Ian Poulter is a solid choice to win this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play. (Redington/Getty Images)
By Bill Cooney, PGATOUR.COM
John Merrick used plenty of local knowledge to tame Riviera Country Club en route to his first career PGA TOUR victory at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday. But the UCLA product also played beautifully, ranking inside the top 30 in six major statistical categories. One of those categories really stood out. We'll take a look at that and this week's World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship -- specifically match play guru Ian Poulter and World No. 1 Rory McIlroy -- by going inside the nunbers ...
3 The number of times a No. 64 seed has defeated the No. 1 overall seed in the 14-year history of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, which kicks off Wednesday at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz. … Golf’s version of bracketology is a bit more fickle than the NCAA basketball version. Why? Well, it’s golf. Last season, No. 64 Ernie Els dusted No. 1 Luke Donald, 5 and 4. Donald, who was the defending champ, was going along nicely through seven holes, but proceeded to drop four of the next five. A few bad swings often lead to a quick exit -- especially considering the talent of the No. 64 seed. This year's No. 64 is Ireland's Shane Lowry (he faces No. 1 McIlroy), who won the 2012 Portugal Masters, beating the likes of top-50 players such as Matteo Manassero, Francesco Molinari, Jamie Donaldson and Padraig Harrington.
5 Number of times match play stalwart Poulter has advanced to the Sweet 16 (third round) or better in nine Accenture appearances. … After winning the event in 2010, Poulter has been bounced in Round 1 each of the past two seasons. He enters this week on a roll, having turned his Ryder Cup success into a victory at the HSBC Champions. He also was T9 in his only appearance on U.S. soil this season in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He draws No. 14 seed Stephen Gallacher in Round 1 and with a win would see the winner of Bo Van Pelt and John Senden.
7 Number of top-five finishes in seven straight worldwide events for Charl Schwartzel. … How well is the former Masters champ from South Africa playing right now? Just look at his statistics at the Northern Trust Open, where he finished T3. Get this: Schwartzel was 5th in driving distance, T6 in greens in regulation, 6th in strokes gained-putting, 1st in total putting and 5th in scrambling. Incredible. Look for him to make some noise this week.
10 Number of top-10 finishes in WGC events for McIlroy, who has only competed in 15. … At the WGC-Accenture Match Play, McIlroy is 10-4 and has advanced past the first round in all four attempts. He was runner-up to Hunter Mahan last season. This year his path to the Final Four looks pretty challenging with No. 2 Bubba Watson, No. 3 Schwartzel, No. 4 Dustin Johnson, No. 5 Graeme McDowell, No. 6 Zach Johnson and No. 7 Jim Furyk all lurking in the Bobby Jones bracket.
62.35 percent That’s the scrambling percentage in 2013 for Merrick, the Northern Trust Open champ. It ranks 59th on the PGA TOUR. So what’s the big deal, you ask? … Well, consider Merrick ranked 146th in this category in 2012 at 54.90 percent. Not much has changed when breaking down the keys stats on Merrick from the past few seasons. He’s pretty much the same off the tee, on approaches and in putting. But scrambling is where he’s improved big time so far -- and he even made par or better after missing the green in regulation on 17 of 26 attempts at tricky Riviera. That’s impressive.
79.66 percent Greens in regulation percentage from outside of the fairway through three events for Peter Tomasulo. … The Web.com Tour grad has hit 47 of 59 greens from outside of the fairway to lead the TOUR this season. For comparison, Bubba Watson led this category the past two years at around 60 percent. Tomasulo has made all three cuts.
168 The number of first-round upsets in the 14-year history of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. … That’s an average of a dozen upsets (a higher seed winning) each year in 32 first-round matches, with a high of 18 occurring the first year in 1999. That comes out to upsets occurring, on average, a ridiculous 37.5 percent of the time in Round 1. Let the madness begin ...
INSIDE THE NUMBERS ARCHIVE
Week 2: Sony Open/Humana Challenge
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- The last two events Charl Schwartzel played on the European Tour he shot a combined 44 under, winning one by 12 and finishing second in the other. Oh, and there was that 11-stroke victory in Thailand, too.
So seeing the South African contending in his 2013 PGA TOUR debut at the Northern Trust Open shouldn't exactly surprise anyone.
"I've had a good run and been consistent, just see if we can keep going with it," Schwartzel said simply.
Granted, Riviera Country Club hasn't been quite as generous to Schwartzel -- or anyone else in the field, for that matter. But he'll start the final round in the final group in a three-way tie for second with Webb Simpson and John Merrick, three strokes behind front-running Bill Haas.
Schwartzel shot his 11th consecutive round in the 60s on Saturday, posting a 68 to move to 9 under for the week. Given how firm and fast Riviera has become the 2011 Masters champ was quite pleased after making five birdies and dropping just two strokes to par.
