Here is part 4 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 at how the 2nd 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 4 of:
Our (fabricated ) WGC-Dell Match Play
Part 4 – Are you ready for a little Match Play Golf?
By Gary Van Sickle & Sal Johnson
FRIDAY – MARCH 27TH
The overnight ratings of the first round of the Match Play made it a big success, it’s become so important that the first-day play made it into the front pages of the newspapers around the world. Not in anyone’s wildest dreams did we sense the success it has brought. In calling back home there are already 28 states that are calling for people to stay at home and not leave unless they have to go to the store or pharmacies Spain has taken over as the worst place for the virus as there were 655 reported deaths. In the United States, New York is the hot spot as it’s reported that 30,000 cases of the virus is on the Island of Manhattan. On Wednesday it was reported 81 coronavirus fatalities as officials try to stay on top with added hospital beds. On another front, players are disappointed because today was supposed to be opening day of the Major League Baseball season with 15 games on tap, but instead there are 15 empty stadiums with no baseball being played. But it’s not going to be empty today at Natadola Bay, each day the crowd grows bigger as all across the island this event is the biggest thing to happen in Fiji since native son Vijay Singh won the Masters back in 2000.
In Fiji it’s another beautiful morning, with the field reduced to 16, there are only eight groups today, so the first one-off is the Rory McIlroy-Dustin Johnson match at 9:05. Again Gary will update on all of the matches.
(World rank in parentheses)
Rory McIlroy (1) vs. Dustin Johnson (5)
It figured to be a wild match when both players blocked their opening drives to the right and the wind carried them far into the adjacent fifth fairway. The hole was halved with bogeys. They did the same at the second, pushing drives into the third fairway, halving the hole with pars.
McIlroy missed right again at the beautiful par-3 fourth, the wind slapping his shot into a waiting pond. He made double, Johnson won the hole with a bogey. Johnson straightened out his swing birdied the back-to-back par 5s to go 3 up, then hit one close to a front pin at the tough 10th to go 4 up. McIlroy suddenly charged back, making back-to-back eagles at the par-5 11th and drivable-par-4 12th. Both putts were less than 15 feet long. Johnson mis-clubbed at 15 and went over the green into the hazard, then McIlroy squared the match with a towering wedge shot that drifted down to within 2 feet at the 16th. At 18, McIlroy did it again, this time with a 9-iron to 4 feet, while Johnson battled the right rough and couldn’t save his par.
McIlroy df Johnson, 1 up.
Webb Simpson (9) vs. Bryson DeChambeau (13)
You’re sure to see this duo on ESPN highlights. They both hit into the big bunker by the ocean left of the fourth green, the most scenic spot on the course. First DeChambeau blasted out and watched his ball roll out some 20 feet into the cup for a birdie, then Simpson did the same thing to halve the hole. “Your shot was better than mine,” a happy DeChambeau told Simpson. “Still looks like a 2 to me,” Simpson responded.
DeChambeau came over the top on an iron shot at the par-3 7th and sent it sailing into a thick of underbrush left of the green. Simpson hit the green. After a three-minute search, DeChambeau returned to the tee, made a better swing and reacted loudly—“Come off it!” he shouted–when his ball clanked off the flagstick and caromed into a bunker. He conceded the hole.
Simpson failed to square the match at the 17th when he missed a six-foot putt for birdie but after he came up short of the green at 18, he chipped in and forced extra holes.
On the first extra hole, just as he’d done in the Phoenix Open playoff, he rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt. DeChambeau matched it with a six-footer, however. Back at No. 2, DeChambeau’s approach shot caught the flag and dropped softly right next to the cup. “That’s more like it!” he exclaimed. Simpson missed his birdie try.
DeChambeau df Simpson, 20 holes.
Cameron Smith (35) vs. Adam Scott (6)
The tone of the match was set on the first green when Scott’s seven-foot birdie putt kissed the flagstick—and kicked out! “You must be joking!” said Scott, who is known for leaving the pin in on all of his putts, unlike most pros. It just wasn’t going to be Scott’s day.
Smith birdied the third hole to go 1 up, then won both par-5s when Scott suffered 360-degree lip outs for birdies. At the ninth, a dogleg right, Scott’s drive drifted too far right and buried under a bunker lip, unplayable. That put him 4 down.
Smith, a fellow Aussie, laid up at the short 12th but Scott, trailing, went for the green off the tee and ended up in the water right of the green. That realistically ended his chances. “It was weird to play against Adam, I grew up idolizing him,” said Smith. “I was actually nervous the whole day.”
Smith df Scott, 4 and 3.
