By Vince Robitaille
The thing with putting yourself in the line of fire is that you might get shot. Repeatedly. I think that’s what happened, but I can’t quite grasp all of it yet. What I can most certainly decipher though is that my brackets prediction for this weekend’s Sybase Match Play Championship came crashing down early. Very early. With both my picks to reach the finals, namely Ai Miyazato and 2011 champion Suzann Pettersen, gone in the proverbial 60 seconds as well as a whole lot of early shake-ups ruffling my tree and making sure that I wouldn’t reap any fruits for climbing up, I knew that the week would prove to be a) quite harsh on Yours Truly and b) overly eventful, thus entertaining. That being said, in order to go over said entertaining events – and possibly figure out how I managed to get stomped so forcefully – let’s track back to Thursday morning. After all, rarely do we get to witness such baffling – and significant – opening days.
One has to take a brief moment to collect themselves and thank the almighty match format for giving teeth to whichever round of golf it reaches to, from the 2 o’clock green fee starting time at the local municipal course to the Walker, Solheim and Ryder cups, via the various national amateur championships. Is it the fact that we are fundamentally programmed to interpret events in a somewhat Manichean manner that prompts us to enjoy a good ole mano a mano rumble? Maybe it’s simply the inevitable short-term finality of it that brings us to the edge of our seat (maybe a word on mortality)? Either way, the exacerbated variance that match play brings to the table makes for numerous upsets that leave us shaking our heads…and asking for more.
Those words accurately describe the first round of the Sybase Championship as no fewer than 15 pre-tournament favorites, according to their seedings, were eliminated, amongst the 32 matches being played. Of that number, two were their respective groups’ top seeds, i.e. the aforementioned Norwegian and Japanese golfers. Foregoing the details of what proved to be yet another chapter in the fastidious demise of Michelle Wie – I don’t quite know for whose sake at this point, but I’m leaning towards hers – let’s go over the highlights of the day, starting with Uribe and Ewart’s 2-up and 3&1 victories, respectively.
The Pettersen (3)-Ewart(62) clash started out, as one would expect, with a quick dash from the defending champion who found herself 2-up after the first two opening holes, but things were bound to take a dreaded turn for the Olso-native. Through poor iron play, in her own admittance, and a inversely proportionate performance by her adversary, the latter found herself 2 UP after back-to-back birdies on the par-3 12th and par-4 13th. The Norwegian did manage to cut into the lead on 14th, but Ewart, came back and over the top, with a stunning tee shot on the 152-yard-long par-3 16th that set up a clutch 5-footer for birdie. On the 17th and last hole of the match, Pettersen found herself faced with a slight left-to-right 20-foot birdie attempt that would enable her to extend the match; an attempt which she overread, in both break and pace, and left her with no other option, but to surrender, both the hole and 3&1 triumph, to the 2009 and 2010 NCAA All-American, Jodi Ewart.
As the action in the Pettersen-Ewart bout came to an end, the table was only being setup, around the turn, in the Kathy Whitworth bracket for what would be two striking upsets; one from a seeding perspective, as Miyazato (4) was still leading Uribe (61) by a hole on 9th, and the other from a momentum perspective, as Sjodin (52*) was 3 UP on Ryu (13) at the beginning of their inward nine. While Miyazato widened the gap and found herself sitting on a 2-hole cushion at the 11th, the Swede had given up her two subsequent holes to the South Korean. On the 14th and 15th tees, respectively, Miyazato’s lead had shrunk to a mere hole and Sjodin found herself leveled with her opponent in a slight state of shock. Both golfers then succumbed to similar fates; Ryu draining a 15-footer for birdie on the 16th putting surface to take the lead, before repeating her feat and closing the match on 17th, and Uribe sinking a long slider to square up the match on 15th and, subsequently, running away with the “W”.
In other close calls, the one instance in which we picked a player and somewhat hoped to be wrong materialized as Ryann O’Toole showed the form that enabled her to become one of the premier surprises of the Solheim Cup – until the last 3 holes of her adventure – on her way to a 2&1 victory over fellow American, Britanny Lincicome. Both players exchanged holes, four to be precise, on the front nine, before Lincicome relinquished the lead on 9th. O’Toole then broadened the distance separating Lincicome and herself, by sinking the short uphill birdie putt that was left after her skillfully executed sawed off 8-iron from the 14th fairway. Said distance proved enough as subsequent holes were halved and the match was sealed on the 17th green.
