Here is part 5 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 quarter-finals 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 5 of:
Our (fabricated ) WGC-Dell Match Play
Part 5 – Field now down to just 8, and they are an amazing 8
By Gary Van Sickle & Sal Johnson
SATURDAY – MARCH 28TH
Nothing but great news as I get up on Saturday morning. First I saw the ratings for both the NBC telecast of the 16 first-round matches and the Golf Channel shows and frankly they are incredible. The ending of the matches, which saw the Tiger Woods vs Lee Westwood and the Tony Finau vs Gary Woodland matches saw phenomenal numbers, as they beat Fox’s Masked Singer which has been in the top-five of the ratings since the show started up. The ending of the NBC shows held up against Lego Masters and when Golf Channel did their post-game show was beaten by all the other networks, but were not fair behind CBS offering of Seal Team and S.W.A.T. Over the last couple of nights, Golf Channel has had the highest, non-network prime time ratings showing the interest that America is looking for some key event. The numbers for the 2nd round, the Thursday night show beat all of the other network offerings, so bad that CBS has canceled part 1 of their Hawaii-Five O final show that is suppose to go on tonight. The networks are also pulling program over the weekend and CBS announced that they have pulled all their Sunday night shows and replaced them with a couple of hours of “encore” (which means repeat) shows of past 60 minute shows. The match play Championship, PGA Tour, Tiger Woods, Dell Technologies and Fiji seem to be the biggest keywords in social media and have replaced Coronavirus in popularity.
NBC has had great success with the new RF truck and has asked officials if they could mic the players. The reaction wasn’t very favorable for the players in the last three groups, but both McIlroy and DeChambeau had no trouble with it, so they will have mics on them. Looking forward to what is heard.
So the call to move the tournament to Fiji is one of the biggest successes in years. The news is good with all of the folks that we have brought over, not one health problem has come up The players that have lost are of course unhappy about losing their matches, but all of the players love sticking around. Most of them realize that for them and their families it’s better to be here and enjoying themselves, than being at home and having to self-Isolated. Of course, everyone is looking to getting back home, but it’s ok to be on this enchanting island for a couple more days.
Weather is again perfect, the wind is up a bit as play is starting. Again I hand you over to Gary to update and tell us how each match turned out.
World ranking in parentheses
Rory McIlroy (1) vs. Bryson DeChambeau (13)
A slow start in his previous match with Dustin Johnson didn’t hurt Rory McIlroy yesterday but it cost him against DeChambeau. After blocking his drive into the adjacent fifth fairway a day earlier, McIlroy hooked a drive into an area of thick jungle-grass. A three-minute search ended without finding the ball and DeChambeau won the hole with a routine par. McIlroy hooked another drive at the second, found the ball in a thick lie and was barely able to get it back to the fairway. DeChambeau won with another par. With trouble left at No. 3, McIlroy pushed a 3-wood into a fairway bunker close to the lip, forcing a pitch-out. DeChambeau made three pars and was 3 up.
McIlroy finally got untracked at the fourth, the fabulous par 3 along the ocean, dropping a 5-iron to 15 feet. DeChambeau holed a 30-footer for birdie, then McIlroy made his birdie putt for the halve to stop the bleeding.
His mic picked up McIlroy on the tee at the par-5 fifth telling his caddie, “What the hell, give me the driver.” He split the fairway and made another birdie, matching DeChambeau’s birdie. Both players birdied the par-5 sixth, too, but at the par-3 seventh, DeChambeau found the far left bunker on the Redan green and thinned his sand shot across the green. McIlroy parred to win the hole to get to 2 down. When they were walking off the green his mic overheard McIlroy tell his caddie, “Guess he is human after all.”
McIlroy blasted a 338-yard drive down the middle into a crosswind at the par-5 11th while DeChambeau lost his drive left, into the overgrown area, and had to re-tee, eventually conceding the hole. McIlroy went for the green at the short 12th but hit it into an unplayable lie left of the green. DeChambeau took a long time debating what to hit off the tee, eventually laid up with an iron, made par and won the hole to go 2 up. It was fun to hear Bryson agonize over his decision, the mics have been a big success. However, a rules official informed them on the 13th tee that they were behind the pace of play and were now on the clock. “Don’t tell me,” McIlroy told the official, pointing at DeChambeau, “tell him.”
The match turned at the 394-yard 14th, playing slightly downwind when McIlroy pulled driver on the tee and launched a titanic shot that flew into the left greenside bunker. DeChambeau played a poor wedge approach, then McIlroy splashed out to a foot for a conceded birdie and a win to go 1 down.