Tommy Fleetwood (10) vs. Sergio Garcia (36)
It was a close match until the back nine when Fleetwood got hot and Garcia didn’t. Garcia’s approach to a back pin came up well short and he faced a rollercoaster of a putt, which he three-putted. At 11, the par 5, Garcia laid up just off the fairway, then hit it 30 feet past the pin and missed. Fleetwood laid up and jammed a wedge shot to 2 feet to go 2 up. At 12, Fleetwood laid up and wedge to five feet. Garcia went for the green off the tee, hit it into thick rough left of the green and nobody found the ball, so he conceded the hole. Garcia made a nice 15-foot birdie to win the 15th, but then Fleetwood caught fire and birdied the next two holes to end the match. “I was not too lucky today,” Garcia said afterward with a shrug.
Fleetwood df Garcia, 2 and 1.
Justin Thomas (4) vs. Patrick Cantlay (7)
Cantlay birdied the last three holes, including a chip-in at 18, to force extra holes. The match really got heated then. Thomas hit a flop shot from behind the first green that landed softly and trickled in for birdie, then Cantlay rolled in a 20-footer that he began walking after even before it dropped. At the second, Cantlay made a 15-footer first, only to be topped by Thomas, who sank a 10-footer. At No. 5, an uphill par 5, Thomas tried to mash a drive but hit it into the left gunch. Cantlay laid up and wedged to eight feet. Thomas gouged out to the fairway and hit 3-wood to 30 feet. From there, he holed the birdie putt and, naturally, Cantlay holed his, too.
At the par-3 seventh, Thomas hit the green pin-high but Cantlay went long. His chip from just off the back edge picked up speed near the hole and careened off the green’s front. He missed his par putt from the fringe, and Thomas sank his putt for birdie. “I don’t think I dodged a bullet,” a fatigued Thomas said later, “I think it winged me.”
Thomas df Cantlay, 25 holes.
Tyrell Hatton (21) vs. Justin Rose (14)
It was England against England in this match but Rose had trouble off the tee with his driver, leading to four bogeys that had him 4 down on the front side. The TV microphones picked him up asking his caddie on the 10th tee, “Do you want to play the back instead of me?” Rose won two holes back with birdies at 10 and 12 but at the par-3 13th, Hatton thinned a low shot that hit on the green’s front and raced toward the flagstick. His ball somehow hit softly and stayed within a foot. That birdie got him back to 3 up and he finished it off by halving the 16th with a five-foot putt that teetered on the right edge before tantalizingly dropping in. “I’m having a heart checkup after that one,” Hatton joked later.
Hatton df Rose, 3 and 2.
Brooks Koepka (3) vs. Patrick Reed (7)
There were few words spoken in this match, apparently a result of comments Koepka made that were critical of Reed’s controversial escapade in that bunker in Bermuda a few months earlier.
Koepka’s long game really came around after that session in Las Vegas a few weeks earlier with Butch Harmon but on this day, he simply got outputted. Reed lit it up on the greens and had 10 birdies in 16 holes. “Sometimes you just run into a buzzsaw,” Reed said, “and today I was the buzzsaw.”
Reed df Koepka, 2 and 1.
Tiger Woods (11) vs. Gary Woodland (18)
The reigning Masters champ had trouble shaking the current U.S. Open champ. Woods went 2 up after a low-drawing iron stopped just short of being a hole-in-one at the fourth, then Woodland won the next two holes, back-to-back par 5s as Woods struggled to find the fairways.
Woods pitched in at the eighth for birdie and sank a 25-footer at the ninth for another win but Woodland rebounded at 11 and 12 to square the match. At 16, a par 4 that was downhill but still 390 yards, Woods took a chance and went for the green off the tee. After a gigantic first bounce on the firm fairway, it ran up to the front fringe, just 18 feet from the flagstick. Woodland, who had laid up, wedged to 8 feet. Woods poured his eagle putt in and gave a classic fist pump. They halved the last two holes. “When you play Tiger and he fist pumps,” Woodland said later, “you know you’re in trouble.”
Woods df Woodland 1 up.
Another perfect day of matches as the Tiger Woods/Gary Woodland match was the last on the course. It’s surprising how many marquee names are remaining and of the 8 that will play on Saturday (Friday night on the east coast) Cameron Smith is the only player that could be considered a long shot. Many are wondering if the reason so many marquee names are still around is because the field was downgraded to the top-32. No matter what, things are looking up for a specular weekend of golf.
Here are the pairings for the Quarter-final matches:
- Rory McIlroy (1) vs. Bryson DeChambeau (13)
- Cameron Smith (35) vs. Tommy Fleetwood (10)
- Justin Thomas (4) vs. Tyrrell Hatton (21)
- Patrick Reed (7) vs. Tiger Woods (11)