Sadly for O’Toole, Friday would see her tournament end rather abruptly to the hands of Julieta Granada (41) in a lopsided 6&5 victory. The round of 32 would, however, provided more nail biters than cruising rides into the sunset like the Granada-O’Toole match or Stacey Lewis’ 4&3 triumph over Sandra Gal, two that spring to mind are the Pressel-Park and Kerr-Hurst matchups. In both bouts, the eventual conquerors, namely Morgan Pressel (15) and Vicky Hurst (37), found themselves down by one after 9 and X holes respectively. The 15th seeded American was the first one to rally with a birdie on the 329-yard-long par-4 10th, after placing her fairly aggressive approach both low and left of an already low and left pin placement. The heralded Solheim cupper, despite her opponent proving unable to walk through the wide open door that was her short birdie opportunity on 11th, couldn’t keep herself from sliding back to 1 DOWN on the par-3 12th. Resilient as always, however, Pressel quickly came back and both players found themselves in a bind on their way to the 14th tee, at which point the American put her foot to the floor and made her move. The determining shot was a hybrid from the 14th fairway to within 6 feet of the cup; a putt which she would go on to make, thus giving her a lead that she would never hand back. Hurst, on her end, would have to wait until the 14th to make up the ground that had been keeping Kerr out of reach since the turn. Missed chances to get ahead late on both 17th and 18th – where she missed a short putt and couldn’t take advantage of Kerr’s third shot that found the greenside bunker, respectively – could have proved fatal to Hurst, but the young one didn’t let Kerr back in on the 19th hole. An honorable mention should also be awarded to Mariajo Uribe for coming back from 3 down mid-round to give herself a shot at, not only extra holes, but a win on 18th – one could argue that Hull’s golden, to employ soccer terms, putt would have felt twice as long, had Uribe converted her birdie attempt.
Moving on to Saturday, the Sweet Sixteen’s last duel saw the last two Kraft Nabisco champions square off and much like it could be foreseen, it would go down to the wire. Stacey Lewis and Sun Young Yoo (11) were stuck in a deadlock up until the 16th green, at which point the American negotiated a tricky downhill, down-grain birdie putt to take the lead. Despite an impending loss lurking, Yoo, in incredibly clutch fashion, extended the match with about as true of a roll as I’ve ever witnessed. On the subsequent hole, the young South Korean left most onlookers awe-struck as she maneuvered her way out of an horrendous side hill lie from an abruptly lipped fairway bunker, and onto the green to a mere 4 feet. Lewis though, not to be outdone, would sneak her approach inside the 4-foot radius established by her adversary, to halve the hole and move on. In other confrontations, two of Yours Truly’s five favorites to lift the trophy come Sunday, faced off in a match that saw Morgan Pressel defeat Na Yeon Choi (2) in 19 holes, while the fast decision came in So Yeon Ryu’s 5&4 victory over Katherine Hull (36). Candie Kung (49), however, was responsible for the round’s paramount surprise as she defeated World no.1, Yani Tseng, with a final tally of 3&2.
The afternoon’s four contests were evenly matched, from a macroscopic scale, as two were rather pedestrian victories that were marked by fulgurant starts– Azhara Munoz (19) and Morgan Presell’s 5&4 wins over Lewis and Nordqvist (26), respectively – and the other side of the table’s duels ended in much tighter fashion. In the first of those bouts, So Yeon Ryu came out of the gates quickly to grab the first lead of the day early, only to witness the reluctant Vicky Hurst leveling things up with a birdie on the par-4 6th. Minutes later on the same putting surface, Julieta Granada accomplished the same feat to find herself neck and neck with Candie Kung. The 176-yard-long par-3 8th also saw some action as the US Women’s Open champion used her pin-point accuracy to net herself a birdie from a short distance, a feat left unequaled as Hurst’s distance control off the tee left her wanting – much like her putt on the subsequent hole. Ergo, while the American found herself one back at the beginning of her outward nine, Kung’s gritty putt to halve the 9th hole enabled her to head into the second stretch of the round, all square.
Both of our pairings of interest, after exchanging holes, found themselves in a standstill after the 14th hole. However, a So Yeon Ryu bogey on the 15th and a determined Hurst recording a birdie on the succeeding par-3, gave the American the 2-hole gap by which she’d, ultimately, prevail. In the Kung-Granada matchup, the 48th-seeded Kang would deliver the knockout punch via a 30-foot birdie that nullified the superb fairway bunker escape that Granada performed mere minutes earlier. With our four semifinalists punching their tickets to the semifinals, all we’re ready for an action-packed final day at Hamilton Farm Golf Club, and none were disappointed.
