World No. 1 Rory McIlroy lived up to his ranking as he defeated American Gary Woodland 4 & 2 to win the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. The Ulsterman completed his seven matches unbeaten and was joined on the podium by England’s Danny Willett as he defeated Jim Furyk 3 & 2 in the consolation match. McIlroy joins Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players with 10 or more TOUR wins before the age of 26. That's elite.
A brand new format at a “newish” course yielded the same results as usual in World Golf Championship formats: the cream of the crop usually is holding the trophy at the end of business. Playing a traditional layout (TPC Harding Park was designed in 1925) brought dividends for the premium ball-strikers this week and when McIlroy is on, nobody is beating him, period.
He gave his opponents plenty of chances this week as he was taken to the wire more than once. He was 2-down with three to play to Billy Horschel in the final group match which was “win-or-go-home”. He birdied the final three to force extra holes and won on the second extra hole. He was one down with two to play against Paul Casey in the quarterfinals after he smoked Matsuyama 6 & 5 but ground out two pars to again find extra holes. After three holes of matching pars before darkness hit the edge of town, McIlroy came back the next morning to two-putt from 60 feet for birdie to advance to the semis. He found himself again one down with two to play and he finished Furyk off birdie-eagle to advance to the final.
Killing off the No. 1 player in the world was quite difficult this week; so difficult it didn’t happen. He gave opponents chance after chance to knock him out but they couldn’t find the proper combination or haymaker to make it happen whether the weather was nice, cold or somewhere in between.
Gamers can rip up any match play notes they were keeping this week on TPC Harding Park. The TOUR announced this week that the WGC-Match Play is heading to Austin Country Club and will be renamed Dell Match Play. Next year will be the first of four visits in a row to the coolest city in Texas.
Why This Performance Doesn’t Surprise:
He’s not the No. 1 player for his stunning good looks and winning personality! He's now WON four of the last six “major tournaments” dating back to last year. His reign of terror began last July at The Open Championship at Royal Liverpool. He then won the 2014 WGC-BI and backed that up the following week with the PGA Championship. The start to his 2015 was, ahem, slow as he was ninth at WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral and fourth at the Masters. He played his final 45 holes at Augusta 15-under-par so he was hardly off-kilter entering this week!
Why This Performance Surprises:
It looks SO EASY on paper after it happens but having to win SEVEN matches in this new format instead of the previous six hardly makes any of these players a guarantee. McIlroy might have had a bit of luck as well this week as he pulled a few escape acts noted above. Plus Paul Casey, who was playing unbelievably well, picked up a case of food poisoning before resuming their delayed match from Saturday evening. Also, Tiger Woods has been the only No. 1 overall seed to ever win this tournament so it reinforces how difficult this format is to conquer.
How McIlroy Won This Week:
He overpowered the course tee-to-green and was very sharp around the greens. A classic course like TPC Harding Park will test all facets and McIlroy putted it, chipped it and birdied it to death. He kept finding ways when he was losing to keep touching distance (Horschel, Casey, Furyk) and when he had the chance to put a guy away (Dufner, Matsuyama, Woodland) he did that as well.
He joins Nicklaus and Woods as the only players in the last 75 years to win 10 times before they turn 26. The company is better than the “record” as McIlroy turns 26 tomorrow so he beat it by a day! He’s won 10 times in the last five years just as gamers have expected him to do. In weekly games gamers write him off at their own peril. He’s played great in love, cold, hot, broken up and in team formats. His only weakness is his random 40 nine-hole score that pops in from time to time. I’ll live with that. He hits it a mile. He hits it straight. He scrambles. He grinds. And when he’s given extra outs he’s going to make the opposition pay, just like all the great ones do!
With This Win:
He becomes the youngest WGC-Match Play champ as he beats Jason Day’s record by a few months that he set last year. He pockets $1.570 million and tacks on 550 FedExCup points.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After 28 wins in 45 events last season, the USA continues its dominance this year. Brooks Koepka, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman, Bubba Watson, Ryan Moore, Robert Streb, Ben Martin, Brandt Snedeker, James Hahn (born in Korea; US citizen), Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Matt Every, Walker again, J.B. Holmes, Spieth again and Jim Furyk are the USA champs. Alex Cejka (Germany), Paddy Harrington (Ireland), Sangmoon Bae (Korea), Nick Taylor (Canada), Jason Day (Australia) Justin Rose (England) and McIlroy (Northern Ireland) are the seven international winners in 25 events. It’s quite the global game in the sense that all seven international winners have come from seven DIFFERENT countries.
