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Round 5 - WGC sweep for Dustin Johnson March 27, 2017
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May 8, 2018
Ben Brett in
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Round 5 - WGC sweep for Dustin Johnson

March 27, 2017

The final day lasted longer than Dustin Johnson wanted. The outcome was what everyone expected.

Johnson, a golfing machine with no discernible weakness and hardly any pulse, won the Dell Technologies Match Play on Sunday for his third straight victory, this one making him the first person to sweep the four World Golf Championships.

He had to work the hardest for this title.

Johnson was taken to the 18th hole in the semifinal before making an 8-foot putt to beat Hideto Tanihara, and then Jon Rahm rallied from 5 down with 10 holes to play until his fearless charge fell short on the final hole.

Johnson tapped in a 30-inch putt for a 1-up victory, completing a dominant week in which he never trailed in the 112 holes he played over seven matches.

''What am I going to say that you guys don't know?'' Rahm said. ''If his putter had been hot, I wouldn't have had a chance, no question. ... It's amazing how he's able to keep cool the entire round. It amazes me. And he's just a perfect, complete player.''

Johnson now has 15 victories in his career, six of them dating to his first major at the U.S. Open last summer at Oakmont. Three of them were World Golf Championships at the Bridgestone Invitational, the Mexico Championship and the Match Play. He won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in 2013.

Asked to size up his feat, Johnson said, ''Pretty good.''

There's really not much else to say. He led 94 percent of the holes he played at Austin Country Club, a tournament record. He won 46 of those 112 holes. When asked about his pulse on Saturday, Johnson said, ''It's beating.''

And on Sunday?

''It got a little faster than I would have liked starting on about 16,'' he said with a smile. ''But I was able to hang in there.''

Johnson was 4 up with six holes to play when Rahm, a bold Spanish rookie with a big game, hit driver over the water and onto the 13th green to win the hole with a birdie. He stuck a wedge close on the 15th for another birdie. Rahm hit a shot through the trees on the 16th and won the hole with a 30-foot birdie. And just like that, he was 1 down with two holes to play.

''I just made a swing as hard as I could,'' Rahm said. ''And somehow the ball went under the first tee, rose just over the next one ... and went through to 100 yards. I don't know what happened. I think either Seve, God, someone right there or both of them just made a gap in the trees and made my ball go through there.''

Indeed, it was the kind of magic Spanish great Seve Ballesteros for so long produced.

Rahm's comeback, however, fell short. Playing the 356-yard 18th hole for the first time in competition all week, and needing a birdie to send this heavyweight bout to overtime, Rahm smashed driver over the back of the green. But his chip down the slope checked up and stayed short of the ridge, leaving him a downhill putt that broke so sharply that he aimed nearly at a 90-degree angle away from the hole. He did well to make par.

Johnson came up just short of the green, chipped close and rolled in it to complete another big week.

''That was a tough day, a long day,'' Johnson said. ''I'm proud of the way I played, the way I hung in there.''

Rahm, who dispatched of Bill Haas in the semifinals, 3 and 2, wanted to face the hottest player in golf in the championship. And for the longest time, it looked as though the 22-year-old Spaniard regretted it.

Rahm gave away three straight holes by missing par putts from 6 feet and 8 feet, and missing a birdie putt from 4 feet. Johnson stretched his lead to 5 up with yet another bogey by Rahm, and it looked as though this match might be over early.

Rahm, who already is No. 14 in the world in just his 15th tournament as a pro, began chipping away. Johnson three-putted the 10th hole for the third straight match, regained momentum with a two-putt birdie on the 12th hole - Rahm hit his tee shot downhill and downwind at 438 yards, Johnson at 424 yards - and then the Spaniard began his remarkable rally.

There is just no beating Johnson at the moment. He won at Riviera by five shots. He held on for a one-shot victory in Mexico.

Johnson said in Mexico that his name - but not his exclusively - is one that nobody wants to see on the leaderboard. When asked if he is intimidating, he always says that's for other players to determine.

''If I'm playing my best,'' he said, ''yeah, I'll play against anybody, anytime.''

The Masters is in two weeks.

Round 4 - Semi-final line up set

March 26, 2017

Dustin Johnson had reason to be rattled.

