5 Things: Fowler stays hot; No. 1 seeds ousted
Friday, February 21, 2014
The unpredictability of match-play tournaments reared its head Thursday, and it provided plenty of surprising fireworks at Dove Mountain.
From Rickie Fowler's comeback win over Jimmy Walker to Hunter Mahan's date with Graeme McDowell, as well as all four No. 1 seeds heading home, take a look at 5 Things you need to know after the Round of 32:
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1. ROLLING RICKIE: Rickie Fowler has arguably been the hottest player so far this week at Dove Mountain. Saturday, he took down arguably the hottest player this season.
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A day after he topped match-play wizard Ian Poulter in Wednesday's first round, Fowler earned a 1-up second-round victory over Jimmy Walker, a three-time winner already in this wraparound PGA Tour campaign.
For a guy who's been going through a swing change with Butch Harmon and had missed his previous three cuts on Tour, Fowler looked more like the player who won two years ago at Quail Hollow.
Walker jumped on Fowler early Saturday after Fowler bogeyed the opening hole. But Fowler won the next two holes, the par-5 second and par-3 third, with an eagle and birdie, respectively. The first halved hole didn't come until the par-4 seventh; at the turn, Walker held a slim 1-up lead. That lead would stand until the par-4 14th, where Fowler birdied to even the match back up.
And even after Walker responded with a victory at the 15th, Fowler won Nos. 16 and 17 – the former with a 21-foot birdie make and the latter with a 7-foot par save – to enter the 18th with his third 1-up lead of the match. After finding the sand off the tee at the par-4 closing hole, Fowler landed his approach on the green and two-putted for par to clinch the match.
"I told my caddie, Joe, let's try and birdie the last three, make some good swings," Fowler said. "Obviously didn't birdie 17 and 18, but made two really good putts along with the birdie putt on 16. It's really more of making good putts. Definitely helped, finally got the putter to roll a couple in. Been swinging great, so give us a little confidence going into (Friday)."
Fowler plays Sergio Garcia in the Round of 16. Garcia dispatched Bill Haas, 3 and 1, in their second-round match.
Garcia tweeted at Fowler on Thursday: "Good win today. Really enjoyed playing with Billy. @RickieFowlerPGA looking forward to a nice and colorful match with you tomorrow!"
To which Fowler responded: "Looking forward to it tomorrow @TheSergioGarcia...and we're paired together yet again...going to be fun...let's do this!"
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2. CLOSING ACT A SMASH: It was the last of the 16 second-round matches, but Ernie Els vs. Justin Rose rewarded the folks who stuck around.
Not with classic golf, mind you, because even the winner conceded it wasn’t.
“It wasn’t great golf. But it was a great match-play match,” Els said after making birdie at the 20th hole, the par-5 18th, to oust the second-seeded Rose. “I think I’ve dragged my fellows down the last couple of days.”
Els was referring to the way he’s played for two days, even while advancing. He made five bogeys against just two birdies in somehow overcoming a two-hole deficit to beat Stephen Gallacher Wednesday. Against Rose, Els made four bogeys in an eight-hole stretch, yet only trailed by one hole. That’s because Rose – still shaking the rust off of his game and dealing with a tender shoulder – for 18 holes was birdie-free and made a double and two bogeys.
“Justin didn’t play very well and Stephen didn’t play very well yesterday,” said Els. “It’s a matter of who is going to gut it out.”
The thing is, ugly golf can be compelling golf when blanketed in the match-play format and so it was with Els and Rose. Down a hole, Els pulled even when he made par at the 17th, then at 18 each player missed the green. Rose hit a brilliant bunker shot to 9 feet, Els pitched from the front of the green to 8 feet and it came down to a putting contest.
Rose was dead-center. So was Els, who has missed that same putt a few times in past years to go home. This time, “I guessed right.”
At the par-4 first, the 19th hole, Rose made his only birdie of the match, but after the Englishman’s 9-footer fell, so, too, did Els’ from the same distance. Finally, the action was heating up, just as the twilight air was getting a chill.
