5 Things: Snedeker sneaks in; McIlroy moves on; more
MARANA, Ariz. – Thirty-two matches, 64 players, nearly 10 hours of golf – and dozens of reasons why it's the best day of the year for pure PGA Tour fun, non-major category.
But with so much going on, no time to waste. Here are 5 Things to know from Day 1 of the Accenture Match Play Championship:
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1. SCRAMBLIN’ MAN: He’s not a Vegas oddsmaker, nor does he play one on TV. But if really, really forced to set odds on the up-and-down he made at the 18th hole to force extra holes, Brandt Snedeker would have put them at “three in 10.”
PHOTOS: WGC Match Play 2014
Check out photos from the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz.
Given praise for the way he pulled it off, Snedeker smiled.
“The one on (No.) 1 was better,” he said. “That one was maybe one in 10.”
And with that, Snedeker was off the range, determined to get his iron play zoned in so he won’t have to put such outlandish pressure on his short game.
Snedeker had just squeaked past David Lynn on the second extra hole to highlight one of the best afternoon games in the Accenture Match Play Championship. Seeded 16th to Lynn’s 49th, Snedeker was 2 down through 13 holes, so he felt relieved to have won. He also knew that his short-game wizardry at the 18th and 19th holes was the reason why he had advanced.
First up, the 18th, where Snedeker stood in the fairway all square, thanks to having won the 14th and 17th holes. “I had 200 to the hole, but adjusted it to 180 (because of elevation of nearly 3,000 feet and being downwind) and hit 7-iron,” Snedeker said. “I thought I had stiffed it, so when I saw that it had gone over the green, I was flabbergasted.”
With Lynn having lagged his 45-foot putt to tap-in range, all the pressure was on Snedeker. The ball sat in rough on the edge of a bunker, several feet above the green, and the green ran sharply away from him. Oh, and Snedeker had only about 20 feet of green to work with, so to bump it out “and hit it close was sweet.”
That danger averted, Snedeker did himself one better at the next hole, the par-4 first. Short and right with his 141-yard approach, Snedeker found his ball nestled down in the rough and he had only about a 10-yard shot. It had to be a flop shot, so he opened the blade and pulled it off beautifully. “Hit it to 3 feet,” he said, shaking his head.
At the par-5 second, the 20th hole, Snedeker didn’t put as much pressure on himself. He pitched his third shot to 8 feet, made the putt, and advanced to a second-round game against Webb Simpson.
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2. BIRDIE ROLL: Fourth-seeded Rory McIlroy put on a burst of birdies in the middle of his round to beat Boo Weekley, 3 and 2, in a match that really wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.
Conceding that he grew “a bit complacent” early on the back nine, McIlroy was thankful that Weekley wasn’t at his best. Weekley made his only birdie at the first and had a few bogeys the rest of the way. “That made my job a little easier,” McIlroy said.
Still, it’s match play, and it can be infuriating.
“I was 4 up through 11, then all of sudden I’m 2 up standing on the 16th tee thinking, I just want to get this over and done with,“ said McIlroy, who made par at the par-3 16th to close things out.
Having gone 10-4 in four consecutive solid efforts in this WGC, McIlroy was bounced in Round 1 in 2013, back when his game was out of sorts and the weather was, too. So he was treating this win over Weekley with the proper respect.
“It’s all about getting through to the next round,” said McIlroy, who draws the impressive Harris English in Thursday’s second round.
English was all over an overmatched Lee Westwood, 5 and 3.
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3. NO GEOGRAPHY MAJOR: When the draw was announced and it was seen that Bubba Watson had been matched up against Mikko Ilonen, curious minds started wondering. Did Watson know Mikko Ilonen? Did Watson know where Finland was?
Turns out he was 50-50.
“I met him last year in China, at the HSBC. His manager and my manager are really good friends,” Watson said.
But Finland, Ilonen’s native country? “No,” said Watson, when asked if he knew where it was. “But I know it’s cold. He told me that.”
