the club lowering his handicap 7.7 shots from 1999 - 2004. 

Yes, the man is so mad that his handicap went down that he is suing his former course, Hermitage Golf Club, and the handicap secretary. 

Now I know that sports are serious business. I know that competition is a big thing and wanting to win in a passion that some have and some don’t. But going eight figures on a place that felt that lowering your handicap was the right thing to do because of your talents? Wow.

I have read and seen a ton of crazy golf stories over my life. People getting in fights on courses. Robbery. Drunk driving a cart home. But this one might take the cake. 

I feel for the man because he obviously feels like this is something he’s so passionate about he wants to take it to court, but maybe, just maybe, post a couple of high rounds and call it a day. 

That’s what what everyone else in this world does when they’re sick of a low handicap. 

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow Shane Bacon and Eye On Golf on Twitter. 
Category: Golf
Tags: Shane Bacon
 
Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:30 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:25 pm
 

Match play to remain in 'Zona, but where?

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- The Dove Mountain course was designed, explicitly, with match play in mind.

So when players basically deemed the host venue for this week's Accenture Match Play Championship as the second-worst course on the PGA Tour, it had to sting.

The venue's contract to host the tournament expires after this week, and depending on your personal view, it might come as mixed news that signs point toward the mega-money event staying put.

"Right now, we're heading in the direction of keeping it here," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday morning.

GolfWorld magazine last month ranked the courses in recent use on the tour and the Jack Nicklaus design finished ahead of one other venue, the critically savaged Liberty National course, which has hosted exactly one tour event.

So, in other words, the Dove Mountain course finished dead last among courses in annual use in tour competition.

The primary beef with players is that the greens are far too severe, as evidenced by the humorous exchange that Rory McIlroy this week recounted after he ran into Nicklaus at a South Florida shopping mall.

"He asked me what I thought of this golf course and I said it was great," McIlroy said, choosing the next few words very carefully.

"He asked me about the greens, and I went, 'they are okaaaay,'" McIlroy said, drawing laughs.

He made the point without underscoring it. The course is also located about 30 minutes from central Tucson at about 3,000 feet of elevation, whcih can cause issues when the weather changes. It snowed and hailed during the match-play finale last year. Fan attendance at the venue, which is tough to walk because of its proximity to the mountains, has been decent at best.

David Pillsbury, the tour's executive vice president of Championship Management, which runs the event, said there would be no announcement about the future fate of the site until after the tournament ends.

"We'll see how it goes, see what the attendance looks like, all that," Pillsbury said.

That said, Pillsbury strongly indicated that despite indications of the contrary, the event won't migrate far -- either in terms of geography or the calendar. The Associated Press, citing two tour sources, said there have been discussions about moving the match-play championship to Harding Park in San Francisco and slotting it in October as part of the revamped fall start to the season. According the the AP, the two sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss negotiations. Both stressed that the option was in the early stages of consideration.

"It'll be in this market and in this time frame," Pillsbury said Wednesday.

For how long?

Posted on: February 22, 2012 9:54 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 10:44 am
 

FedEx re-ups for 5 years and even more dinero

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- Crossing another massive item off his to-do list, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem on Wednesday announced that the mega-money FedEx Cup competition has been extended through 2017 and will include gradual increases in paydays for players.

Speaking for the players on tour: Cha-ching.

At minimum, the extension is worth $175 million based on current sponsorship level of $35 annually toward the pot of golfing gold delivered to players at the end of the financial rainbow. The winner under the current deal receives $10 million at the FedEx finale in Atlanta, one of the biggest paydays in all of sports.

"We're delighted with the opportunity to make this announcement,"' Finchem said, moments before the Accenture Match Play event began at Dove Mountain. "That's become a big part of what the PGA Tour is all about."

Impressively, in the past five months, the tour has secured lucrative and long-term deals with broadcasters CBS and NBC, signed Finchem to a four-year deal, and pushed the FedEx deal along for another five seasons.

Better still, the $10 million paid out to the FedEx winner will almost certainly increase over the coming phase, as will the cash for others in the season-long points derby.

"We will have some growth," Finchem said. "We'll continue to go forward, not backward, in this term."

FedEx quickly jumped on board with the proposal to blow up the existing calendar, start the season in the fall in 2013 and make over the Nationwide/Q-school process as well. That would bring the current Fall Series events into the fold as FedEx series stops, which they currently are not, though it would create a wraparound season similar to the NBA or NHL.

"We're verity pleased with the decision to extend the season," said Mike Glenn, the FedEx marketing chief.

That's not a done deal just yet, Finchem cautioned. The tour Policy Board must sign off on the huge seasonal makeover next month during a meeting March 19 at Bay Hill.

"Clearly it makes the FedEx Cup bigger," Finchem said of the proposal.

Despite seemingly annual criticism of the confusing FedEx points system, Glenn said to company is happy with the current design, given the way the pat few tour finales have played out.

"I can only point to the last two years when we literally felt the winner changed shot by shot on Sunday, which is what the experts would really like to have happen every year," Glenn said. "The drama that plays itself out now at the Tour Championship, and particularly on Sunday, when literally the winner hangs in the balance of the very next shot, that is probably best illustrated by Bill Haas' shot out of the water on No. 17.

"I don't know how much more drama we can get. I think the changes in the point system have really contributed to that. Are there opportunities to improve it further? Perhaps. But we're pretty pleased with where it is right now. "

We're not talking about drama, per se, but clarity, but we'll save that critique for the fall.

As for what's next on his work menu, Finchem laughed. At this point, with the 2013 seasonal makeover seemingly moving toward a conclusion, the biggest items have been crossed off. He still needs some sponsors in selected events and an umbrella sponsor for the Nationwide Tour. The insurance company's contract ends after this season is concluded.

"I'll be happy to lay out for you six or eight key things that are going to dominate a lot of my time over the next two or three years," he laughed.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com