After a pair of matching pars, McIlroy hit a 7-iron onto the par-5 17th green in two to eight feet and made eagle, squaring the match. At 18, DeChambeau found a fairway bunker but played a superb approach to 25 feet, pin-high right. McIlroy hit a wedge to a foot for a conceded birdie and won the match when DeChambeau’s birdie try had too much speed and spun out of the cup. “It was a memorable finish after a forgettable start,” McIlroy said. “What a match, I’m drained.”
McIlroy df DeChambeau, 1 up.
Cameron Smith (35) vs. Tommy Fleetwood (10)
In a pre-match interview for Golf Channel, Smith was asked if he felt like the underdog here even though he beat No. 6 Adam Scott in the second round. “Tommy has to be the favorite,” Smith said. “Haven’t you seen his hair?”
The underdog didn’t play like one. Smith, the young Aussie who won this year’s Sony Hawaiian Open, birdied the opening three holes, including a holed pitch shot from 40 yards at the third. The only problem for him was, Fleetwood birdied all three holes, too, including a 30-foot putt to halve the third hole.
“After the third hole, I was starting to wonder if I’d have to shoot 54 to halve the match,” Fleetwood joked later.
Both players bogeyed the par-3 fourth from the left bunker and the uphill par-5 fifth. They play similar games—keep it in play, get it around the green and then chip and putt their brains out. Smith sank an unlikely 60-footer that broke four ways for birdie to win the seventh, Fleetwood chipped in at the eighth from in front of the green.
They halved the 12th and 13th holes with birdies, then Fleetwood took the lead for good when he hit it close at the par-3 15th while Smith misclubbed slightly and went over the green into the hazard.
At 16, Fleetwood wedged to six feet and made it after Smith’s 18-foot birdie putt hit the cup with too much speed, popped up and kept going. Fleetwood sank a 12-footer for birdie at the par-5 17th hole before Smith got to try his own five-footer for birdie, ending the match. Smith picked up his coin, took off his cap, walked over to Fleetwood and saluted, a move that seemed to be replacing handshakes as the preferred method of expressing respect.
Fleetwood df Smith, 2 and 1.
Justin Thomas (4) vs. Tyrrell Hatton (21)
It was evident that some of the players are enjoying Fiji, maybe a little too much. Thomas said in a pre-match NBC interview that he and Rickie Fowler, who used to compete in motocross events when he was young, rented go-karts and raced on the beach the evening before. “It probably wasn’t a good idea but it was a lot of fun, “ Thomas said. Asked who won, Thomas shook his head and answered, “Not me. Rickie is a pro.”
Neither player looked sharp on the front nine in this match as the fickle breezes off the ocean gusted and faded with irritating regularity. Each player had two bogeys and Hatton would have made at least a double-bogey at the eighth, after losing a drive in the gunch left of the fairway, if he had finished the hole. He conceded it to Thomas, who was on the green in regulation.
The short 12th is turning into the tournament’s most exciting hole. Thomas cranked a drive that found the green and left him with a 40-foot eagle putt. Hatton went for the green, too, but missed left into an overgrown gully. He found the ball and somehow hacked it onto the putting surface. Thomas poured in the eagle putt, however, to go 2 up, and dropped the hammer on Hatton by stiffing an iron shot to two feet at the long par-3 13th. Hatton missed his birdie, Thomas made his to go 3 up.
At 15, Hatton’s 24-foot birdie try hit the flagstick, which he’d left in, and clanked away a foot. “Bloody hell! That’s a bloody joke!” Hatton exclaimed. Then Thomas holed his 10-footer for birdie and the win.
Thomas df Hatton, 4 and 3.
Patrick Reed (7) vs. Tiger Woods (11)
It was funny when these players showed up at the practice green and Reed was wearing Tiger’s usual Sunday outfit—red shirt, black slacks—and Woods arrived in green slacks and a green-and-yellow tropical-palm patterned shirt, something totally out of character for him. It was an interesting battle of psyche-out attempts for opponents who had a famously failed pairing in a losing effort at the Ryder Cup in France.
For a great player, Woods has a quirk of hitting poor tee shots on the opening hole. He did it again, losing his drive into the underbrush separating the first and fifth fairways. He chopped it out into a fairway bunker, had to lay up from there and wedged to a foot. Reed made a routine par and jumped off to a lead.
