Here is part 3 of our mystic tail of the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship. Because of the coronavirus, it was decided to move the tournament from Austin, Texas to Fiji and the Natadola Bay course. Today we look how the first round of Match Play went.
The last couple of days has been very tough on not only our country but the world. We all miss golf and our weekly routine of tournament golf and we can only hope that we can get back to our normal routine. Personally, for me and a lot of you, this week is a favorite with the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, which had to be canceled. It’s too bad but our country and the world have other more dramatic problems with the Coronavirus, which we all hope will run its course and we can get back to all of our normal routines.
In talking with fellow writer Gary Van Sickle, who also was saddened with the cancellation, we dreamed about any way that this great event could go on. But the reality is there are more pressing issues which make it impossible, but for Gary and I, we have a vivid imagination that came up with a whimsical tale that the Match Play could go on this week. So here is nothing more than a fun look that is completely real in our minds but in reality nothing more than a fictitious fable.
It’s a seven-part series that will be put up every night, so I hope you enjoy Part 3 of:
Our (fabricated ) WGC-Dell Match Play
Part 3 – Are you ready for a little Match Play Golf?
By Gary Van Sickle & Sal Johnson
Thursday – March 26th
It’s another fine morning in Fiji, the sun is rising in the midst of some white, fluffy clouds and as I arise at 5:30 am I find a lot of emails awaiting me. I skim through them very quickly since I don’t have much time as the first match is going off at 8:05. Back in the states, it’s still Wednesday afternoon.
At the course, the players are looking forward to the first round of matches but at the same time worried about what has been happening in the States. It’s hard to believe that in the week we have been on Fiji, things have radically changed back home with most of the country having people self-isolating and staying at home. One of the big casualties is golf courses, most of the players realize that they wouldn’t be able to play or practice on their home courses since most of the courses are now closed. Most of the players have brought their families and everyone feels lucky to be in a place like Fiji, which is away from all of the horrors back home. Lee Westwood was talking about how sad it was that Prince Charles has Coronavirus and in some messages from friends they have told him how scary it is not only in London but all across Europe. Another thing players thanked about was the postponement of the Olympics to next year. Players really want to be a part of the games, but they all say how little time there is between the British Open and the FedEx Cup playoffs and hope that maybe next year there is more time in-between.
The folks at NBC are happy how things have turned out, this is the only live shows that are on Golf Channel, which shut their studios last week. Because of the demand for these matches, NBC is canceling all of their prime time programmings and every moment of the matches will be on NBC. Because of the high demand, they are trying something that will be interesting. While NBC does the live coverage of the matches, Golf Channel is going live for six hours with analysis of the play along with highlights in which they can break down statistically each match. During the day I flipped back and forth and found the Golf Channel broadcast very interesting, fresh and different and I hope that in big events in the future they do this kind of show while the live coverage is going on. Guess this was an easy decision to make, the ratings have been the highest that Golf Channel has ever gotten and the previous night after prime time NBC ran a 15 minute special on the pairings Luau. It’s weird because there aren’t that many people here, usually at these tournaments there are a lot of sponsor parties and such, but not this week.
As for the change in the format which goes back to the daily elimination, the players are ok with it since they have to stay in Fiji until the end on Monday. So it will be interesting to see how the fans like things, I thought the first round of the Match Play was the best day in golf since it was due or die for half of those playing in the first round. In the old days of that format, the first couple of days saw a lot of carnage in which marquee players would get beaten and not leave much for the weekend. But with the field reduced from 64 to 32, maybe that carnage won’t be as bad.
Here is a diagram of what the course looks like:
I have been so busy doing my job I haven’t been able to keep track of the matches, but I have my friend Gary who is going to update you on all 16 matches”
(World rank in parentheses)
Rory McIlroy (1) vs. Henrik Stenson (32).
Both players clearly tried to shake off the rust on the opening nine but it was McIlroy who succeeded first, going on a four-hole tear on the back nine that iced the match. McIlroy reached the 566-yard, par-5 11th in two with a majestic 4-iron, then holed a six-foot putt for eagle. He drove the 328-yard par-4 12th and made birdie, then birdied the next two holes to go 4 up. “I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck,” Stenson joked. “A very large one, in fact.”
McIlroy df Stenson, 4 and 3.
Dustin Johnson (5) vs. Song Jae Im (23).
This match was what is known as a pillow fight, as both players struggled to keep their ball in play. Im, a young South Korea nicknamed Iron Man because he takes so few weeks off, picked up on three holes during the front side while Johnson did so twice after launching towering, errant drives that the trade winds blew out of play. The match ended at 16, a par 4 over a lake and uphill to a narrow green. Johnson, 2 up, hit the green in two while Im came up short in the rough, pitched long, gunned his par attempt 8 feet past, missed the ensuing bogey putt and conceded the match. Asked if he thought Natadola Bay was a tough course, Johnson answered, “Yup.”
