The Upshot: Match Play, Day 1
February 20, 2014
By D.J. Piehowski and Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Webb Simpson was one of 23 higher-seeded players to defeat their "underdog" opponents on Wednsday. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
MARANA, Ariz. – For such a popular player, Rickie Fowler plays the underdog role quite well.
After missing his past three cuts, there’s no doubt who the favorite was in the 7:25 a.m. match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship: Fowler vs. the match play monster Ian Poulter.
“If I was picking a bracket and I was an outsider looking in, I probably would have picked Poulter,” Fowler said after sending the Englishman home, 2 and 1. “I knew I was the underdog, I knew I had somewhat nothing to lose.”
Fowler, who has slipped to a 14 seed and No. 56 in the Official World Golf Rankings, was in control from the start, eventually making a 36-foot eagle putt at 13 to go 3 up. Poulter gave himself good looks at birdies down the stretch, but couldn’t get a putt to drop.
It’s not the first time Fowler has surprised the oddsmakers in this format. In his first appearance at the Match Play in 2011, he played a four-hole stretch in five under on the way to trouncing Phil Mickelson, 6 and 5 in Round 2.
“I knew Poulter was going to be the same way, I couldn’t give him anything,” Fowler said. “I was going to have to make him earn it.”
Other big names that are headed home:
- Zach Johnson: He was the only No. 1 seed to be defeated on Day 1, losing 5 and 4 to bogey-free Richard Sterne. - Dustin Johnson: Despite finishing runner up the past two weeks, he goes home after Round 1 for the fifth time in six years. Peter Hanson defeated him, 4 and 3 - Keegan Bradley: For as good as he’s been in team match play, his record slips to 1-3 at this event after a 2 and 1 loss to Jonas Blixt. - Steve Stricker: He was a late commitment to the event after waiting to see how his brother’s liver transplant went (successfully, by the way), but he’s leaving early for the first time since 2011. - Luke Donald: Only twice in 10 years has Luke Donald been bounced in the first round. This time it was by Matteo Manassero (5 and 4).
Disappointed with my performance today do not deserve to move on. Congrats to @RickieFowlerPGA.— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) February 19, 2014
Looks like I'm the only South African that doesn't know how to play this course....— Branden Grace (@BrandenGrace) February 20, 2014
RALLY CAPS: Graeme McDowell is seeded fourth in the Sam Snead bracket but he said he felt like his win over Gary Woodland on the 19th hole was an upset. Particularly after he rallied from a 3-down deficit on the final three holes.
"I don't think anybody was giving me much of a chance in this match," McDowell said. "He's a quality player around a golf course like this where he can decimate with his length and hit one bad drive that I can think of. The rest of the time he just pummeled it down the middle of the fairway.
"So I consider that an upset, certainly. This has not been my type of golf course, historically. (But) my attitude has changed a little bit the last couple of years and it's served me well."
Woodland asserted himself from the outset, winning the first two holes with birdies and the third after McDowell made bogey. When the Northern Irishman found himself 4 down through seven, it was time for a pep talk.
"The caddie said to me, it would be a pretty interesting story if you win this thing having been 4 down after 7," McDowell recalled. "Trying to say anything to me, because we were just getting beaten up."
McDowell twice cut Woodland's lead to two on the back nine. But his Orlando neighbor made a 9-footer for birdie at the 15th hole to pull the match dormie before McDowell, who reached the quarterfinals last year, went on his tear.
"The thing I really like about this tournament, yes, it's very volatile and very brutal, and you could be going home," McDowell said. "You can play well and be going home Wednesday afternoon. But I like it because you can come in here and put your game under Sunday afternoon pressure on a Wednesday.
"I got a lot of confidence from this tournament last year, just coming down the last few holes and hitting shots under pressure. It's early in the season for me, this is tournament No. 2. I want to see where my game is at. I want to see where my swing is at. I want to see how I handle the pressure."
That's what you call experiencing every emotion today. What a player @GaryWoodland is. Got lucky to beat him. I'm good in the 19th though!— Graeme McDowell (@Graeme_McDowell) February 19, 2014
BEST OF THE BEST: Defending champ Matt Kuchar has played 19 matches at this event and he’s won 16 of them. Now in his fifth appearance, he’s never lost in the first round. So what’s the secret?
“There’s no uniqueness to my strategy,” Kuchar said. “It’s pretty much a stroke play strategy. I just try to hit the best shot for the situation.”
If only it were that easy.
What makes Kuchar so good in this format (and on this course) is that he doesn’t make mistakes. He knows the quirks of Dove Mountain; where to hit it and, more importantly, where to miss. He simply doesn’t give holes away. Well… usually.
The only ounce of drama in Kuchar’s 3-and-2 win over Bernd Wiesberger today was what happened at the 14th. Kuchar forgot to replace his ballmark after moving it out of Wiesberger’s putting line. Instead of a 5-and-4 win, the mistake was pointed out and Kuchar had to concede the hole, put his hat back on and play two more.
“This has never happened to me before, but I was hoping it was a one-shot penalty and I get to try it again,” Kuchar said.
The only other time Kuchar had to move his mark was at No. 16.
“This time I remembered to move it back and was able to make the putt and close out the match,” he said.
CALL OF THE DAY: Fred Albers from PGA TOUR Radio on SirusXM and PGATOUR.COM calls Henrik Stenson's birdie putt from off the green on the par-3 16th hole at Dove Mountain.
Live play-by-play coverage of the second round streams from 12-6 p.m. ET on PGATOUR.COM
NOTES: FedExCup leader Jimmy Walker has been dominant this year and today was no different. He made quick work of Branden Grace (5 and 4) and will take on Rickie Fowler tomorrow. Said Fowler: “He’s hands down the best player in the world right now. Him not being a 1 seed is kind of misleading.” - In his first appearance at the Match Play, Billy Horschel steamrolled Jamie Donaldson, 6 and 5. The most decisive win ever by a player making their debut is 7 and 6 (Mark Hensby, 2000, over Stephen Ames). - Also making his first appearance, Jordan Spieth claimed a hard-fought win over Pablo Larrazabl. The match had five lead changes. - Henrik Stenson advanced out of the first round for the first time since 2008. “I’m still in shock, he joked.”
As Stenson moves on, consider this: The No. 1 overall seed hasn't advanced past Round 2 since 2008. #MatchPlay— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 20, 2014
Sunrises at Dove Mountain def. Other Sunrises, 6 and 5.