As he walked off the 12th green Saturday afternoon, the match referee said five words that Johnson heard for the first time all week in the Dell Technologies Match Play.

''The match is all square.''

Until then, Johnson had led after each of the 71 holes he had played at Austin Country Club.

He wasted little time responding to a rare challenge. Johnson birdied three of the next four holes for a 3-and-2 victory over Alex Noren to advance to the semifinals and stay on track for a potential showdown between No. 1 in the world and Jon Rahm, golf's brightest young star.

''I wasn't frustrated that I was all square. I was frustrated that I kind of gave 10 and 11 away,'' Johnson said. ''Came back strong after losing three holes in a row.''

Rahm was so dominant he played only 27 holes in two matches Saturday. He hasn't had a match go longer than 14 holes since Thursday. And the 22-year-old rookie from Spain still hasn't played the 18th hole since a practice round Tuesday.

''The golf I've played the last three matches really has been very impressive, even to myself,'' he said. ''And it seemed to get better as I played, which is something that doesn't happen often.''

Rahm lost only one of the 27 holes he played in his 6-and-4 victory over Charles Howell III and his 7-and-5 victory over Soren Kjeldsen in the quarterfinals.

Rahm faces a semifinal match Sunday morning against Bill Haas, who ended Phil Mickelson's hopes with a 2-and-1 victory. Mickelson had advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in 13 years with a victory against Marc Leishman.

Mickelson never trailed in any match until he fell behind on the first hole to Haas, and he had never led when the match ended on the 17th hole.

''I struggled making the putts that I have been making all week,'' Mickelson said. ''That seemed to me to be the difference.''

Johnson, going after a third straight PGA Tour title, faces one of this tournament's biggest surprises in Hideko Tanihara of Japan.

''He looks unbeatable,'' Tanihara said. ''I hope he doesn't feel good tomorrow, so maybe I have a chance.''

Tanihara began the week by beating Jordan Spieth. On Saturday, he took down Paul Casey with two late birdies in the morning fourth round, and then he beat Ross Fisher, 4 and 2, to reach the semifinals.

Johnson has looked unstoppable all month.

He went to No. 1 in the world with a five-shot victory at Riviera. In his next start, he won the Mexico Championship after holding off a late rally from Rahm. Now he's two victories away from becoming the first player to sweep the four World Golf Championships.

None of Johnson's five matches has gone beyond the 16th hole. In the fourth round, he beat Zach Johnson, 5 and 4. Noren is the only player to really make him sweat, and that was Johnson's doing.

Johnson went 3 up at the turn, and then it was gone. He three-putted from 30 feet to lose the 10th hole. His tee shot on the par-3 11th hit the rocks and went into the water. And then he had to settle for par after leaving himself in an awkward spot, only to watch Noren hole a 40-footer to tie the match.

Johnson made a 10-foot birdie putt on the 13th - Noren missed from 8 feet - and then began to pull away with another 10-foot birdie on the 15th.

''That putt on 13 I think was a big one,'' Johnson said. ''That was just outside of him, and to hole that putt, put a little pressure on him, and then he missed it, I think that was a pretty important shot there.''

Haas is still amazed to even be playing. On Friday, he was on the verge of being eliminated when he hit into a hazard in a sudden-death playoff against K.T. Kim to decide their group. Haas took a penalty drop, chipped in from 120 feet for par to halve the hole and won on the sixth extra hole. Then he had to go 18 holes to beat Kevin Na in the fourth round before taking on Mickelson.

Haas made seven birdies in his match. He figured he will need something close to that number for his semifinal match against Rahm.

''I don't think a single player out here would argue that he's one of the top five, top 10 players in the world,'' Haas said. ''He's hungry. He wants more. You can just see it in him. He's got that thing about him that's going to make him a big-time winner out here, and hopefully I can hang with him.''

Fisher left with a consolation prize. By beating Bubba Watson in the fourth round, Fisher will move into the top 50 in the world and qualify for the Masters. Tanihara also was assured of being in the top 50 to get into Augusta National for the first time in 10 years.