Johnson df Im, 3 and 2.
Webb Simpson (9) vs. Billy Horschel (36)
There was a little gamesmanship on the first tee, or maybe just good-natured ribbing. As Horschel pulled on his golf glove, he asked Simpson, “Hey, Webb, you remember when I won the FedEx Cup and that ten million bucks?” Simpson paused for a moment, never looking at Horschel. “I sure don’t,” he answered. “But I remember winning the U.S. Open.” Horschel raised his eyebrows, then sighed. “All right then,” he said, “let’s play golf.”
Simpson birdied the opening five holes and went 4 up, built to it 6 up when he eagled the par-5 11th with a sweet chip-in from just off the back edge and won the match at the 12th when Horschel three-putted for bogey, giving him the hole. When they shook hands, Horschel chuckled and said, “Yeah, I remember that U.S. Open, too… now.”
Simpson df Horschel, 7 and 6.
Bryson DeChambeau (13) vs. Paul Casey (24)
This match was never close. DeChambeau, coming off top-5 finishes in his last three starts, birdied the first two holes to go 2 up. Casey, who has been struggling with his chipping and putting all season, missed a 2-footer for par at the fifth that he initially appeared miffed because DeChambeau didn’t concede it. That miss opened the floodgates, and Casey missed putts inside six feet for halves on four of the next six holes. At 13, Casey finally made a 12-footer to save par, but DeChambeau answered with an 8-footer for birdie to close out the match.
DeChambeau df Casey, 6 and 5.
Jon Rahm (2) vs. Cameron Smith (35). Rahm likes to play aggressive golf but he got a little too aggressive on the treacherous Natadola Bay track. Rahm had a 1-up lead until the 12th hole, where he tried to drive the green but missed right and caught the ocean. Smith laid up, made par and squared the match. At 15, Rahm went for a back pin, flew it too far and had his ball roll down a slope into the hazard. Smith won the hole with another par, then closed out the match at the par-5 17th when Rahm went for the green in two from the crest of the fairway, pulled his shot left into an unplayable lie and made bogey. “I feel like I beat myself,” Rahm said. “I hate that.”
Smith df Rahm, 2 and 1.
Adam Scott (6) vs. Rickie Fowler (27).
Scott looked as sharp as he did when he won the Genesis Open last month and built a 3-up lead through 15 holes with good iron play and no mistakes. Fowler, known for his match-play prowess, chipped in for birdie to win the 16th, sank a long eagle putt to win the 17th and holed a bunker shot for birdie at 18 to force extra holes. Both players parred the first hole, then Scott hit a superb 6-iron uphill and into the wind at the par-4 second and made a five-foot putt for the win. “It was good fun until those last three holes when Rickie went off,” Scott said. “Then it was work.”
Scott df Fowler, 20 holes.
Tommy Fleetwood (10) vs. Hideki Matsuyama (22)
This turned into a real battle and one of the day’s best matches. Fleetwood and Matsuyama combined for 16 birdies in a match where the lead never extended beyond 1 up. Four holes were halved with birdies and the match came to the 16th all square. Matsuyama stacked his approach shot inside a foot and won the 16th with a conceded birdie. Fleetwood evened things at the 17th with a 20-footer for birdie that won the hole when Matsuyama missed a 15-footer on the same line. Fleetwood found the fairway at 18 and dropped an approach shot to nine feet, then Matsuyama’s shot caught a wind gust and came up 30 feet short. His birdie try ran past, Fleetwood holed his for the win.
Fleetwood df Matsuyama 1 up.
Marc Leishman (15) vs. Sergio Garcia (38)
It was sloppy golf early as both players were 3 over par through the first seven holes, with the match still all square. After the long shuttle ride uphill to the eighth tee, Leishman joked, “Should we start playing now?” Garcia nodded and answered, “That’s a plan.” Garcia pounded a long drive between the fairway bunkers and Leishman thought he hit a good one only to watch the wind blow it into the jungle-like rough on the right. He chipped out, missed the green and Garcia won the hole with a par. At 11, both players had lengthy birdie putts. Garcia lagged his close for a conceded par, the Leishman powered his first putt six feet past the missed the second. Garcia struck a beautiful iron shot to 3 feet at the par-3 13th for a birdie and a 3-up lead. Both players birdied the short par 3 15th, and the match ended at 16 when Garcia holed a four-footer for par for a halve.
Garcia df Leishman 3 and 2.
Justin Thomas (4) vs. Abraham Ancer (29).
