What did we learn from (some of Wednesday’s and most of) Thursday’s first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play championship?
For the first time since 2002 the top two seeds were ousted in the first round. Rory McIlroy was bested by world-number-66 Shane Lowry 1up. Tiger Woods was dusted (especially over the last three holes) 2 & 1 by Charles Howell III. What did these two matches have in common?
McIlroy and Lowry practically grew up together. They played junior and amateur golf together in Ireland. When Lowry won the Irish Open as an amateur in 2009, McIlroy was among the first on the green to congratulate and celebrate with Lowry.
As for the match, Rory showed the same inconsistent form from Abu Dhabi. While he did drive it better, his iron play was spotty at best. McIlroy lost his tee shot on the par 3 3rd hole to the right and landed in Lake Nicklaus while on 14 he blocked a 132 yard wedge 25 yards right. His approach to the 18th green, with Lowry in the left greenside bunker landed in the same bunker. His wedge play was not much better. After driving into the left greenside bunker on the short par 4 15th, Rory skulled his bunker shot well over the green. He did nearly hole out the bunker shot on 18 to extend the match but Lowry’s sand save ended Rory’s week.
Take nothing away from Shane Lowry though. Yes, the guy is in the field because Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson opted out of the tournament. But, to paraphrase Judge Smails, he was “no slouch” himself. Lowry staked his claim to the lead in the middle of the match. Not only did he chip in for birdie on the par 5 11th, he did the same thing on number 12, from a gnarly lie behind the green where the players had walked when exiting the green. AND THEN he stuffed his approach on the par 5 13th for a conceded EAGLE. This forced Rory to become more aggressive which led to the aforementioned mistakes on 14 and 15.
As for Tiger and Charles Howell III, these guys are former neighbors, literally. Howell still lives in the Isleworth community in Orlando where Tiger lived until 2011. They played together on Tavistock Cup teams (an inter-club match between several communities with several touring pros as residents). The two men also played countless practice rounds together at Isleworth.
Before the round Howell spoke with Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman and revealed that he could not remember EVER beating Tiger. Ever. That includes their match in the third round of the 1996 U.S. Amateur. When asked how many rounds he thought that might be Howell replied, “enough!” In all honesty, this match should not have been this close. Howell, long known as a great ballstriker with questionable putting, missed several putts in the six-foot-range that would have opened up a comfortable lead over Woods. On the 15th hole, with darkness setting in, Howell took the putter out of his bag by sticking a 143-yard 9 iron to about a foot. This after Woods showed that lack of short iron control that plagued him in 2012 when his approach from 151 yards flew the green. Howell went 1up, they halved the 16th, and Howell two-putted the 17th after Tiger over-shot another short iron approach to end the match in near darkness.
This was perhaps the best match of the day, in terms of the quality of the golf. When asked after the round why he wanted to continue playing despite the lack of daylight Woods told Steve Sands of Golf Channel that he and Howell had not made a bogey between them. Woods continued saying he thought his good play in the round gave him a chance to birdie the final two holes, but Howell simply played better.
A reoccurring storyline at the Accenture Match Play Championship is the “upsets,” or better-stated “matches where the lesser-known-player-to-American-golf-fans-beats-a-higher-seeded-player.” In addition to McIlroy and Woods, Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel (the presumptive favorite based on recent form), Zach Johnson, Lee Westwood, Jason Dufner, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Keegan Bradley are all finishing in a tie for 33rd (and a nice $45,000 parting gift). Additionally, Rickie Fowler will resume his match with Carl Pettersson 1 down on the final hole (the match was postponed due to darkness). When coupled with the absence of Phil Mickelson 9 major champions with 27 totals majors will miss the second round (Mickelson, McIlroy, Woods, Harrington, Schwartzel, Z. Johnson, Lawrie, Els, Bradley).
This begs the question, who is still alive? To start, defending champion Hunter Mahan, who tweeted this earlier:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p>This is some incredible golf happening right now! I haven’t watched this much golf in a while!</p>— Hunter Mahan (@HunterMahan) <a href=”https://twitter.com/HunterMahan/status/304761517390303232″>February 22, 2013</a></blockquote>
<script async src=”//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
I tweeted back “How happy are you to be inside right now?” Still waiting on Hunter’s response…
Additionally, Fowler is technically still alive, but will need to win in extra holes. Aside from that, familiar names are still to be found in the bracket: McDowell, Watson, Furyk, Jason Day (remember him?), Simpson, Kaymer (remember him too?), Donald, Stricker and Poulter, among a few others. Those few others include three of my final four (here comes the jinx) Peter Hanson, Thorbjorn Olesen and my winner, Justin Rose.
Here are some intriguing second round matches to look forward too:
- If Carl Pettersson holds on to beat Rickie Fowler he’ll face Shane Lowry. This will be a battle of the barrel-chested brutes.
- Sergio Garcia vs. Matt Kuchar: Constrating
styles…er…smiles here. Kuch will flash his a lot, and Sergio not so much.
- Justin Rose vs. Nicolas Colsaerts: Two European Ryder Cuppers
For those of you interested, I conducted an experiment on the random outcomes of the matches in this event. I filled out a bracket, representing the hardcore golf fan. My wife, the casual fan, filled out a bracket as well. My brother-in-law did the same, he knows almost nothing about golf. Lastly, my 1-year-old daughter picked winners when he asked her about each match (here she is picking the Snead bracket)
Our first results are almost final (waiting on those two matches tomorrow) here is where we stand:
Me: 18/30 matches correct…I have Pettersson and Molinari in the other two
Wife: 16/30 matches correct…she also has Petterson and Molinari
Brother-in-law: 18/30…he called the Tiger and Schwartzel losses and has Fowler and Molinari
Daughter: 18/30…also has Pettersson and Molinari
What did we learn from all of this? There is absolutely ZERO CHANCE that we can predict what will happen with 64 of the world’s best players play 18-hole matches on a quirky golf course with circus greens. And really, the last part about the greens is irrelevant because it’s the 18-hole matches (“sprints” as Tiger calls them) mean that anything can happen and no is safe.
Also, we learned that a 1 year old is just as adept at picking these outcomes as her hardcore golf fan father. Yep, she’s definitely mine.