"It was a lot tougher today than the other days," Schwartzel said. "The course firmed up a lot. The greens are getting firm and bouncy, and it becomes hard to get the ball close to make birdies and even to keep the bogeys off the card. You need to be on song with your whole game."
And make no mistake -- Schwartzel, who is playing in the Northern Trust Open for the first time, knows he's hitting on all cylinders right now. So expect the veteran to play smart and take advantage of the opportunities he's afforded Sunday as he seeks his second PGA TOUR win.
"The way I'm playing, I don't think I'll change anything," Schwartzel said. "I'll just keep going along, and like I said, the course is tough, and it's easy to make mistakes. We'll see. If I can keep giving myself chances, I'm bound to shoot a decent score, and we'll see what Bill does."
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Webb Simpson and Charl Schwartzel are applying pressure on Saturday during the third round of the Northern Trust Open.
Playing in successive groups, the reigning U.S. Open champion and the 2011 Masters winner have made two birdies in their first six holes to get to 8 under and pull within a stroke of Sang-moon Bae.
Fredrik Jacobson, who was tied with Bae, had his problems on the fifth hole when his drive landed on the side of a hill in deep rough. He took one swipe at the ball and didn't advance it, eventually reaching the green in four and lipping out a 34-footer for bogey.
Defending champion Bill Haas is on the move, as well. He's made two birdies in his first eight holes and is tied at 7 under.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Charl Schwartzel walked to his ball in the middle of the 18th fairway on Friday thinking he had a chance to pencil in a sixth birdie on his scorecard.
But he missed the green, as well as a 10-footer to save par, and Schwartzel had to be content with a 67 that left him in a tie at 6 under, three strokes off the pace being set by Sang-moon Bae. Not bad for his first two rounds -- ever -- at Riviera Country Club.
"I'm very happy," the South African said. "... At least I put myself in position for the weekend. There's still 36 holes to go and if I keep playing like I am, who knows."
Indeed. Schwartzel has been one of the best golfers on the planet over the last few months. He closed out the 2012 European Tour season with a two finishes of fifth or better, including a tie for third in Dubai, then started the new one with a 12-stroke win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and solo second at the Joburg Open. Oh, and he found time to blitz the field in Thailand by 11 strokes, as well.
So it's hardly surprising to see Schwartzel in contention again at his 2013 PGA TOUR debut. The 2011 Masters champ joked that he's "lucky" but more likely his success of late can be traced to the fact that the abdominal tear he suffered at the U.S. Open has completely healed and he can swing pain-free again.
"I fixed up my swing after the injury," Schwartzel said. "... That got me back to the consistency that I had going back just about the Masters time. I obviously played some courses back down south which I'm familiar with and that always helps. So with the swing changes, that's worked, or the improvements, I should say; some consistency has come and some confidence. So that was probably key."
The win in Thailand was Schwartzel's first -- anywhere in the world -- since the Masters. The breakout 2011 season also included a tie for ninth at the U.S. Open and top-20s in the other two majors. His only top-10s last year, though, came before his title defense at Augusta National and injuries began to set him back.
Like nearly every major championship winner, Schwartzel acknowledges it can be difficult to deal with the expections -- self-imposed and otherwise.
"It doesn't get bigger than (winning a major)," Schwartzel said. "So when you play in a normal event, you think there's no reason why you shouldn't win, and that pressure comes from yourself. And this game, you don't want to put unnecessary pressure on yourself. It does make it difficult."
Schwartzel says he was able to get away from the pressure on the golf course -- that's where he felt "normal" again. But he's glad to put the frustrations of 2012 behind him and anxious to see what the new year brings.
"It almost seems like you've got to fall before you get back up again," he said. "So that's basically what it looks like has happened to me."
To preview the 2013 PGA TOUR season, PGATOUR.COM is counting down the Top 100 Players to Watch in 2013. For an archive page with the top 100 players and for an explanation on how the list was compiled, click here.
2013 PREVIEW: A year after winning the Masters and finishing 16th or better in the other three majors, Charl Schwartzel's best major performance was a tie for 38th at the U.S. Open. He missed a month afterwards due to a torn muscle in his abdomen but closed his season out with five finishes overseas of fifth or better, including back-to-back wins in Thailand and South Africa, so Schwartzel has momentum for the new year.
