MARANA, Ariz. – It was Thursday of the WGC-Accenture World Match Play and Hunter Mahan had won his second match, but he spent some time proving that he was up on the world golf scene.
When some third-round matches were being discussed and Bubba Watson vs. Victor Dubuisson was mentioned, Mahan showed interest.
“I tell you what, that guy can play. I think he’s a stud,” said Mahan. “I think he’s a darkhorse right now.”
Sure enough, Dubuisson the next day beat Watson and eventually moved all the way to the championship match.
Mahan said he had not played alongside the Frenchman, but he had watched Dubuisson’s win in Turkey on TV and he’d seen him on the range. “He’s a player. I saw him hit balls, like the way he hits it. I think he’s a gamer, just from his attitude.”
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THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: And while we’re on the topic of veterans gushing praise upon the younger crowds, Graeme McDowell raved about his second-round foe, Hideki Matsuyama.
“Quality player. Good player,” McDowell said.
And Jim Furyk had nothing but good things to say about Harris English.
“Very mature. Got a good game,” said Furyk, who is impressed with the new wave of talent.
“What’s so impressive about the young guys, the way they carry themselves, the manner in which it doesn’t seem anything bothers them. That’s something my era and before me, it was something we learned while we were on Tour. I saw a lot of guys come out hot-headed and kind of getting in their own way until they learned to get the ball around.
“Harris is mature beyond his years and physically his game is really solid and I love it. But I’m also impressed by how mentally things don’t seem to faze him.”
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REJUVENATED: At 44, Ernie Els is enthused about playing and making it to the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship has validated his passion to play. But he has to catch himself and step back at times, because especially at this time of year, everything looks good to him.
He played Riviera and the Match Play and the four in Florida all appeal to him. But six in a row? Pretty difficult to handle that much, so Els chose to skip this week’s Honda Classic, even though it’s played just a few miles from his house and he has played it six years in a row.
True, Els won at PGA National in 2008, but his results have suffered since then (T-21 is his best) and the courses the following two weeks – Doral and Innisbrook’s Copperhead – appeal to him more favorably.
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KIDS STUFF: After beating 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, Els was in the Match Play semifinals with 23-year-old Victor Dubuisson, 25-year-old Rickie Fowler, and 26-year-old Jason Day.
“Amazing,” he said. “At 44, you know, you’re out of most professional sports by 15 years. Here I am, still playing and competing against the youngsters. It’s a nice job to have sometimes.”
Even Matt Kuchar, who is only 35, is having fun with the wide spread in ages between competitors. When The Golf Channel asked him to do a quick sound-bite to promote his next match, Kuchar without hesitating said, “Hi, I’m Matt Kuchar and tomorrow I’ll be playing 12-year-old Jordan Spieth.”
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A FAMILIAR FACE: When Bubba Watson drew Victor Dubuisson in the third round, he could at least say he was one of the few American players who had crossed paths with the Frenchman. They were paired at the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 2010, Dubuisson’s amateur finale.
Not that what they did on the course was memorable – Watson shot 74-73; Dubuisson 80-73; they both missed the cut – but the American was intrigued to see that the man from France had taken his career to the next level.
Bubba being Bubba, he offered some thoughts that are uniquely his.
On what he calls the consolation match of the Accenture: “It’s really called, ‘You lost and we need to fill air space.’“
When a reporter tried to be diplomatic and use softer expressions about The Golf Club at Dove Mountain, he said: “It’s goofy. You can be honest. It’s goofy.”
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LOOK AT THE BRIGHT SIDE: It’s a cruel, cold reality of match play, that you can play well and go home, or you can play raggedly and move on. But rather than moan and groan about it, Rory McIlroy thinks players need to re-assess their mindset.
“If you’ve shot 5- or 6-under par and you’re going home, you should be positive about your game,” McIlroy said. “You’ve played well. That should give you a bit of confidence going into the next few weeks.”
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FORMAT SUITS HIM: Gary Woodland on match play: “For me, it’s the greatest format in the world – outside of that (Stableford) points system I won with in Reno (last summer). It can wipe out a big number. It’s cool. It’s a change from the every day norm. It’s more like other sports, going head-to-head, rather than going against the golf course.”
The guess is, Woodland is a stand-up guy and he feels the exact same about the format, even after it treated him kindly in a first-round loss to Graeme McDowell.