It was a slow start for Thomas, who admitted that the beach party hosted by himself and pal Rickie Fowler the night before might have run a little too late because, he said, “A daiquiri front blew through.” Ancer, a Mexican native who was impressive in last year’s Presidents Cup, built a 3-up lead through 10 holes. Then Thomas seemed to wake up. He reached the monster par-5 11th in two big shots, made the eagle putt and pumped his fist. Thomas won the par-3 13th with a 30-foot birdie putt and squared the match with a wedge shot to a few inches at the par-3 15th. The par-5 17th played downwind, as usual, and Thomas took advantage with a 9-iron to seven feet for another eagle and a 1-up lead. Ancer missed a 25-footer birdie try at the last. “That was a close call,” Thomas said. “Abe is tough.”
Thomas df Ancer, 1-up.
Patrick Cantlay (7) vs. Matt Kuchar (17)
While on the first tee waiting, Kuchar was talking about how he was one of the only players that had seen Natadola Bay before this week. In 2015 after the Presidents Cup in Korea, Kuchar decided to go play in Fiji International, which then was a OneAsia Tour event. Kuchar was able to bring his father who was his caddie and despite high winds shot 69 in the final round to win the Fiji International. Despite it being almost five years since he was last in Fiji, he remembers the course and felt that he had a great chance this week. But things didn’t work out, the match got testy after the par-4 10th hole, where Kuchar prepared to putt first from about six feet until Cantlay said, “I’m away, Kooch.” I don’t think so, Kuchar replied. Both players and their caddies stepped behind each marker to check. “It’s definitely me, Kooch,” Cantlay said. “No way,” Kuchar said, visibly annoyed. The walking rules official pulled out a piece of string to measure both putts. Cantlay’s putt was half-an-inch longer, the official announced. Cantlay smugly answered, “I know.” Cantlay holed his, Kuchar watched his curl around the cup and come back toward him. Cantlay went 2 up at the par-5 11th when he wedged close for a near tap-in birdie and went 3-up when Kuchar’s approach came up short and left in some nasty-looking grass he had difficulty extricating himself from. Kuchar rallied with a birdie at the par-3 15th to cut into the lead but lost when he missed a must-make 12-footer for birdie at 17 to keep the match alive.
Cantlay df Kuchar, 2 and 1.
Tyrrell Hatton (21) vs. Xander Schauffele (12)
The ocean breezes picked up noticeably before this pair teed off. “It’s starting to feel a bit like Bay Hill weather,” said Hatton, who won the recent Arnold Palmer Invitational there, on the first tee box. Schauffele joked, “I hope not, I never broke par all week.” The wind was blowing significantly when the reached the par-3 fourth, Natadola Bay’s signature hole along the ocean. Hatton hit a solid 4-iron toward the pin and when airmailed the green and skittered into some rocks, he flung his club toward his caddie and barked, “You sure about that yardage?” Schauffele hit the green, made par and went 1-up. At the seventh, Hatton again flagged an iron shot from the elevated tee toward the Redan-style green and watched it come up short in one of the three guarding bunkers. “Oh, come on, man!” he shouted at his caddie. He got up and down from the bunker for par and actually won the hole when Schauffele missed a snapping-three footer.
The match was even through 15, then Schauffele missed the narrow 16th green and lost the hole with a bogey. At 17, he putted first and didn’t play enough break on his birdie putt, then watched Hatton roll in a 10-footer for birdie and the win. “About time you got a read right,” Hatton told his caddie with a smile.
Hatton df Schauffele, 2 and 1.
Justin Rose (14) vs. Kevin Kisner 36)
Kisner walked over to shake Rose’s hand on the first tee and said, “I just wanted to thank you for picking me.” Rose seemed momentarily perplexed. “It was just nice after getting passed over by Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup captains to finally get picked for something,” Kisner told him, drawing a laugh from Rose.
The two men put on a short-game clinic, getting up and down for pars from some unlikely spots. At the ninth, Kisner’s ball was right of the green and only two feet away from disappearing down a deep ravine. He chipped in to save par and halve the hole. Rose holed a nice bump-and-run at the next for par and both players saved 3s from the greenside bunkers at the 13th. All square at 18, Kisner’s drive found a fairway bunker and he was forced to lay up. Rose hit the fairway, dropped an iron to 15 feet and watched Kisner’s 20 foot par putt miss left. Rose lagged close, Kisner conceded the putt and the match and the defending champion was a loser.
Rose df Kisner, 1 up.
Brooks Koepka (3) vs. Kevin Na (29).