2012 DEFINING MOMENT: Schwartzel has made south Florida his U.S. base so perhaps it's only fitting that one of this two top-10 finishes came at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship. He broke par in all three rounds and tied for fourth -- two years after finishing runner-up to his mentor and host Ernie Els on the same course. –- Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
ALBERS’ QUICK TAKE: We did not see much of Charl in 2012. He did not begin his schedule until the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, played only 13 PGA TOUR Regular Season events and yet qualified for three FedExCup Playoffs tournaments. His ball-striking seemed a bit off to me, and he finished 153rd in greens in regulation. -- Fred Albers, SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio
BOLTON’S FANTASY OUTLOOK: Given that the South African started playing majors in 2003, it's easy to forget that he's only 28. He dropped over three points in his greens-in-regulation split from 2011 and nabbed only two top 10s, both in March. Also failed to post a top 35 in any of the majors. And since he remained content with barely playing the membership minimum, his value is greatest in salary games at $1.138 million. Even if he plays more toward his potential, he doesn't warrant an early investment in long-term formats. -- Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy expert
SOCIAL MEDIA: Find him on Twitter
2012 QUICK REVIEW
Regular Season ranking
Final Playoffs ranking
|Best finishes||T4||World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship|
|By the Numbers
Cuts made: 13
Rounds played: 54
Top-10 finishes: 2
Money List rank: 89th
Driving distance: 42nd
Driving accuracy: 93rd
Greens in regulation: 153rd
Strokes gained-putting: 73rd
Scoring average: 37th
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
What is your prediction for Charl Schwartzel in 2013? Fill out the form below and let us know
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Jason Dufner, playing for the first time since going 3-1 in the Ryder Cup, and former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel got in some sightseeing earlier this week prior to playing in the ISPS Handa Perth International.
The two PGA TOUR veterans were part of a photo op in Kings Park, which spans just under 1,000 acres and overlooks the central business district of Perth. Neither Dufner nor Schwartzel, a licensed pilot who also viewed the countryside by helicopter, had ever been to the capital city of Western Australia.
Dufner said he's excited to play again after the disappointing U.S. loss at the Ryder Cup.
“Personally, if you have a bad event, or if you fall on your face on the last nine holes, you know that you have another event around the corner to kind of redeem yourself," Dufner told europeantour.com. "But in that event, you have to wait two more years to have a chance to get back and win the thing.
“So there's a lot of different dynamics with The Ryder Cup and failing how we did as a team and losing the event. So it's been a tough couple weeks but I'm looking forward to playing golf again and getting over it and moving past it a little bit.”
Schwartzel comes to Australia after reaching the semifinals of the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final. The South African beat Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods before losing to Westwood.
“With weeks like last week you can maybe sometimes spark something, and all of a sudden feel like you actually are building some confidence," Schwartzel said. "Something going your way can change things around very quickly.”
The ISPS Handa Perth International will be played at Lake Karrinyup Country Club and is co-sanctioned by the European Tour and the PGA Tour of Australasia.
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
NORTON, Mass. -- After making birdies on his final two holes during Monday's final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, Charl Schwartzel just might have played his way into the third event of the FedExCup Playoffs.
Schwartzel called himself "doubtful" for Crooked Stick and later put the percentage as to whether he would play at 50-50. If he doesn't play, the former Masters champion said he expected to take a month off and perhaps return at the European Tour's Dunhill Links Championship in October.
"I actually injured it at the U.S. Open, and it seems to be coming back," Schwartzel said. "It's not as advanced as it was there. It's not torn, but it's very uncomfortable, and I don't want to get to that stage where I can't play for the rest of the year. This is my seventh in a row. It was a little bit too much coming up.
"But I'll see. Maybe we'll have to get some rest and maybe it'll be okay, but it's very uncomfortable at the moment."
Schwartzel was 68th in the FedExCup standings -- two above the cutoff for the BMW Championship when he finished off a round of even par 71 on Monday. That was considerably better than the 79 he shot in the third round that included a four-putt from 3 feet at the 18th hole -- the same distance that produced a birdie on Sunday.
"Pretty mixed feelings," Schwartzel said when asked to describe his emotions. "I obviously feel that I finished well. Teeing off Sunday, I figured I could win. It was good to finish well. I didn't play particularly well, and it was nice to hit a few good shots on the last holes."
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
NORTON, Mass. -- Charl Schwartzel is making up for lost time. Literally.
The South African tore a muscle in his abdomen the week of the U.S. Open. Schwartzel was in so much pain he very nearly didn't even tee off in Thursday's first round at the Olympic Club. An MRI that night identified the injury.
After tying for 38th that week, Schwartzel took the next three weeks off to let the tear heal. He returned to competition at the British Open -- and this week's Deutsche Bank Championship is his seventh straight event.
Schwartzel will start the third round of the second event in the FedExCup Playoffs in contention, too, after Saturday's 65 lifted him to 9 under and three behind Rory McIlroy. He's clearly relishing the opportunity.