Round 3 - Domination or survival at Match Play

March 25, 2017

Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson showed the simple side to the Dell Technologies Match Play. For three straight days in warmth, wind or rain, they built early leads and never let anyone get close to them in advancing out of their groups to the knockout stage.

For just about everyone else, it was a matter of surviving.

Bill Haas delivered another amazing escape when he chipped in from 120 feet to save par and extend a sudden-death playoff that he eventually won in six holes.

Marc Leishman made it to the round of 16 by playing two holes on Friday. He was awarded a victory because Jason Day withdrew on Wednesday, got a reprieve when Lee Westwood beat Pat Perez to force a three-man playoff, and beat Westwood on the second hole with a 12-foot birdie.

''Pat was either going to beat Lee and I was flying home tomorrow morning, or I was going to get to play golf and try to advance,'' Leishman said. ''I got the latter and advance. So it was a great day.''

It was an easy day for Johnson and Mickelson.

Johnson, the No. 1 seed going for his third straight PGA Tour victory, again won the opening hole and showed why he might be the most feared player in golf at the moment. He shot 30 on the front nine, and all PGA champion Jimmy Walker could do was make the match last as long as he could.

Johnson won, 5 and 3, and goes into the weekend having led after all 46 holes he has played this week.

Mickelson only made two birdies, but he had no mistakes and no trouble in a 6-and-5 victory over J.B. Holmes. Mickelson has led 41 of his 42 holes this week, and he has played so well from tee to green - and especially on the greens - that he has yet to see the 16th, 17th or 18th holes in competition at Austin Country Club.

Mickelson advanced out of the third round for the first time since 2004, so long ago that Lefty was known as the best player without a major and Tiger Woods was starting to work with a new swing coach, Hank Haney.

Johnson and Alex Noren (No. 8) were the only top 10 seeds left going into the weekend. Rory McIlroy (2) was mathematically eliminated on Thursday; Day (3) withdrew; Hideki Matsuyama (4) didn't win a match all week; and Jordan Spieth (5) didn't make it out of group play for the second time in three years.

Justin Thomas (6) also was knocked out. Thomas had a 2-up lead with five holes to play until Matt Fitzpatrick won the next four holes with birdies to win the match. That got Fitzpatrick into a playoff with Kevin Na, who had a 4-up lead until Chris Wood won the next six holes and seven out of the next eight.

Their playoff didn't start for two hours, then Na hit a wedge to 3 feet and he advanced.

Fitzpatrick didn't even endure the greatest frustration. That belonged to Tyrrell Hatton, his fellow Englishman, who lost to Rafa Cabrera Bello to set up a three-man playoff of stroke play involving Charles Howell III.

Hatton had a 10-foot putt to win on the first extra hole, but just missed on the left. When he went to tap in, he set his putter down and nudged the ball. Under a new local rule, he could have replaced it with no penalty. But he tapped in and incurred a two-stroke penalty, and he was walking back to the clubhouse as Cabrera Bello and Howell played on. Howell wound up winning on the fifth extra hole.

Asked if he knew the rule, Hatton replied, ''I really wasn't thinking at that stage.''

Sergio Garcia (7) lost in a battle of the Spaniards when rising star Jon Rahm took him down. Garcia at least provided one unforgettable moment when a burst of rain during his tee shot on the 13th hole caused him to lose his grip. The tee shot squirted left about 30 feet.

''First, I thought I missed the ball. Second, I thought the club was gone,'' Garcia said. ''Anyway, the match was already in bad shape there.''

Ross Fisher of England came up with another clutch moment. He only assured himself a spot in the Match Play three weeks ago with birdies on his last three holes in Mexico to tie for third and move up in the ranking. On Friday, he beat Jim Furyk and then holed a 20-foot birdie putt to beat Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff.

Reaching the round of 16 leaves him a good chance to be in the top 50 in the world at the end of the week and get into the Masters.

And now, everyone starts with a clean slate.

It's single-elimination the rest of the way, starting with the fourth round and quarterfinals on Saturday.

Round 2 - Wild day matches wild weather

March 24, 2017

Phil Mickelson hit a simple chip toward the hole that never stopped until it was off the other side of the green and into the water.

Jordan Spieth felt a gust of wind as his tee shot was in the air and began pleading for it to get down. He only stopped talking when he heard the crowd cheer and saw the ball 2 feet from the hole.

