Here is part 6 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 semi-final matches but due to a mistake the night before, some changes are being made.
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 6 of:
Our (fabricated ) WGC-Dell Match Play
Part 6 – Down to 4 but a mistake creates chaos with the match-ups
By Gary Van Sickle & Sal Johnson
Sunday – MARCH 29TH
An hour after the quarterfinal matches ended, chaos ensued over the semifinal matchups. It all happened because NBC put the wrong graphic of the semifinal matches on the screen while the Tiger Woods-Patrick Reed match was approaching the final green.
In NBC’s version, Rory McIlroy would play Tommy Fleetwood and the Woods-Reed winner would face Justin Thomas. It was the opposite of what the original brackets showed. McIlroy and Fleetwood were caught off guard when asked about their pairing on the air.
“Oh, am I playing Rory?” Fleetwood said. “I was looking to get Reed or Tiger.” Fleetwood partnered with Francesco Molinari in fourballs to beat Reed and Tiger in the last Ryder Cup in France, 3 and 1.
Justin Thomas stepped in to join the live interview and said he thought he was playing McIlroy but he’d be fine with Tiger or Reed. “Tiger and I, we play a lot of gambling games back home in Jupiter,” Thomas said. “It would be just another fun match for us.”
The interview wrapped and it wasn’t until the players departed the course that Golf Channel tipped on to the mixup, showing the original brackets.
The next hour was mass confusion. Neither the players nor their caddies could be found. A conference between rules officials, tour officials, and NBC executives concluded that since the players left the course believing they were playing a certain opponent, and this was an entertainment vehicle for the world more than a serious by-the-numbers tournament, it would be left that way unless any of the players objected.
When head rules official Mark Russell finally contacted the players and found them at dinner, the players said they already had some side bets arranged. Woods said he was anxious, in fact, to get some of his money back out of Thomas’ pocket.
All four players were excited about the rejiggered pairings and would rather not change them back and so, by unanimous consent, the tour let the new pairings stand.
So we dodged a bullet there. In looking over the news from yesterday saw the unfortunate news that Davis Love III’s, St. Simons home was burnt to the ground, how sad. Also see that the ratings and the buzz for these matches continued, even President Trump spoke about it during his Coronavirus news conference. “How great the match play tournament has been,” Trump said. “It’s been great in giving Americans something fun to watch and think about in these trying times.” The president took a second and said, “I can also see that all of those people that flew down to Fiji, all of the people on the Island there aren’t any of them with the virus,” he said glancing over to Dr. Fauci. “See Tony, what the warmth of Fiji is doing, it’s killed the virus so there is some hope that by Easter the heat could eliminate the virus from us.” Another thing that Trump has done is reschedule his 5:30 Coronavirus press conference to 2 pm so that he doesn’t go up against the rest of the Match Play.
We have another great day, the wind isn’t as bad as yesterday. So here is Gary with some news of the days’ matches.
World ranking in parentheses
Rory McIlroy (1) vs. Tommy Fleetwood (10)
When he finally hit the first fairway for the first time all week, McIlroy raised his arms in triumph and had a big smile. “Yesss!” he said loudly. Fleetwood stepped to the tee with a grin and told him, “What, did a Ryder Cup break out? Nobody told me.” Fleetwood hit the fairway, too, 30 yards short of his opponent. After the perfect tee shot, McIlroy misjudged the wind and found himself in the front bunker. Fleetwood hit the green with a 4-iron and made par, McIlroy hit a mediocre bunker shot and missed the par putt. He was 1 down.
Fleetwood showed off his short-game magic at the fourth hole, a scenic par 3 adjacent to the ocean. His iron shot drifted to the right and pinballed around in a pile of rocks next to a pond. The ball stayed up, however, and stopped atop a gap between two craggy rocks. “It’s match play, why not give it a go?” Fleetwood told his caddie. Fleetwood took a 3-iron, turned it sideways, swung and poked the ball up in the air, over the rocks and, miraculously, onto the green 40 feet from the hole. When McIlroy complimented him, Fleetwood joked, “It’s a good thing I’ve practiced that one.”
Fleetwood was still smiling after he sank the 40-footer for par. McIlroy missed his lengthy birdie try, hole halved.
There was a minor kerfuffle at the par-5 fifth hole. McIlroy easily reached the green in two and left his eagle putt 2 feet short. After Fleetwood missed his birdie try, McIlroy replaced his ball and looked toward Fleetwood, expecting a concession. None came so McIlroy putted and shockingly missed, halving the hole. “Really, Tommy?”
Fleetwood shrugged. “Maybe we should putt ‘em all today,” McIlroy said in a stern tone. “Fine with me, mate,” Fleetwood said.
They halved the next three holes with pars. At the par-4 ninth, both players laid up to the corner of the dogleg right. Fleetwood wedged to six feet, McIlroy to 12. McIlroy gunned his putt two-and-a-half feet past the cup. He angrily jammed his marker behind the ball, knowing it wouldn’t be conceded. Fleetwood holed his putt, McIlroy stroked his and watched it boomerang around the lip and come back toward him. He was 2 down.
