World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play:
This was the 18th overall edition but first at the 7,073-yard par-72 Austin CC, and the first-ever PGA TOUR event in the state capital of Texas.
Jason Day: Despite tweaking his lower back during his Round 1 match on Wednesday vs. 62-seed Graeme McDowell, the Aussie won that contest 3-and-2 and went on to a perfect 7-0-0 record for the week en route to claiming his second Dell Match Play title in three years (2014).
With the Masters looming in two weeks, several in his camp had advised the 28-year-old to withdraw after the first-round win over McDowell, but he pressed on. After all, the reoccurring culprit, a bulging disc, had caused him to WD from The Barclays pro-am last fall before going on to win the kick-off event in the FedExCup Playoffs by six shots.
Day caught a break in Round 3 on Friday, playing only six holes (all square) against 23-seed Paul Casey before the Englishman WD due to illness. This allowed for much-needed rest and an earlier appointment with therapy – which by his own estimation, totaled approximately 10 hours this week.
On Saturday, the Aussie made quick work of 15-seed Brandt Snedeker 3-and-2 in the Round of 16. This win, coupled with then-World No. 1 Jordan Spieth’s Round of 16 ouster by Oosthuizen, allowed Day to reclaim the top ranking from the Texan, a spot Spieth had held for the last 20 weeks.
Side Note: Since August 3, 2014, the World No. 1 ranking has flip-flopped between:
Rory McIlroy/Spieth/McIlroy/Spieth/McIlroy --- Day/Spieth/Day/Spieth/Day.
Saturday afternoon, Day dispatched 18-seed Brooks Koepka 3-and-2 in the quarterfinals, setting up a showdown with third-seeded and defending champ McIlroy in the semis on Sunday morning.
After trailing 1 down at the turn, Day birdied three of his first four holes on the back nine to vault to a 2 up lead and would eventually close out McIlroy 1 up. It was the first (and only) match of the week where Day was required to play beyond the 16th hole.
Oosthuizen entered the championship final Day’s equal with an identical 6-0-0 record, including the aforementioned 4-and-2 jettison of top-seeded Spieth in the Round of 16.
Unfortunately, he ran into a buzz saw in the Aussie. The South African won the par-4 first with a three-putt par, but that was it.
Day won the third on concession and the fourth with a birdie-2 to go 1 up – and it was over. He won the seventh with par, the ninth with birdie, and closed him out with back-to-back birdies to win holes 13 and 14.
Day collects his ninth PGA TOUR title in his 177th career start and sixth in his last 13 events. It’s his second of the season (sixth event), after winning last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational wire-to-wire.
Day is the second two-time winner on TOUR this season, joining fellow Aussie Adam Scott, who also won his in back-to-back weeks. He jumps from No. 18 in the FedExCup standings to No. 2, trailing Scott.
The Winner’s Road to the Finals:
(2) Day defeats (62) Graeme McDowell, 3-and-2
(2) Day defeats (36) Thongchai Jaidee, 5-and-3
(2) Day defeats (23) Paul Casey, (WD after six holes)
Round of 16:
(2) Day defeats (15) Brandt Snedeker, 3-and-2
(2) Day defeats (18) Brooks Koepka, 3-and-2
(2) Day defeats (3) Rory McIlroy, 1 UP
(2) Day defeats (16) Louis Oosthuizen, 5-and-4
3rd Place Match:
Making his third Match Play appearance and first since a T17 in 2013, 52-seed Rafa Cabrera-Bello bested McIlroy 3-and-2 in the consolation match for an overall record of 5-1-1 on the week. McIlroy exited at 4-2-1.
The third-place finish was the 31-year-old’s best on the PGA TOUR in his 23rd career start, supplanting a T10 at the 2015 Puerto Rico Open.
The Spaniard entered the week off a T11 in his last start at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, which chased back-to-back T2s in the final two events of the European Tour’s Desert Swing.
The 9th Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach:
Tony Finau: With a final-round 2-under-par 33-37=70, Finau overcame a one-shot deficit to match Steve Marino on 12-under 276, and then defeated him with birdie on the third playing of the par-5 18th in sudden death for his first win on TOUR in his 46th career start.
