Westwood shines on otherwise flat Friday
MARANA, Ariz. – We don’t want to say it was Flat Friday at the Accenture Match Play Championship, but by early afternoon, fans on the closing holes pretty much were clinging to one sliver of hope for drama: John Senden vs. Sang-moon Bae.
No, really. That’s not a joke.
John Senden vs. Sang-moon Bae was the only chance to salvage at least a little bit of excitement because on this day of pristine weather, this World Golf Championship was flatter than the brim on Rickie Fowler’s hat. Staring at the cacti offered more drama than the eight matches put forth in this third round.
How mundane was it? Well, consider that the folks at the 18th never saw a shot until late afternoon when, bless their souls, Senden and Bae took their match there.
Heck, those who made the 17th their home base saw only three matches. Four matches ended at the 15th, one at the 16th. If you know match play, you know that means they were lopsided games, and indeed that was the case. In fact, there was a lead change in just one match, and even that wasn’t much of one. It was the first game, and Martin Kaymer got 1 up through two, before getting steamrolled, 4 and 3.
What followed were a series of thrashings and less-than-suspenseful contests:
• Hunter Mahan birdied four times in eight holes to go 3 up on Steve Stricker, then ran away with four consecutive birdies to start the back nine. He won, 4 and 3.
• Lee Westwood started birdie, birdie, was 3 up at the turn, then birdied 10 and 11 en route to a 3-and-1 win over Nick Watney.
• In a battle of Scottish flags, Martin Laird got up early on Paul Lawrie and never relinquished the lead, eventually winning on the 17th green.
• Peter Hanson, yet another in a long line of Orlando-based golfers who actually hails from Europe (in this case, Sweden), threw three straight birdies at Brandt Snedeker, added another at the sixth to go 4 up, and coasted to a 5-and-3 drubbing.
• David (played by Mark Wilson) beat Goliath (played by Dustin Johnson) in the sixth match of Round 3, though he did it with pars as the roller-coaster week of Johnson came to an end in a blaze of bogeys and balls in pocket. Wilson won, 4 and 3.
• Rory McIlroy hardly impressed, but he somehow got 3 up on Miguel Angel Jimenez at the turn and closed him out, 3 and 1.
All of which means, what? Well, not every day can be Wednesday or Thursday, those days at the Accenture when drama and good competition goes from sun-up to sundown. No, this was the side of match play that critics warn about, runaway matches and very little drama.
How strange was the day? Consider the sixth game, in which Wilson had a 159-yard approach into the 10th green “and I was contemplating a 9-iron when Dustin came over and said, ‘Come on, pick it up.’ ”
Pick it up? Not that Wilson has a ton of match-play experience, but he had never been conceded a 159-yard shot before, but he did what he was told. He picked it up to go 4 up.
Johnson’s decision had been set in motion by a wild drive left into the desert, an unplayable lie, and, well, probably frustration had something to do with it, too. He played poorly Wednesday, but was given a reprieve by Jim Furyk, then seemed to get untracked in a second-romp romp over Francesco Molinari. But against Wilson, Johnson struggled.
In that, however, he had great company.
Watney, for example. Just one day after putting a solid game together to beat Tiger Woods, he didn’t make a birdie until the par-5 11th, at which time he was 4 down. Part of it was Westwood’s ball-striking best – the Englishman started birdie-birdie and missed but three greens in 16 holes – but Watney hurt himself plenty.
“I was sloppy, especially early,” Watney said, and he pointed to the par-4 seventh, where his three-putt bogey matched Westwood’s three-putt bogey, then the eighth, when he missed an 8-footer for birdie to fall 2 down. Then, at the ninth, Watney missed the green to the right, made another bogey, and was 3 down.
Not the sort of position one should be in if he hopes to beat the world’s third-ranked player, which is why Watney shook his head.
“I couldn’t sit at Lee’s lunch table today,” Watney said.
A distinctive way of putting it, and surely others who fell flat in this third round could have uttered a similar sentiment.
Of course, the flip side is, those who built the early leads did what front-runners need do in this format, and no one was more effective than Westwood.
Then again, perhaps no one brought to the course the sort of motivation that the Englishman did. He had lost in the second round each of the last two years to Westwood, and while there’s not a bit of animosity – after all, it is perhaps impossible not to like Watney – “I didn’t want to make it a hat trick,” Westwood said.
If there were even a chance of opening the door, it figured to come at the par-4 10th, when Watney striped his drive and ripped an approach to 12 feet. No worries, as Westwood stepped up and from 158 yards and rifled a 9-iron to 2 feet. When Watney failed to convert, he was 4 down.
The next chance for an opening came at the 603-yard, par-5 11th when Watney was conceded a birdie after nearly pitching in from just short of the green. But Westwood answered brilliantly, wedging his shot from wide left of the green to 2 1/2 feet, a putt Watney conceded to stay 4 down.
Watney’s par at the 12th allowed him to cut the deficit to three, but it would be just the second and final time he won a hole, though matching birdies at the 13th and 15th at least put a little bit of flavor into the match. But just a little bit, because this match, unfortunately like almost every other game, was flat.
Well, when finally it was considered a futile chase to find any sort of action at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, the decision was made to walk in, and the trek began around the 18th tee box. No golf had come to this hole and no golf would get here for another hour, so a few volunteers yelled out and asked if it was possible to stand still.
They run the laser guns that measure how far drives go and how much yardage to the hole. “But we haven’t had any action, so if you don’t mind, just stand still so we can laser you,” the gentleman said.
Yeah, the day was that flat.