McIlroy went all out on his drive at the par-5 11th, back into the wind and hit a low bullet that ran out to 335 yards. From there, he hit 4-iron to 10 feet. Fleetwood missed his birdie putt, McIlroy two-putted to win the hole.
McIlroy went for the green again at the 12th, a slight dogleg toward the ocean. His drive finished two steps in front of the green. Fleetwood laid up with an iron, wedged to four feet and halved the hole with a birdie.
They halved the next two holes with pars and halved the 15th with birdies. At 16, Fleetwood had a three-footer for par to halve the hole. He shoved the putt to the right and missed. The match was back to all square.
At 17, McIlroy smashed a drive past the crest of the fairway and hit 7-iron to eight feet. Fleetwood came up short of the green, then watched his pitch shot from 32 yards lip out. McIlroy made his eagle putt to go 1 up.
At 18, McIlroy flew his drive past all the fairway bunkers. Fleetwood’s drive caught the deep-faced bunker right of the fairway and had to pitch out. Fleetwood missed his par attempt from 18 feet and conceded McIlroy’s 12-footer for birdie. “I drove it really well,” McIlroy said later, “and that made the difference today.”
McIlroy df Fleetwood 2 up.
Justin Thomas (4) vs. Tiger Woods (11)
It was apparent early that Woods wasn’t feeling 100 percent because at the fourth hole, he started having caddie Joe LaCava retrieve his ball from the cup so he didn’t have to bend over. Was his fused back acting up? He’d told an NBC pre-game interviewer that he “felt fine” and “it is what it is.” So the ball-retrieval issue was a sort of red flag.
Despite that, Woods played well but he didn’t try to play power golf against Thomas. Woods often hit low iron shots off the tee to keep up the wind and pick up roll on the firm fairways.
It began to shape up as a pretty good duel at the third, where Thomas sank a 30-foot birdie putt and Woods topped him with a 20-footer. At the uphill par-5 fifth, Woods went with iron off the tee, Thomas hit driver. Woods found the fairway, Thomas found tangled grass left of the fairway. Both players had to lay up. Thomas dropped a wedge shot to three feet, Woods hit his to two feet and when they got to the green, Thomas asked, “Good-good?” Woods nodded agreement.
At the par-5 sixth, Woods winced after he hit his drive and gingerly did some stretching off to the side. Both players hit second shots just off the green. Thomas left his pitch 5 feet short, Woods pitched to a foot. Thomas missed, Woods was 1 up.
Woods walked a bit stiffly but seemed to be OK. They halved the next four holes, two with birdies, and reached the par-5 11th. Woods hit iron off the tee again, shades of the 2007 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool where he holstered his driver most of the week and played it as a three-shot hole. Thomas hooked his drive into the thick brush left of the fairway and hit a provisional off the tee. When he didn’t find his tee shot, the provisional was in play. He then missed the green with his fourth shot. Woods, meanwhile, was on in three and had an eight-footer for birdie. Thomas conceded Woods went 2 up.
Woods laid up at the short 12th hole, Thomas went for broke and missed the green right. Woods wedged to 15 feet, Thomas had to play out backwards toward the tee from a horrific lie behind the tropical equivalent of gorse. Thomas pitched on to 10 feet but watched Woods hole his birdie putt to go 3 up.
Just when it seemed Woods could get comfortable, Thomas drained a 20-foot birdie at the par-3 13th, a 12-footer at 14 and four-footer at 15 to square the match.
At 17, Thomas caught a flyer from a lie just off the fairway and went over the green into a deep bunker. Woods reached the front edge in two shots. Thomas blasted to 20 feet and angrily slapped the sand with his club after the shot. He missed the putt, Woods got down in two for an easy birdie and a 1-up lead.
At 18, Woods hit his 5-wood short of the fairway bunker, then hit 6-iron to five feet, a clutch shot. Thomas had a 20-footer for birdie that he had to make to stay alive and he poured it in. He didn’t act enthused when he made it because he was sure Woods would make his birdie putt. He was right, Woods made birdie and won the match.
“Well, when I came back from 3 down to tie the match, I thought I had some good momentum,” Thomas said. “Then I just got unlucky at 17, which I might’ve gotten away with if I wasn’t playing against Tiger.”
Woods told NBC he was pleased with his play. Asked about his back, he said he was going to get some treatment and get set for the final. Asked if the 36-hole windup would be a problem, Woods answered, “We’ll see.”
Woods df Thomas, 1 up.
So tomorrow will be the 36 hole final of the championship with Rory McIlroy facing Tiger Woods. Along with the finals, the other 30 players that have gotten beaten will play in the 18 hole Valero Texas Open. So for our final day in Fiji, it should be a great day of golf.
Here are the updated brackets:
In part VII it’s the Final-round of the Match Play Championship as Rory McIlroy takes Tiger Woods. We will also have the other 30 players in an 18 hole tournament.