A strong gust of wind blew Na’s shot on the par-3 fourth into a pond, then a strong gust of Koepka blew away Na’s chances. Koepka reached the fifth and sixth holes, back-to-back par 5s, in two and made birdies, winning the holes, then stiffed it for a conceded win at the par-3 seventh. Na’s approach found the deep ravine that guards the ninth hole and he lost the hole to go 5 down at the turn and never recovered. “I was unlucky,” Na said. “I drew Brooks in the first round.”
Koepka df Na, 4 and 3.
Patrick Reed (7) vs. Matthew Fitzpatrick (25)
Reed broke out his Tiger Woods outfit—black slacks, crimson redshirt—for his match against the former European Ryder Cupper. Reed’s putter, which was especially hot at the Mexico World Golf Championship, was still smoking. He one-putted 8 of the first nine greens, was 6 under and led Fitzpatrick, 3 up. The Englishman hit an approach shot out of play into the water on the right at 12 and found water left with his approach at 14. Reed spun a wedge shot back to within 15 inches at the 15, made the putt and clinched the match. When he shook hands with Fitzpatrick, all he said, with a smile, was, “U-S-A.”
Reed df Fitzpatrick, 4 and 3.
Tiger Woods (11) vs. Lee Westwood (31)
These two 40-something players put on quite a show. They were both 3 under on the front nine. At the par-4 10th, which heads toward the ocean. Westwood hit a 6-iron to six feet from the fairway. Woods, in the right bunker, hit 7-iron to 5 feet. Two birdies. Woods rolled in a 10-footer for birdie at the 11th, Westwood matched him with an 8-footer. At 12, on the far end of the course by the ocean, Woods went for the green and knocked it on the putting surface with a monstrous drive. Westwood opted to lay up. Woods lagged his 50-footer close for birdie, Westwood matched it with a 12-footer. At 13, the par 3 along the ocean, Westwood hit an iron to 12 feet while Woods found the left bunker on the green’s ocean side. He holed the bunker shot on one bounce, then Westwood made his birdie to halve the hole.
They both wedged close for easy birdies at the 15 but at 17, Woods used his distance advantage to get home in two and sink a 22-footer for eagle. Westwood settled for par and went to the 18th 1 down. Woods hit a stinger iron off the tee to keep it under the wind, Westwood hit driver and found the right fairway bunker. Woods hit a long iron onto the green’s front edge, Westwood came up short in two, wedged on and when Woods lagged close from 30 feet, conceded the match.
Woods df Westwood, 1 up.
Tony Finau (16) vs. Gary Woodland (18)
Woodland, the reigning U.S. Open champion, birdied three of the first four holes to open a 2-up lead. At the uphill par-5 fifth hole, both players bashed big drives, reached the green in two and made two-putt birdies. At 6, another par 5, both players hit bombs across the dogleg-right corner and had short irons into the green. Finau made his eagle putt from 18 feet, Woodland made his from 12 feet. The match changed at 16, where Finau missed the fairway left and found his ball badly buried in some tangled grass. It took Finau two strokes to get back to the fairway and he lost the hole to go 1 down. Both players made easy birdies at the downwind par-5 17th hole. At 18, Finau missed left again and drew another bad lie, forcing him to layup. Woodland hit 3-wood in the fairway and an iron to the middle of the green. When Finau missed his putt to save par, he conceded the hole and the match.
Woodland df Finau, 2 up.
The last match to finish was Woods and Westwood on the 18th hole. It was a little before 2 in the afternoon which made it just about 10pm in New York. On that last hole, there must have been over 3,000 people watching along with many players who stuck around just to watch Tiger finish. It couldn’t have been a better way to end the day of great golf and everyone was very happy. As NBC signed off they made it a point to say to turn to Golf Channel for the Tiger interview and all of the highlights. Soon after I got a phone call from Austin from the brass of Dell who was very happy at not only how things were going, but the great press they were getting for allowing all of this to happen. I got a glass of “Kava” which is a popular drink in Fiji and it had some white Rum in it and I couldn’t have been happier. Things are going great, but we still have four days of golf left. Half of the field is gone and with that, the first tee time is at 9 am tomorrow and this is what the matches look like.”
- Rory McIlroy (1) vs. Dustin Johnson (5)
- Webb Simpson (9) vs. Bryson DeChambeau (13)
- Cameron Smith (35) vs. Adam Scott (6)
- Tommy Fleetwood (10) vs. Sergio Garcia (36)
- Justin Thomas (4) vs. Patrick Cantlay (7)
- Tyrell Hatton (21) vs. Justin Rose (14)
- Brooks Koepka (3) vs. Patrick Reed (7)
- Tiger Woods (11) vs. Gary Woodland (18)
Here are the updated brackets:
Join us tomorrow for Part IV of Our (fabricated WGC-Dell Match Play