The matchups were intriguing to say the least. On one side, we had a match play specialist five years removed from her last LPGA Tour championship, crossing swords with her great friend, a fiery Spaniard still in search of her first win, whose recent weeks would make most golfers blush. On the other, a four-time LPGA champion who has been somewhat under the radar the past few years despite repeated top 15’s in majors, was lined up against a young, ivy cap-wearing grinder who has yet to reach her full potential. Sadly for the latter, her tournament ended on the 17th hole as Hurst couldn’t convert her par attempt that would have effectively extended the match. The other semifinal was gruesome, not so much in regards to the caliber of golf, but due to a twist of faith that could easily cause a stir between both friends. In two different instances, controversial rulings, highlighted by Pressel’s claim that Munoz had touched her line while going through the paces of her usual putting routine, halted the action and raised an utterly cold wind on an otherwise warm morning in New Jersey. When the hostility – the term is here of upmost accuracy – picked up again on the 15th green, it’s Munoz that used her fangs. The Spaniard proceeded to drain the long birdie putt that had been facing her for some quite long minutes now, after the officials ruled in her favor, squared the match up and closed the match with back-to-back pars; Pressel only managing to record bogeys on her last two holes of the Championship. Rarely, however, have victories looked so sour. It’s, in fact, a crying Munoz that walked off the course and went over how a 3-hole deficit turned to one in a fraction of a second following the awkwardly imposed slow play penalty that her friend Pressel was charged with.
Picking up the action on the outward nine of the Championship match, both the Annika Sorenstam and Patty Berg divisional flag-bearers, Azhara Munoz and Candie Kung, were caught in an impasse that lasted until the par-5 11th hole. After seeing her opponent overshoot her target by a good 12 yards, the Spaniard turned to her duly patented three-fingered shot to negotiate the 58 yards that separated her from the pin and, much like it has been the case of late, it was a thing of beauty that left her in, quite literally, gimme range. On the subsequent par-3 12th, Munoz, who airmailed her mid-iron in the greenside bunker, got an unexpected gift as Kung’s apparently quasi-flawless tee shot unexpectedly bounced and rolled off the putting surface. With the USC alumni unable to save par from behind the green, the Spaniard channeled the late Ballesteros, getting up-and-down for par and the hole. Both players exchanged birdies on 13th, the 48th-seeded Kang cut her adversary’s lead in half as the latter struggled around the green after pulling her second shot wide left. Continuing Munoz’s streak of unexpected breaks, on the par-3 16th hole, Candie Kung’s tee show was left short and left of the green. Well, that’s what would have happened were it not for a sprinkler head that send her ball soaring through the air and into nearby rubbish. The result? A double-bogey and an insurmountable 2 hole lead with 2 holes to go.
Just like this, we had our champion and, most fittingly, a 3rd place finisher that enabled two friends to bond again after what is oh so common in golf, harsh moments; Munoz coping with the recent passing of her grandmother as well as the controversy that surrounded her semifinal match with Pressel, the latter seeing her first victory in 5 years slipping away over a mere technicality. And, for Yours Truly? Well, I can always say that I knew Pressel was onto something. Other than that, I’ve had some great golf to witness and, for better or worse, that’s fine by me.
Monday’s Photos from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open
GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California.
Tiger Woods, who has won eight times at Torrey Pines, will make his first start in a full-field PGA Tour event since his spinal fusion surgery. The last we saw of Woods was in the 18-player Hero World Challenge where he finished T9, and showed that he could be healthy for 72 holes.
Jon Rahm, who’s now ranked No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings, is the defending champion at the Farmers, and he also won last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. He’s joined in the field by notables Hideki Matsuyama (No. 5), Justin Rose (No. 6), Rickie Fowler (No. 7), Jason Day (No. 14) and Phil Mickelson.
Enjoy our photos from the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open below!
- TaylorMade Spider putters
- Luke Donald’s custom TaylorMade Spider putter
- New Axis 1 Tour putter models
- Sam Burns WITB
- Sean O’Hair WITB
- Patrick Reed WITB
- Norman Xiong WITB
- Anirban Lahiri WITB
- Jason Day WITB
Tour Rundown: Rahm gets win No. 2 and goes to world No. 2
Week two of the 2018 calendar season added events on the PGA Champions and European tours. The PGA caravan left Hawaii for California and found its first playoff of 2018, just as the Champions Tour reached the islands. The Euros teed it up in Dubai, and the Web.Com Tour stayed in the Bahamas for a second week. With an Asian Tour event in Singapore, the globe’s eyes were once again on professional golf. Time for Tour Rundown at warp speed!