Haas, Bae, Martin, Moore, Walker and now Spieth have closed their 54-hole leads. Walker and Spieth are the only persons on BOTH sides of his list. Walker couldn’t close out at HTOC but came back and won the following week at Sony. Spieth, who was 0-4 with the 54-hole lead in his career on TOUR, couldn’t hold out at SHO before winning the Masters. We’ll keep an eye on this development next week at THE PLAEYRS as Match Play is a different animal.
After 13 first-time winners in 2013 there were only 10 last year. After 23 events in 2015, Martin, Streb, Taylor, Koepka, Hahn and Cejka have made their breakthroughs. Willett was looking for his first PGA TOUR victory but settled for third instead.
McIlroy is the first Match Play winner in six events who was a major champion. #StreakBuster
He becomes the ninth player to have multiple WGC titles and second player in a row (Dustin Johnson, WGC-CC at Doral) to join this club in consecutive events.
McIlroy is the youngest winner of Match Play but Reed remains the youngest winner of a WGC event.
McIlroy continues the trend of foreign dominance as he becomes the fifth international to win in the last seven.
The romance of Match Play continues again this year as Woodland, No. 52 finished second and Willett, No. 49, finished third. Furyk rounded out the final four at No. 5.
Woods remains the only player to defend his title at this event.
Young Guns Versus Prime Time Versus Old Guys
I annually keep track of the age of the winners on TOUR because I’m an ageist. GET OFF MY VIAGRA.
Bae got the youngsters (under 30) on the board first in 2014-15 followed by Martin and Streb, both 27. Nick Taylor, 26, popped in to close out 2014 at SFC. Reed joined the party at a whopping 24 at HTOC followed by Koepka, 25 in Phoenix and Jason Day, 27, at Torrey Pines. Spieth, who turns 22 on 29 July, has won at Valspar and Augusta. McIlroy turns 26 on Monday, May 4. The youngsters now have nine winners in 25 events this year.
Dustin Johnson (30), James Hahn (33), Brandt Snedeker (34), Bill Haas (32), Jimmy Walker TWICE (36), Charley Hoffman (37), Bubba Watson (36), Ryan Moore (31), Matt Every (31), J.B. Holmes (32) and Justin Rose (34) are the prime time guys with silverware (30-39 years).
The old guys (40-and-over) have Jim Furyk, Paddy Harrington and Alex Cejka as representatives in their smallish club in 2015. Furyk led McIlroy one-up with two to play, played his final two holes one-UNDER and lost the match in regulation. Blimey. Only Paul H. isn’t surprised.
What I learned from Match Play this week besides it’s impossible to handicap. Oh wait, I already knew that…
Winner: McIlroy. I had him falling to Casey in the final eight and I wasn’t off my much. Casey again proved that putting is hardly the strongest part of his game but his ball-striking was lights-out. For more McIlroy, please page it back up.
Runner-up: Woodland. Need more proof that this event is impossible to figure out? Woodland had never won a match in his previous two attempts at this event. At No. 52 entering the week the big hitter had missed four of his last eight and had nothing better than T21. He reinforced the fact that when in doubt take ball-strikers over putters on unfamiliar courses. Major kudos for winning the group of major difficulty as he SWEPT Walker, Poulter and Simpson but it was No. 60 Leishman in the 16, No. 65 Senden in the quarters and No. 49 Willett in the semis. That’s good fortune and taking advantage of it. He was down four with nine to go and had a putt on No. 13 from four feet to cut McIlroy’s lead to one. What’s the weakest part of his game? It ain’t crushing it down the fairway…
Third Place: If Danny Willett hasn’t caught your eye, might be time for a trip to Spec Savers. His victory today gives him enough quid to accept Special Temporary Membership, if he chooses, for the rest of the TOUR season. He would get unlimited sponsor’s exemptions if he chooses to do so. He’s only 27 and he’s now made four cuts in five TOUR events this season. His match play resume was a huge factor this week as he won four amateur titles worldwide during 2007-2008 and three of them were match play. He had never played in this event before! Wow!
Fourth Place: Bolton reminded me that I mentioned during the chat that somebody could potentially lose three times this week and Jim Furyk took this cake. In the old format two losses was all a man could handle. Furyk, who had never made it past the quarterfinals in 14 previous attempts, kept his very solid play going after his win last time out at Hilton Head. More proof that playing from the middle of the fairway isn’t the worst idea.