Even on the 17th hole of their match, Watson was still chatting away with Ilonen, their relationship a byproduct of their managers’ friendship. Just a few days ago, Ilonen was in Scottsdale, Ariz., staying at Watson’s manager’s house as Watson won the Northern Trust Open.
Ilonen was offering congratulations to Jens Beck, Watson’s manager, until he realized, “Hey, wait a minute; I’m playing that guy,” Watson said. But in the few times he has met Ilonen, a 34-year-old, three-time winner on the European Tour, Watson has become friendly enough to make his 2-and-1 victory a “bittersweet” experience.
“It was a tough one,” he said.
Watson said Ilonen didn’t talk much about the big news of the day for Finnish sports fans – an Olympic hockey win over the Russians – “but he did tell me hockey was their sport now, that they’ve slacked off in the others.”
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4. GO FIGURE: For consistency and solid efforts, you’d be hard-pressed to find two better performers (save for Jimmy Walker) in this still-young 2013-14 season than the firm of Johnson & Johnson – Zach and Dustin.
Seeded third (Zach) and sixth (Dustin) overall in this 64-man field, they came into the week with a combined nine starts and seven top 10s. They sit second (Dustin) and seventh (Zach) in the FedEx Cup standings, but oh, how they continue to be confounded by this Accenture Match Play business.
Zach Johnson was the highest seed to lose, 5 and 4 to South African Richard Sterne, and it’s now four straight one-and-out efforts for him. In his 10 Accenture appearances, Zach Johnson is now 7-10. Only once (2006, when he made the semifinals) has he advanced beyond Round 2.
He did birdie the par-5 second to get the lead, but Zach lost four of the next seven holes to trail by three at the turn. He never got closer than 2 down.
The bad vibes for the Johnson & Johnson firm had been set in motion earlier in the morning when Dustin got whipped by Peter Hanson, 4 and 3. The Swede, seeded 59th, birdied four times to get 3 up at the turn and really didn’t need to do much because Dustin Johnson was seemingly never going to find form.
Dustin made his only two birdies in the first four holes, after which he played the remaining 11 holes in 4 over.
Dustin is now 2-6 in six appearances at the Dove Mountain golf course, having made it out of the first round just once.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: While the lower seed had the better of the play early – Rickie Fowler, Jonas Blixt, George Coetzee and Patrick Reed all won in the first six games – by the end of Day 1, the higher seed dominated. In all, the higher seed won 23 of the 32 matches. . . . Three top 10s lost – No. 3 Zach Johnson, No. 6 Dustin Johnson and No. 9 Steve Stricker – and only five in the top 20 lost, with No. 12 Ian Poulter and No. 18 Luke Donald added to the previous three. . . . Of the 19 who were making their debuts in the Accenture, eight won: Blixt, Reed, English, Walker, Hideki Matsuyama, Billy Horschel, Jordan Spieth and Victor Dubuisson. . . . Walker, who has shown a fondness for stroke play with three victories this season, showed that match play doesn’t faze him, either. He birdied three of his first five holes to jump all over Branden Grace, getting 3 up and never letting the South African any closer. . . . Grace, who lost, 5 and 4, has now lost in Round 1 in both of his Accenture starts and has played just 29 holes. . . . Thursday’s Round 2 will begin at 9:20 a.m. local time (11:20 EST), with Sergio Garcia vs. Bill Haas. . . . Jason Dufner vs. Matteo Manassero will be the last of the 16 matches, but in between, here is one man’s pick for the best four matches: Jordan Spieth vs. Thomas Bjorn, McIlroy vs. English, No. 1 Henrik Stenson vs. Louis Oosthuizen and Snedeker vs. Simpson. . . . Garcia had a wild one with Marc Leishman, going from 2 down through five to 1 up through 12, back to 1 down through 16, to winning the 17th to tie the match, then making birdie at the 22nd hole to win.