At the 20th hole, Els thought his second shot reached a greenside bunker, but he was wrong. It came to rest in gnarly rough, on a downslope, no less, and the big South Africa looked at it and figured it was “once in a lifetime shots.”
This was the one time, because Els lofted it perfectly, saw the ball hit the bank, then roll to 4 feet. Rose, who was bunkered in two, left his third shot in the bunker, then blasted to 3 feet. It didn’t matter, though, because Els, who at 44 is the oldest of the 16 competitors still in it, drained his putt.
“An impossible shot,” said Els. “But it was obviously the right one at the right time.”
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3. BUBBA'S QUIET CLIFFHANGER: If it seemed like Bubba Watson didn't make much noise during his win in Thursday's Round of 32, maybe it's because he vaulted out to a big lead early, then avoided much of a challenge until late in the match. But there was drama, indeed, before he took the 2-up final tally in defeating Jonas Blixt.
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Watson began his round with three straight birdies and won three of the first four holes, building a 3-up cushion in a hurry. He looked like the guy who carded two bogey-free 64s at Riviera last week.
"Any time you can get the lead like that, it's good," Watson said. "I was trying to just get an early lead, trying to get ahead of the game."
Watson then earned seven straight halves, neither carding a bogey. From there, however, Watson made 4 to lose the par-3 12th, halved the 13th and lost the 14th – cutting his lead to one. He added insurance by winning the 15th with birdie, only to see Blixt birdie the 17th and cut the lead to one. Only after Blixt badly mis-hit from a poor lie in the rough, which his drive had found on the 18th, could Watson take an easy breath again.
"I made the turn, a couple of bad swings here and there," he said. I fought him at the end. He made birdie on 17. And 18, I got lucky there. It's just always good to get past the round."
Just ask Watson's caddie, Ted Scott, whether tension was high Thursday afternoon. He posted via his Twitter account, @jtedscott: "Nerve racking day today. Getting to old for this stress! @jonas_blixt is tough. Great fight by him and his caddy Zach. #Sweet16"
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4. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE: The difference between Match Play and March Madness? No. 1 seeds lose in golf's version of Bracketmania.
A day after No. 1 seed Zach Johnson was bounced by Richard Sterne, the three remaining No. 1 seeds were knocked out Thursday in a series of surprising results.
The day ended with Ernie Els pulling off a miraculous up-and-down on the 20th hole to knock off Justin Rose, setting up a Round of 16 match with Jason Dufner.
Earlier in the day, Louis Oosthuizen dominated overall No. 1 seed Henrik Stenson with a 4-and-3 victory that didn't even seem that close.
Rory McIlroy was the final No. 1 seed to go down, also going to extra holes before an errant drive and approach shot gave Harris English a dramatic victory.
"(English) didn't really give me anything; the more consistent player won at the end of the day," said McIlroy.
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5. IN THE ZONE: Two U.S. Junior titles. A member of the 2011 U.S. Walker Cup squad. An NCAA title in 2011 with the Texas Longhorns.
What do they all have in common?
And Jordan Spieth still seems to have his touch with the format – completely dominating Thomas Bjorn, 5 and 4, to advance to the Round of 16 Friday, when he'll face defending champion Matt Kuchar.
A day after having to rally against Pablo Larrazabal, the 20-year-old needed only three birdies in dispatching Bjorn. Spieth played his final four holes at 1 over, but never paid for those mistakes as Bjorn was 2 over for his 14 holes.
"I played the tough holes well," Spieth said. "I hit the fairway on the tough holes. . . . Just kept on hitting the green. That's the way to put the pedal down; if you can put the ball on the green first on those par 3s and make your opponent hit it close to the hole, it's very difficult to do with how firm the greens are and the wind picking up. Pars become really good scores. If they make a birdie then they deserved it. Then you try and play the easier holes well and get some looks myself."
Spieth has made six of seven cuts in the 2014 PGA Tour season, never finishing outside the top 19 in the events where he played the weekend. Spieth will next face his Presidents Cup teammate in Kuchar, who eliminated Ryan Moore on Thursday.
- Nick Masuda, Brentley Romine, Bill Zimmerman, Jim McCabe and PGA Tour contributed