"I had the injury at the U.S. Open and it set me back quite a bit, came back, lost a bit of confidence, and just seeing if I can play myself back into it," Schwartzel said. "There's been great signs of it sort of from Wyndham, just finishing poorly on Sunday. Same thing at Bethpage, I was up there, finished poorly on Sunday.
"It's there. Once again, I can feel the game is great, so just a matter of finishing it off."
Schwartzel, who says he loves the TPC Boston layout, has only
made one bogey in 36 holes and that came on his fifth hole in the
first round. He hit 11 fairways and 15 greens in regulation on a
bogey-free Saturday while using 28 putts.
"I think I played great," Schwartzel said. "I got off to a really good start, then went to sleep for a while there in the middle and made a great save on 14, and that's what woke me up a bit. I made birdie on 15 and 17. I would have loved one on 18, it was a good chance, but overall it was a great round this afternoon with the wind blowing."
Schwartzel came into the Deutsche Bank Championship ranked 71st in the FedExCup but he's clearly not stressed about trying to move into the top 70 to earn a spot in the BMW Championship next week.
"What pressure?" he said. "I can still win the FedEx."
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
For those players currently not inside the top 70 in FedExCup points, this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston represents a last chance to move up and secure a spot at the third stop in the Playoffs, next week’s BMW Championship.
Here’s a closer look at five players who I think could move from outside the top 70 in the FedExCup standings to inside the top 70 and advance to Crooked Stick. Fill out the form below and let me know if you agree or disagree with my picks.
Charl Schwartzel (No. 71): The biggest reason I think Schwartzel moves on? He’s just one spot outside the magic number. The South African doesn’t have much of a Playoffs history -- last year was his one and only year in it -- but he’s missed just one cut since April. If that trend continues, he should move up at least one spot and advance. Three of Schwartzel’s last four finishes have been in the top 25.
Roberto Castro (No. 80): The 27-year-old already busted the bubble once, tying for 24th at The Barclays to move up 20 spots in the FedExCup standings and advance to TPC Boston. Prior to that, the rookie had missed his last three cuts. But in the two starts before that, he finished seventh and 18th. More to like about Castro: He’s 19th in total driving and 13th in greens in regulation.
Charley Hoffman (No. 86): After missing his fourth consecutive cut last week, Hoffman fell from 67th to 86th. On the bright side, a return trip to TPC Boston should conjure up some good memories and hopefully good play. Hoffman won the Deutsche Bank Championship two years ago and earlier this year he finished second at the nearby Travelers Championship. Whatever the reason, the Californian seems to play well in the New England area.
Jason Day (No. 88): Like Castro, he tied for 24th at The Barclays to make it to the Deutsche Bank Championship. Last year, Day tied for third at TPC Boston. Of course he was also playing a lot better then, too. The Aussie has good history there, however, tying for second in 2010 and 19th the year before.
Jonas Blixt (No. 97): A rib injury derailed what was a successful rookie campaign for Bilxt, who was sidelined two months. Prior to getting hurt, Blixt had strung together three straight top 10s at the Wells Fargo Championship, HP Byron Nelson Championship and Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. He also tied for 13th at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. He’ll need a similar performance to advance, but as one of the game’s best putters he certainly has a chance.
Five players -- Troy Matteson, Bo Van Pelt, Jhonattan Vegas, Stuart Appleby and Charl Schwartzel -- currently share the clubhouse lead at 5-under 65 in the opening round of the RBC Canadian Open, where they’re playing lift, clean and place after an overnight storm swept through the area and soaked the golf course.
Here’s what some of the leaders had to say about the opening round:
Vegas on the course conditions: “It is really soft. You can really throw anything at the pins and it's going to stop there.”
Vegas on how much of a difference there is between playing lift, clean and place and playing the ball down: “You take the doubt out of your mind. When you have your eye on the ball, you don't know which way the ball is going to go. So cleaning it takes it completely out of your mind. You can put a good spin on it, and usually you can get a result. It's huge.”
Appleby, who shot a 59 in the final round to win at The Greenbrier two years ago, on the similarities between that course and this one: “The greens, probably similar speed. The topography of this course is a lot hillier, a lot more demanding I think on the tee shots. The golf course now at Greenbrier is a lot more demanding than it was when I shot it.”
Schwartzel on being healthy again after missing a month between the U.S. and British Open due to a rib injury: “Before I had the injury, that second Masters before the British Open I thought that was the best I've hit the ball in my career. I hit it so good. Then the injury came and I was pretty upset about it because I thought I was really close to breaking through and winning again. I had to sit around for three weeks, three-and-a-half weeks without being able to hit a ball. I had sort of a rushed recuperation for the British Open, wasn't quite 100 percent. But at the British Open I didn't hit it as good as I did when I took off, but I kept practicing, and on Monday when I came here, things started falling into place.”