Rahm continues to build career with win at CareerBuilder Challenge
For all of the final round, it looked like Jon Rahm would pull away for a 4-stroke victory. His driving was impeccable and his irons were dialed in. His putting stroke looked sound, but some of the birdies simply did not nest. Throughout the four-hole playoff with Andrew Landry, it seemed as if Rahm was destined to lose. Somehow, he persevered and won.
Rahm’s patience pays off with second PGA Tour win
How many edges of holes were singed with putts and chips by Jon Rahm down the stretch? At least four, not counting the playoff. Fortunately for the Basque, only Andrew Landry made enough of a move to track him down temporarily. Rahm played like the 3rd-ranked player should, and now he’s the world No. 2 player. Perhaps the fact that he couldn’t or didn’t separate himself from his pursuers, yet had enough weaponry to pull out a victory, mattered more than a runaway triumph. Yet golf is a funny game. The only fairway Rahm missed in extra time came on the 4th hole. Despite that errant tee ball and his misses on the first three playoff holes, Rahm was able to drain the only birdie of the playoff and walk away a champion.
Landry and others made the most of their opportunities
Andrew Landry showed more gumption than anyone anticipated. The 2016 first-round leader of the U.S. Open stayed around even longer this week. A 72nd-hole birdie brought him to 22-under par and a tie with Rahm. The Arkansas alumnus drove the ball straight and far on each of the playoff holes, and never once sniffed a bogey. His irons brought him within birdie range but, like Rahm, he could not find the proper combination of line and speed. In the end, Landry missed last and settled (if such a term might be used) for a runner-up finish.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 22, 2018
Fleetwood greets 2018 with title defense at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship
Tommy Fleetwood looks for all the world to be a millenial hipster with his free-flowing hair and his strands of beard. In absolute contrast, he is equal parts passion and cold blood. When opportunity beckons, he doesn’t look away. Given the slightest opportunity to defend his 2017 Abu Dhabi title, Fleetwood assented and took charge.
How Fleetwood dispatched Fisher and the rest
Through 9 holes of Sunday’s final round, the tag for Tommy Fleetwood’s title defense percolated as He gave an admirable effort. Nine holes and six birdies later, that tag line had changed to How in the name of all that is known did he defend his title? And yet, there was Fleetwood with the fourth European Tour title of his career and third in the past dozen months. When Fleetwood needed a great drive, he got it. When he didn’t hit a great drive, he came through with a stellar approach. When his approach was off, he drained a long putt. And for good measure, he hit a wonderful pitch at the 18th, nestling the ball 5 feet for birdie, and made that. The end result was a 2-stroke margin of victory over the runner-up, Ross Fisher.
What is it about Ross Fisher?
Ross Fisher is eternally composed. Not like his countryman Colin Montgomerie (more on him later), who wore every disappointment like a Halloween mask. Yet, the two share a certain sad penchant for missing opportunities. Last October, Fisher wasn’t going to catch Tyrell Hatton in St. Andrews, but he was chasing immortality. He had a 25-foot putt for the first 59 at The Old Course…and missed. He had a 4-foot putt for the first 60 at the Old Course…and missed. He broke the course record with his 61, but, you know. Fisher has an 0-5 record in European Tour playoffs. On Sunday, he was victimized by Fleetwood’s marvelous back 9 of 30 strokes, but by his own inability to gather the fruits of opportunity. Case in point: Fisher made a long and testy putt for bogey on the par-5 10th, a hole that many birdied. Rather than use it as a springboard to return to his coach on the birdie train, he floundered with four pars and one bogey over his next five holes.
What a performance!
Fleetwood birdies 18 to come home in 30 shots and lead by two. pic.twitter.com/FpJxXgMOT6
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) January 21, 2018
Kelly wins at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship
Jerry Kelly earned the 2017 PGA Tour Champions rookie of the year award, on the strength of consistent play and his first two tour titles. On Day 3 of the 2018 season, he added to his victory total with a 1-stroke win over Colin Montgomerie. A 2-stroke swing on 18 decided the fate of both…here’s how!
