MARANA, Ariz. – Three years ago, when the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club debuted as host of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Mark Wilson couldn’t be found in the field of 64.
In fact, to find his name in the world rankings, you had to scan down to No. 143.
And to find him in person that week, you had to travel to Riviera Maya, Mexico.
Turns out it was a marvelous trip, because Wilson wound up holding the championship hardware at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. To this day, he feels as if that victory has contributed greatly to his lofty stature on the PGA Tour stage.
“It was huge. I had started the year out not so good that year,” Wilson said. “I was maybe doubting myself a little bit. I went there myself and found something in my tempo, in my swing, and things just clicked.”
While Geoff Ogilvy was busy marching through the competition to beat Paul Casey in the Match Play final, Wilson was battling fierce wind to hold off J.J. Henry and win by two. It was his second PGA Tour win, but perhaps even more crucial to his psyche than the first one, the 2007 Honda Classic.
Fast forward three years, and here’s Wilson chasing a sixth PGA Tour win – and not just any win, either. With a resounding 4-and-3 triumph over Peter Hanson in Saturday’s quarterfinals, Wilson has moved on to the semifinals in an $8.5 million World Golf Championship.
That might be stunning news to those who still wonder how the unheralded and quiet Wilson is doing all of this. No matter that he won a few weeks ago at the Humana Challenge or that he is 42nd in the world rankings, but the kid from Menomonee Falls, Wis., knows he’s not tossed into the marquee equation at these things.
“I don’t think too many people picked me to win,” Wilson said, smiling. “I heard Nick Faldo (on CBS, about the Wilson-Dustin Johnson game Friday) say, ‘I have to give Dustin the edge on that one.’ Well, I guess I would too,’ ” Wilson said.
Yet with great precision and a methodical fairways-and-greens mentality, Wilson rolled past Hanson. Now, in going 4-0, the 37-year-old Wilson has played 62 holes, led for 50 of them, and trailed for just two. He didn’t have to play brilliantly against Hanson, not with the big Swede opening with a bogey, then making two more at Nos. 10 and 11.
“He gave me a couple of holes there,” said Wilson, who went 2 up, then birdied the par-5 13th to go 3 up.
Next thing he knew, Wilson was shaking hands at the 15th green, and for a second straight match didn’t have to play the par-3 16th, par-4 17th or par-4 18th. Heck, he hadn’t played 17 or 18 in the first two rounds, either. So, not having seen the closing holes since his practice round, Wilson walked them, simply looking at them from the tee, then pitching and chipping and putting around the greens, all in preparation for Sunday morning’s semifinal against Hunter Mahan.
“A couple of Ping guys going at it,” Wilson said. “A couple of Americans. I have a lot of respect for what (Mahan) has done. I’m looking forward to it.”
Even if no one expected it.
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WHY GO RED?: At one point, Hunter Mahan was 4 up through seven holes – without benefit of a birdie. Now you can win Open Championships by making 18 pars, but not head-to-head contests of this flavor, so it was only a matter of time until Mahan heated up. After all, he had made 19 birdies in 49 holes in his first three matches.
And indeed, he got hot, and with four birdies between the eighth and 13 holes, Mahan closed out Matt Kuchar, 6 and 5.
In four matches, Mahan has played 62 holes, led for 41 of them and trailed for seven. He has made 23 birdies, including the par-5 eighth each match.
“The course was playing tougher,” Mahan said, “so I didn’t make as many birdies. But Matt didn’t play as well as he can or usually does. It made it easier to win a few holes with par.”
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YOU DIDN’T KNOW HOW POPULAR BAE WAS, DID YOU?: The stunning performer in this year’s Accenture Match Play Championship, Sang-moon Bae, apparently has a fan club. Either that or there are enough people who are always looking to criticize the PGA Tour, because confusion over Bae’s status for next week’s Honda Classic had Twitter Land buzzing.
Not surprisingly, a lot of bad information was circulated.
What set these tweeters off was the fact that Bae was second alternate into the Honda. People were aghast, though chances are four days earlier they had never heard of the 25-year-old South Korean. Well, as of Thursday, Bae was second alternate based upon his Nationwide/Q-School number, which was 21st, and the Honda has become an extremely popular tournament and very tough to get a spot.
Late Friday, a revised commitment list came out, and Bae had been moved into the field. Tweeters said it was because with a third-round win at the Match Play, he had been assured of at least a T-9 finish, and anyone in the top 10 gets into the next week’s tournament.
Wrong, because the World Golf Championships aren’t eligible for that regulation, so top 10s at the Accenture don’t automatically qualify for Honda (just as top 10s from the Cadillac Championship don’t automatically qualify for the Transitions). Now if you want to debate that issue, feel free, but the point is, Bae got into the Honda based on his number, which will improve greatly because it’s a re-shuffle week, so he’s easily on board for PGA National.
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QUICK END TO THOSE STREAKS: Neither Peter Hanson (through 46 holes) nor Lee Westwood (through 49) had trailed entering the quarterfinals, but both lost the par 4 first to get quickly down.