MARANA, Ariz. – Take two and call it a day.
Bo Van Pelt acknowledged that it’s pretty good work, if you can get it. But the truth is, hitting one 8-iron and one putt from 45 feet, then retiring for the afternoon is just another page in the life and times of a guy who can testify that match play is one strange animal.
His 6-and-5 win over John Senden might have been made official Thursday, but it had truly been accomplished Wednesday when Van Pelt won five consecutive holes before a bizarre blizzard forced an end to the action. Returning to the par-5 13th Thursday, Van Pelt hit his third shot onto the green, lagged it close, then took off his hat and accepted Senden’s congratulations.
But if you’re thinking that Van Pelt feels a bit guilty for his easy day, think again. No one was giving him a second chance last year when he blistered The Golf Club at Dove Mountain “in something like 6- or 7-under,” he said. Brilliant play, eh. Well, sure, only he played Mark Wilson that day, “the only guy in the field who probably could have beaten me.”
Wilson made even more birdies than Van Pelt and won, 3 and 2, so even though he had a commanding lead when he went to bed Wednesday night, Van Pelt awoke Thursday with a competitor’s mindset. “I think the main thing is, anything can happen and (you) try and stay in the mindset of you’ve got to win that hole.
“It’s never over ’til they tell you it’s over.”
In other words, Van Pelt did what Sergio Garcia couldn’t do: put his foot down. By winning the 13th hole to finish the match with two swings, Van Pelt didn’t have to sweat things out. Garcia, on the other hand, has to feel fortunate to have survived against Thongchai Jaidee. Returning to the course with a 2-up lead, Garcia stood over a 12-foot putt. True, if he made the birdie roll, the match would have been over. But even if he two-putted for par he would have been dormie. Instead, he three-putted and was only 1 up. Then Jaidee birdied the 18th to square the match.
At the 19th hole, the par-4 first, Garcia was in for par and standing to the side of the green while Jaidee had a 15-footer for birdie.
“Yes, I had a feeling he would make it,” Garcia said, when asked if thought he was on the verge of a stunning loss.
But, no. Jaidee’s putt lipped out, then at the par-5 second, Garcia two-putted for birdie to earn a spot in the second round against Matt Kuchar, a 3-and-2 winner over Hiroyuki Fujita.
If Garcia felt fortunate, he had to feel even more so when he returned to the clubhouse in time to watch Charl Schwartzel, the world’s 11th-ranked player, get upended by rookie Russell Henley. Within a short time, Adam Scott, the tournament’s seventh seed, and Jason Dufner, No. 12 in the world, were ousted, storylines that made Van Pelt feel better for his achievement.
“Crazy things happen in this game,” he said. “I think the toughest match to win is the first one. Everyone’s jacked up and there are 64 great players here.”
Now to the moaning and groaning by some players about the disjointed nature of the first round, Van Pelt shrugged. There were players who groused about getting up at the crack of dawn for Thursday’s re-start, only to discover that the re-start had been pushed back to 10:30, then 11:30, then finally to 1 p.m. Players thought officials should have realized Wednesday night when snow continued to fall that starting at 8:30 was out of the question “and they should have called it then, so we didn’t have to get up.”
Van Pelt chuckled.
“With TV and sponsors and stuff, (PGA Tour) officials are in a tough spot,” Van Pelt said. “They want to get going as quickly as they can get going. It’s always easier to armchair quarterback. I just think we’re fortunate to be playing in a tournament like this.”
While play was put on hold from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. so that course workers could make sure all the snow was melted, rumors swirled about the way officials would handle Round 2. Some, such as Nicolas Colsaerts – a 5-and-4 winner over Bill Haas – thought they were going to go right back to the first tee and get things going.
One problem with that: officials would have had to have stayed with the same hole locations. No problem with that, Van Pelt said.
“It wouldn’t have bothered me. It’s match play,” he said.
Ian Poulter, who held off Stephen Gallacher, 2 and 1, and will meet Van Pelt in Friday’s second round, was just as happy to call it a day after playing a little more than four holes. There’s been very little rhythm to this tournament, and the former champ would like to try and find some. Rushing right to the first tee to get a few holes into a second-round match, then coming back Friday morning to re-start wouldn’t have been conducive.
“I’d rather go hit balls than throw snowballs,” Poulter said.
Beyond his win in this championship three years ago, the Englishman won the Volvo World Match Play Championship in 2011 and last fall proved that he is perhaps the heart and soul of Europe’s Ryder Cup team. In other words, he’s quite adept at this match-play stuff, which makes him the guy everyone wants to play, right?
Poulter, now 19-9 in the Accenture, smiled.
“I’m not sure they want to play me. But they want to beat me,” he said.
Van Pelt will be next to get that chance.