At No. 4, a par 3 along the ocean’s edge, Reed found the long bunker on the left. With the wind freshening off the beach, Woods played a low shot, like a stinger, except it landed softly and ran out only a short way, stopping within two feet. It was a sensational shot and Reed clapped his hands several times in approval. Woods gave him a disinterested nod. That birdie evened the match.
Reed and Woods had a back-and-forth duel reminiscent of Reed’s raucous shootout with McIlroy at Hazeltine National in the 2016 Ryder Cup, only without the histrionics. Reed made a 20-footer for birdie at the fifth, Woods holed his six-footer for the halve. Woods lipped out a flop shot at the sixth for eagle, then Reed sank an slippery downhill 12-footer for birdie and another halve, giving it a small fist pump.
At the seventh, Reed holed out from the front bunker to the front pin placement. Woods answered by pouring in a 25-footer that broke hard right-to-left. Woods pointed a finger at the cup as he leaned over to retrieve the ball.
They traded bogeys at the next two holes and saved pars at the 10th. The par-5 11th was into a freshening breeze so Woods hit a stinger iron off the tee and laid up. Reed missed his 15-foot birdie try, then didn’t concede a three-footer for birdie to Woods. Good call because Woods burned it over the right edge and stepped back in astonishment that he’d missed.
The par-3 13th is a dead ringer for the 4th, right along the ocean. It played 223 yards from today’s tees. Woods played a different shot here, opting for a high-drawing 5-iron that hit and spun back slightly to eight feet. Reed hit a lower-trajectory shot that came up 20 feet short. He holed the putt and give a big fist pump as it dropped. Woods made his, too, and merely touched the brim of his cap.
Woods took a 1-up lead at the 16th when Reed hooked his drive into thick tropical grass, took an unplayable penalty and made bogey.
The 17th is a shortish par 5 at 541 yards but with a green that is almost an island surrounded by marsh grass and gully covered in thick underbrush. Woods split the fairway with a 3-wood, then thinned a 5-iron that ran over the green into a wickedly thick, grassy crater. Reed was just short of the green in two. Woods took a mighty swing with a lob wedge but the ball didn’t move. He tried again and got it to the middle of the green. Then Reed chipped in for eagle to square the match.
Woods and Reed found the rough on opposite sides of the 18th fairway. Woods caught a poor lie and was able to get his second shot only to within 20 yards of the green. Reed had a minute-long search before he found his ball and then, after some discussion with his caddie, pulled out a hybrid and hit a bullet that hit the fairway and careened 60 yards onto the green, three feet from the cup. Woods wedged to 15 feet and appeared to be in danger of losing the match.
Once they got to the green, Reed picked up his ball to hand it to his caddie for cleaning. Instead of passing it over, he looked at it, spun it around in his fingers a few times while he stared at it, and a weird look came over his face. He motioned a rules official to come over. A curious Woods walked over to hear the conversation.
Reed appeared flustered. “This isn’t my ball,” he told the official. “It’s a Pro V1 number 3 but it’s not my Pro V1 3, it doesn’t have my line around the side. I guess I must’ve hit the wrong ball out of the rough back there.”
Rules official Mark Russell said, “Patrick, are you sure it’s not your ball?” Reed nodded and said, “That’s a two-stroke penalty, right?”
Russell shook his head. “In match play, hitting the wrong ball means loss of hole,” he said.
“Right,” Reed said resignedly. Reed removed his cap and stuck out his hand to shake with Woods, then pulled it back. “I forgot we don’t do that anymore,” Reed said. Reed casually saluted and Woods nodded. “Good playing,” Reed said. “You too,” Woods replied, tipping his cap.
Later, Woods told an NBC interviewer, “That was a pretty big turnaround on 18. It looked like I was pretty much dead, then Patrick called the penalty on himself for hitting the wrong ball. I mean, he could’ve putted out, won the match and nobody would have been the wiser but he did the right thing, the only thing he could do. It’s unfortunate the match had to end like that. He played pretty well, we both did.”
Woods df Reed, 1 up.
What can anyone say after that match. Of course, we all feel sorry for Reed, but nobody is going to object to having Tiger Woods in the Semi-finals tomorrow It’s been another great day of golf and it’s hard to believe but it’s only 2:30 so it’s time to spend a few hours at the beach.
Here are the pairings for the Semi-final matches:
- Rory McIlroy (1) vs. Tommy Fleetwood (10)
- Justin Thomas (4) vs. Tiger Woods (11)
Here are the updated brackets:
In part VI it’s the semi-final round of the Match Play Championship as Rory McIlroy takes on Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Thomas playing against Tiger Woods.