How Kelly klaimed the championship
For fans of Hideki Matsuyama and his deceptive reaction to fantastic shots, Mr. Kelly is guilty of the same on well-struck putts. He drops his putter from one hand and slumps his shoulders after mid-range putts. All the while, the ball is tracking toward the hole, and usually drops. Kelly played a fine round on Saturday, with 5 birdies and 1 eagle. It might have been the sole bogey of the round, on No. 16, that ignited his hockey-bred fire. The miscue allowed Colin Montgomerie to take a 1-shot lead into the final 2 holes, but Kelly’s birdie on No. 18 brought him the title. How’s that?
How Monty lost his opportunity
We forget how difficult it is to hold a lead in any event, at any juncture. Colin Montgomerie never figured the recipe out in major championships on the regular tour, but he had it down, for the most part, in regular tour events. On the Champions Tour, he has been quite solid, winning six times as a senior in the U.S. and five times in Europe. In the third round at Hualalai, Monty’s most reliable club betrayed him at the least opportune time. A drive into a fairway bunker at the last hole left him 100 yards to the green. He flew the putting surface with his approach and played an indifferent flop shot to 7 feet for par and a playoff. His effort was off the mark and the title slipped from his grasp.
— PGA TOUR Champions (@ChampionsTour) January 21, 2018
Sergio’s Singapore Open
Despite this unexpected result, Sergio Garcia opened the 2018 season with a victory in Singapore. We’ll run down what he did right.
— Asian Tour (@asiantourgolf) January 21, 2018
Sergio and Singapore on a Sunday
The #SingOpen2018 and @TheSergioGarcia made a perfect match on an extended final day. Wet weather forced a last-day completion of Round 3, and most golfers played more than 20 holes on the final day. Garcia stormed from behind with 66-68 over those final 36 holes to wrest the lead from Danthai Boonma of Thailand. Nine birdies and 1 bogey over that stretch of two rounds finished the task for the Spaniard, who looks to defend his 2017 Masters title in the spring.
The battle for second ended in a tie
With Garcia separating himself from the peloton, attention turned to Boonma and cast for the runner-up resolution. After three stellar rounds (70-68-65), Boonma stumbled in Round 4 with 73, finishing in a tie for 4th with countryman Jazz Janewattananond. Satoshi Kodaira of Japan and South Africa’s Shaun Norris each birdied the final hole to finish tied for second at 9-under, 5 blows behind the champion.
Hello, World for Sungjae Im at Web.Com Opener
Sungjae Im, all of 19 years of age and pegging it in his first Web.Com event ever, gave us a Hello-World moment with a closing 65 and a 4-shot win over Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz. How did the young Korean pro flu powder his way to the top of the podium? We’re asking ourselves the same question
How Im became I’m The Champ
Im entered the final round of the Great Exuma Classic in a tie with Ortiz, but eyes were on proven winners like Rhein Gibson, Steve Marino and Erik Compton. Sungjae Im went out in Round 4 and played perfect golf. He had 4 birds on his outward half, then seized the trophy by both handles with 3 more chirps on holes 14 to 16. Simply put, there was nothing that Ortiz or any other entrant could do, beyond bow and salute the victor.
How Ortiz and the others took the shock
Carlos Ortiz did what he had to do during Tuesday’s final round. He played a solid round, minus-3 with 5 birds and 2 bogies. He stayed ahead of Gibson and all the others, but would have needed to turn his bogies into birdies to tie Im atop the board. Rhein Gibson began round four like a boss, with birdies on 5 of the first 6 holes. He reached 8-under and looked like the eventual winner. The engine sputtered, and it was 1-birdie-1-bogey-10-pars the rest of the way. Gibson would have needed 10-under on the day to tie for the trophy, but with a few more birdies along the way, would he have frightened Im? Who knows!
— Web.com Tour (@WebDotComTour) January 17, 2018
Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge
GolfWRX is live from the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge at the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West (7,113 yards, par 72) in La Quinta, California.
The field this week is headlined by Jon Rahm, who’s currently ranked No. 3 in the Official World Golf Rankings after his second-place finish at the 2018 Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago. Joining him in the field are notables John Daly, Brian Harman, last week’s Sony Open champion Patton Kizzire, Phil Mickelson, Jimmy Walker and Bubba Watson.
Defending-champion Hudson Swafford notched his first career victory at the 2017 CareerBuilders Challenge, where he won by one stroke over Adam Hadwin. He’ll be back in the field this year to defend his title.
Check out our photos from the 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge below!
- Jason Dufner WITB
- Jon Rahm’s TaylorMade Hi-Toe 60-degree wedge
- Zac Blair’s custom Cameron
- Ben Silverman’s custom Bettinardi
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