The duo matched birdie-4s on the first two trips over the 18th before the 26-year-old ended things with a third straight circle. Interestingly enough, he had a chance to win in regulation on the same hole, but settled for a '5'.
Finau, making his tourney debut, began the finale one adrift of 54-hole leader and playing partner Ian Poulter after opening in 69-70-67. He split 10 (of 14) fairways, hit 15 greens in regulation and after his fourth birdie of the round at the par-4 10th, had built a three-shot margin.
The second-year man needed it as he played his final eight holes in birdie-less 2-over, squaring bogeys on 11 and 15.
Finau’s previous best was T7 (x2) during the 2014-15 season (Shriners, OHL Classic). The key to the win was his bogey-free 5-under 67 in R3, moving him from T15 after two rounds to T2 thru 54 holes.
He jumps from No. 103 in the OWGR to No. 72 and from 93rd in the FEC standings to 25th – following the results of the Match Play.
The Winners Stats (rank):
Fairways: 40/56 (T14)
Driving Distance: 302.3 yards (4th)
Greens in Regulation: 52/72 (T13)
Putts per GIR: 1.788 (37th)
Sand Saves: 4/5 (T3)
Eagles: 0 (T24)
Birdies: 15 (T26)
Bogeys: 3 (1st)
Double bogeys: 0 (T1)
Early/late was the overall better draw with 38 making the weekend vs. 32. NOTE: George McNeill (early/late) made the cut, but was DQ’d following R3 with a non-conforming club.
Tony Finau (P1): Early/late
Steve Marino (P2): Late/early
Rodolfo Cazaubon (T3): Early/late
Ian Poulter (T3): Late/early
Yahoo! Low Rounds:
R1: Rafael Campos (64)
R2: Ian Poulter (66)
R4: Jerry Kelly (65)
R4- (ONE): Andres Romero (67)
Steve Marino: The Oklahoma native orchestrated a 2-under-par 36-34=70 in the final round to post 12-under 276, before losing to Finau’s third straight birdie on the par-5 18th in sudden death.
Marino, like Finau, was making his tourney debut. Playing out of the penultimate twosome, one group ahead of Finau and 54-hole leader Poulter, he was first to post after birdieing the 18th in regulation.
The 36-year-old and first-time Web.com Tour grad began the finale one adrift after opening in 70-67-69. He found just seven (of 14) fairways and 11 greens in regulation, but posted 1.636 putts per GIR with five birdies. Marino went 4-for-7 in scrambles with bogeys on Nos. 3, 8 and 11.
The UVA alum, winless on TOUR in 182 career starts, settles for his fifth career runner-up and first top 10 since solo second at the 2011 API and earns an exemption into this week's Shell Houston Open.
Other Top-10 Exemptions into the SHO:
Rodolfo Cazaubon: Went for a career-best T3 on 11-under 277 (70-70-69-68). The 26-year-old was the leading money winner in 2015 on the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica with three wins among seven top-10 finishes on 16 starts earning him a promotion to the Web.com Tour. This was his third career TOUR start and first at the PR Open.
Andres Romero: Hit all 18 GIR in the final round en route to bogey-free 67 and T5 on 10-under 278 (70-73-68-67) in his fifth appearance.
Rafael Campos: The 18- and 36-hole leader opened with a tourney-low bogey-free 64 and chased with 71-72-72 to finish T8 on 9-under 279. It’s his first top 10 on TOUR in his ninth career start, all at the PR Open.
What We Learned:
The pre-tourney odds-faves have won just once this season thru 20 events – Jordan Spieth (Hyundai TOC). McIlroy was the book-maker favorite this week at the Match Play (9/1) and finished fourth. Scott Brown was the fave at the PR Open (16/1) and finished T5.
Day (12/1) gave the internationals five wins in the last six events on TOUR (Scott x2, and Charl Schwartzel), while the American Finau (33/1) interrupts. Overall, the internationals have won 10 of 20 events on the season.
Prior experience at the Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach G&CC is not required. The top-four finishers were all making their tourney debuts.
Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 21st tournament of the season.