Paul Casey: My OAD for the week ground out three really tough group matches (22 holes, 1-up, 1-up), beat Schwartzel in the 16 by parring him off the course down the stretch but fell to McIlroy in the quarters after another epic match. I read somewhere that Casey was 100-1 for the final three majors of the year. Yes, please. His T5 is his fifth top 10 in his last seven. In an event of this weirdness, I’ll gladly take T5 in the OAD crap shoot. He now has 30 career victories in match play.
Tommy Fleetwood: He checked in at No. 57 entering the week so when he lost to Garcia in the first group match, not many were surprised. He defeated Donaldson in 21 holes and Wiesberger in 19 to advance out of the group and was playing with house’s money. The 24-year old first-timer knocked out Brendan Grace before bowing out to countryman Willett in the quarters. He was third in China two weeks ago but followed that up with MC the week after.
John Senden: He was No. 65 but obviously wasn’t concerned with any rankings as he motored into the quarters before being KO’d by Woodland. In nine starts in 2015 he MC five times and hadn’t finished anywhere inside the top 30. In this event he had been knocked out in the first round in two of his three visits. It didn’t add up but, hey, that’s golf!
Louis Oosthuizen: He’ll be remembered for the shot that beat Rickie Fowler instead of losing to Furyk in the quarters. I’ll remember this performance because it’s three in a row where he hasn’t WD before the event started! That’s progress and he said multiple times this week that he’s healthy. I’ve already pointed to him being my OAD at St. Andrews as he’ll defend his 2010 title, if he’s healthy. He smashed a five-wood from a fair lie in the rough from 232 up the neck of No. 18 to put the pressure on Fowler. Fowler, perched in the middle of the fairway, squeezed his approach into the ganuch and was short-sided. Game over. Oosti led at the turn against Furyk 1-up but didn’t make any birdies and Furyk made four. Ouch.
A quick recap of what happened to the Chalk from my preview column:
Jordan Spieth: Well, I guess he’s human. Crusty Westwood, also coming off a win his last time out, beat the young Texan heads-up on the final match day to win the group. I guess we go back to the McIlroy flock now, right? Ha. They’re both great. I’m going to enjoy them both!
Henrik Stenson: After fighting the flu at Augusta I figured he would have been fresh entering the week at TPC Haring Park. He had a three-footer to close out Senden in his first match and he missed. After finishing No. 18, he started walking to the scoring tent even though his match was even. Sigh. He rebounded to beat Brendon Todd in round two but that was all academic as Senden won the group 3-0. Yikes.
George Coetzee: He was No. 59. He was my upset but it was right idea, wrong guy.
Justin Rose: I would take him again coming off T2 at Augusta and WIN at Zurich. No regrets as he was beaten by group winner Leishman and finished 2-1.
Jason Day: Here’s when you know it’s not your “Day”: There was a three-way playoff in this group and he wasn’t included. He was the co-54-hole leader the week before at New Orleans. My love-hate relationship with him in fantasyland is strong.
Victor Dubuisson: He’s WD from THE PLAYERS already so there’s something amiss with the Frenchman. NOW YOU TELL ME…
Sergio Garcia: I thought I was going the “safe” route here. He went 1-2. He’s 27-24-2 career in singles.
Ian Poulter: Another match play maven bit the dust as he went 1-2 in the Woodland-Simpson-Walker group. Walker was 0-3. That group was upside down.
Graeme McDowell: He didn’t win a match. Woof.
Patrick Reed: Finished group play 2-1 but he was in the Willett group and the Englishman went 3-0. Too many pars as he lost 2 & 1 heads-up.
Keegan Bradley v Miguel Angel Jimenez: This is was the best 0-2 match up of the week. Somebody had to finish last. They both did after that issue on the final hole. Imagine if that match actually would have meant something for advancing?
Pick better golfers.
It’s that simple.
It’s not the format.
It’s part luck, part strategy and a TON of ball-strikers.
I thought the new group format was an excellent idea as perfection isn’t a part of golf and second chances, just like playing Thursday AND Friday to make the cut, makes sense.
The only rule I would change next year is if both guys are 0-2 entering the final match, a television-time only, steel cage match to determine the winner. That or they both play left-handed if they are not.
Laugh a little, it won’t hurt, unlike the bracket I filled out!
I’ll publish my weekly preview, Range Rover, around lunchtime, children permitting. I’ll focus on history, current form, course characteristics, winning qualities and those who I think will and will not.
Coming TUESDAY Afternoon
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday late afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game, DFS plus the European Tour! Oh, and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it every Tuesday until the Presidents Cup.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON ET. We will be breaking down the field at THE PLAYERS plus answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/mikeglasscott) on Twitter.