MARANA, Ariz. – Speriamo che Monty ha guardato solo i lati anteriori.
That’s Italian for, “Let’s hope Monty only watched the front side.”
“Monty” as in your spiritual leader of the European Ryder Cup team, captain Colin Montgomerie.
By “front sides” we’re talking about the early stuff and not crunch time when it comes to two different matches involving those rising golf stars from Italy, Francesco and Edoardo Molinari.
The former led Zach Johnson, 2 up through 11.
The former led Stewart Cink, 4 up through nine.
The pasta couldn’t have tasted as good afterward, because both Molinaris lost as Francesco went 3 over for the final 10 holes to lose on the 21st and Edoardo lost five of the last eight holes to fall, 2 up.
You can almost see Captain Monty tearing up that lineup card for Wales with two potential European members having lost to two names sure to be on the American side.
OK, so none of what happened on the first day of the Accenture Match Play Championship has a thing to do with a Ryder Cup nearly eight months away, but the Molinaris coughing up leads was as good a storyline as any on a day when the only thing that matched the endless blue sky was the limitless gall of the Tiger Woods Camp.
But that’s another story elsewhere. In this space, it’s about the golf, so to Ernie Els’ question – “Will anyone ask about my 4-and-3 win?” since Woods’ announcement pretty much was a ferocious slap in the face of this tournament – the answer is: “Yes, sir, we will focus on the golf.”
But how to wrap up nearly 10 hours of golf involving 32 matches on what in one man’s opinion is the best day of the year on the PGA Tour? With quick highlights, observations, and curiousities:
• Move over, Peter O’Malley. Only once had the No. 1 seed been beaten by No. 64, that being in 2002 when the unheralded Aussie beat Tiger Woods. Well, it has now happened twice, because an Englishman named Ross McGowan – who got into the tournament only because Woods and Phil Mickelson didn’t play – played his last 13 holes in 4 under to stun top-seeded Steve Stricker. McGowan’s wild, scrambling par on the 19th hole prevailed when Stricker couldn’t get it up-and-down from a buried lie in a bunker.
• Too far, no good. There might be something about hitting it too long. That’s because Dustin Johnson and Alvaro Quiros were sent packing. Actually, both could have started packing early, for Johnson conceded the first four holes and never could solve Camilo Villegas and lost, 4 and 3, while Quiros discovered that diminutive former hockey players pack quite a punch. Mike Weir ran out of the gates with five straight birdies, was 8 under through 10, and whalloped the Spaniard, 8 and 6.
• Kid’s stuff. Hey, when you’re 18 you probably think you can hit an 8-iron out of the sand from 169 yards to a foot and make a tap-in birdie. Thing is, Ryo Ishikawa accompished that feat to win the 17th and go 1 up, and he completed the victory with a solid par at the 18th.
Ishikawa had been 2 up early, only to fall 1 down before he won the 16th with a par and pulled off the heroics at No. 17.
• Quick work. No one has ever accused Ben Crane of such a thing, but he never worked so easy for a victory in his life. Feeling sick with what he termed “an out-of-body experience,” Henrik Stenson withdrew at the first tee to afford Crane a pass into the second round. Not that Stenson cost anyone a spot, because no alternates were on site.
• Hey, I know you. Arguably the most appealing second-round match is between those longtime friends from South Africa – Els and Retief Goosen. Els played beautifully, bogey-free and 6 under for 15 holes to whip Ryan Moore, while Goosen eagled the par-5 second to seize a lead he never relinquished, beating Soren Hansen.
• The gang from “Slapshot.” OK, it’s a cliche and probably tired, but how ’bout those Hanson brothers from the classic hockey movie. Not only did Soren fall, but so did Peter Hanson, 4 and 2, to Robert Allenby. On a bright note, Anders Hansen whipped U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover, 2 and 1.
• Yeah, but the range is still open. Bounced in the first round for a second straight year, Padraig Harrington simply did what he always does – he headed to the range. “It’s always the case when it comes to this match play,” Harrington said after being dusted by Jeev Milkha Singh, 3 and 1. “I’m not sharp enough.”
• Do I have to pay the 18-hole rate? Geoff Ogilvy won seven consecutive holes starting at the par-4 seventh and roasted Alexander Noren, 7 and 5, which is a lot better than the way he began the last time he was defending champ in this tournament. That was in 2008 when he lost in Round 1. Ogilvy is now 17-2 in the Accenture Match Play Championship.
• Red, white, and bruised. Of the 20 Americans in the field, only eight advanced – and three of them (Brian Gay over Kenny Perry, 2 and 1; Jim Furyk over Scott Verplank, 2 and 1; Matt Kuchar over Anthony Kim, 3 and 2) played another American.
• Best match overwhelmed by Woods news. Sergio Garcia never trailed, but neither did David Toms ever feel out of the match. It was that tight, but Toms could never get any sort of control as the Spaniard won, 2 up. It’s the first time in 10 trips to this championship that Toms has lost in the first round.
• What, me worry? He lost three of the first four holes, was 4 down through six, and looked like he was heading to the high school prom. You know, smiling beneath a mop of hair. Which is when Rory McIlroy turned into the ferocious competitor he is, going eagle-birdie-birdie to jump-start his win over Kevin Na. Still 2 down through 14, McIlroy drove it to 2 feet at the 320-yard, par-4 15th, made eagle, then won the 17th with par to square matters. He won the match when Na bogeyed the 18th.