Brandt Snedeker brought a touch of class to an exasperating at the Dell Technologies Match Play. He watched Andy Sullivan roll a putt to within 2 feet of the hole, only for the wind to blow back 7 feet away. Snedeker gave him the putt to halve the hole.

''Pure class,'' Sullivan said

It was pure chaos Thursday at Austin Country Club, where 30 mph gusts raged through the edge of Hill Country and made conditions so brittle and blustery holes were won with bogeys.

And it was just as wild trying to keep score thanks to two more players withdrawing.

Soren Kjeldsen and Alex Noren won their groups, one round before group play is even finished.

Rory McIlroy took the day off, and he's already guaranteed the weekend off.

The wind had nothing to do with a domino-effect of withdrawals that allowed Kjeldsen and Noren to get a day of rest Friday.

One after Jason Day withdrew because his mother faces surgery for lung cancer, Gary Woodland pulled out because of a personal family matter. He was scheduled to play McIlroy in the second round, and while McIlroy was conceded a victory, he was eliminated four hours later when Kjeldsen won his second straight match. Kjeldsen was to play Woodland in the third round, so he was assured of winning the group at 3-0.

And so ended McIlroy's week - 17 holes on Wednesday when Kjeldsen beat him with four straight birdies, no golf on Thursday, and a meaningless match Friday. All that's left is for McIlroy to decide whether to play the Houston Open next week. He has played just 13 competitive rounds this year.

Noren, meanwhile, had an easy time over Bernd Wiesberger for his second straight victory. He only had to beat Francesco Molinari on Friday, but then Molinari withdrew with a wrist injury, assuring Noren a 3-0 record and a spot in the knockout stage this weekend.

Molinari pulling out also eliminated Wiesberger and Thongchai Jaidee, who get to face each other Friday with nothing at stake.

Along with two players already advancing, 23 players from the 64-man field already are mathematically eliminated.

On the golf course, it was all about surviving.

Mickelson, who has made it past the third round only once in his 12 previous appearances at Match Play, has never trailed all week and had no trouble against Daniel Berger. But the wind was gusting to 30 mph, and the sun baked out greens that became like Texas hardpan.

Berger was in the water on the par-5 12th and Mickelson was just right of the green in two. His pitch rolled - and rolled - beyond the flag, off the green and into the water. They halved with bogeys.

''It happens,'' Mickelson said. ''I just didn't think that we would have the course so severe where that shot would be a problem.''

Still, Mickelson used a word seldom heard at Austin Country Club on Thursday. He said he had ''fun.''

Match play made it acceptable.

Spieth stayed in the game with a 4-and-2 victory over Yuta Ikeda. They halved the 13th hole with double bogeys when Spieth hit into the water, and then Ikeda hit into the water. The wind was that strong, and it was even tougher on the greens.

Dustin Johnson had another easy time as he tries to get in position for his third straight victory, but he still has one more match to claim his group. Ditto for Brooks Koepka, who has yet to see the last five holes in competition. Koepka has closed out both his matches on the 13th hole.

Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia both won two matches and now square off Friday to see which Spaniard wins the group. That also will be the case with Charl Schwartzel and Paul Casey, 2-0 in their groups and facing each other Friday.

''Now we get into the meat of this thing,'' Casey said. ''For me, it's straight knockout tomorrow. It's enjoyable. That's what I like, and everything is on the line.''

Everything else is still up in the air.

With round-robin play - head-to-head results do not apply in case of a tie - there's a possibility of two-man, three-man, even four-man playoffs to decide who advances out of group play into single elimination on the weekend.

Bay Hill winner Marc Leishman also had a chance to clinch his group if he had beaten Pat Perez, because Leishman was to face Day in the third round. Perez won on the 17th hole. If he doesn't win his match Friday, he faces Leishman in a playoff.

''I knew I had to win today. If not, Leish could go drink all night and get ready for Saturday,'' Perez said. ''Massive performance, I think, on my part today to get that done.''

Round 1 - Tough day for top seeds

March 23, 2017

Defending champion Jason Day lasted only six holes at the Dell Technologies Match Play until a heavy heart forced an early departure.

Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth might not be far behind.

The opening round of golf's most unpredictable tournament took a stunning turn Wednesday when the third-seeded Day abruptly conceded his match to Pat Perez, then wiped away tears as he revealed his mother has lung cancer. Day withdrew to be with her in Ohio for surgery on Friday.

''It's been a very, very hard time for me to even be thinking about playing golf,'' Day said. ''And I know my mom says not to let it get to me, but it really has. So I just need some time away with her to make sure that everything goes well because this has been very, very tough for me. So I'm going to do my best and try and be there the best I can for her because she is the reason that I'm playing golf today.''

Dustin Johnson had no trouble in his debut as the No. 1 seed. He had five birdies in his opening eight holes at Austin Country Club and there wasn't much Webb Simpson could do, but try to extend the match as long as he could. It lasted 15 holes in a 5-and-3 victory.

''Got a long way to go, but getting the first match in the books with a win is definitely a head start,'' said Johnson, who is trying to win his third straight tournament.

McIlroy (No. 2) and Spieth (No. 5) face critical matches the rest of the way.

McIlroy, the 2015 champion and a semifinalist last year, appeared to seize control against Soren Kjeldsen when he won three straight holes to take the lead, including a 410-yard drive on the par-5 12th hole and another drive over the water to the edge of the green on the 317-yard 13th hole into the wind.

Kjeldsen, crisp as ever with his short irons, ran off four straight birdies to end the match. He took a 1-up lead with a wedge in tight on the par-5 16th, and then his pitching wedge that landed inches from the cup and settled 2 feet away for a birdie on the 17th to end it. Kjeldsen was 6 under on the round.

It was the first time McIlroy had lost his opening match since 2013 when Match Play was single elimination.

''If I had played anyone else, I might have won,'' McIlroy said. ''Overall, I can't be too disappointed. But at the same time, when standing on the 14th tee just having won three holes in a row, I thought I had him going into a tough stretch of the golf course. But he put up three birdies in a row, and you can't do anything about that.''

Spieth didn't put much of a fight against Hideto Tanihara of Japan, making his debut in Match Play.

With the Texas crowd on his side, Spieth missed a short birdie attempt that would have given him the lead on No. 5.

Two holes later, Tanihara poured in an 18-foot birdie putt and Spieth couldn't match him. And he never caught up. Spieth didn't win a hole until the 14th - with a bogey - and Spieth gave him the next hole when his wedge sailed over the 15th green.

Spieth and McIlroy are not done yet, though they need some help.

The best record from the 16 four-man groups advance to the knockout stage on Saturday. Ties are determined by a sudden-death playoff, and head-to-head matchups do not count.

''I obviously have to take care of my end of the bargain tomorrow,'' Spieth said, who next faces Yuta Ikeda.

Hideki Matsuyama (No. 4) wasn't all that happy, either. He missed a 6-foot birdie putt against Jim Furyk and had to settle for a halve. Sergio Garcia, meanwhile, was thrilled to get a halve against Shane Lowry.

The Spaniard never led on the back nine and was 1 down going to the 18th. Lowry hit driver well left into the shaggy grass of a hazard, did well to get it on the green but then three-putted for a bogey.

Justin Thomas (No. 6), fell behind for the first time in his match against Chris Wood on the 13th hole. Thomas won the next two and then closed him out on the 17th. Next up for the PGA Tour's only three-time winner this season is Kevin Na.

''I didn't know I was playing him until you just told me,'' Thomas said. ''I guess that can tell you how I'm viewing everything this week. I'm just going to play golf.''

Only nine of the 32 matches went the distance. Charl Schwartzel had the shortest day, ending his match against Byeong Hun on the 13th hole.

Perez went 2 up early on Day, including a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 4 that swirled into the cup. But on the par-5 sixth, Day was listless and chopped his way to a double bogey when he shook hands and walked off the course.

Day never let on that his mother, Dening, was diagnosed with lung cancer at the start of the year. The prognosis was bleak in Australia - he said doctors told her she only had 12 months to live - so he brought her to Ohio in the last month for a new round of tests.

He said doctors have been more optimistic, and Friday's surgery will determine a plan for recovery.




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