Golfnutter: McIlroy masters match-play


Last week’s World Championship Match Play Tournament hosted the world’s top 64 golfers, as determined by the Official World Golf Rankings, in a refreshing change from the ubiquitous stroke-play format.  Placed into one of 16 groups of four, the world’s best pitched their match-play skills against the other three golfers in their pool.  The player with the best record after three rounds proceeded to the Round of 16, from which point it became sudden-death knockout.

The influence that match-play has on young amateurs, as they develop their golfing careers, varies between countries.  Ryder Cup followers have cited greater match-play experience as one major reason for Team Europe’s recent dominance.  If this is true the trend seems to be continuing, if results from last week’s tournament are considered.

Of the original field of 64 golfers, the USA boasted 29.  There were 23 from Europe, of which ten were from the UK.  It is the results of the ten UK golfers, who are brought up on a heavy match-play diet, which particularly took my interest.

At the completion of group play, of those that made the Round of 16, five were from the US and the same number, five, were from the UK.  This meant that 50% of UK golfers made it through pool play; a very impressive statistic.

Of these five, four of them made it to the last eight.  The golfer who didn’t, Lee Westwood, was beaten by fellow countryman – the 49th seed Danny Willett.  Thus the 50% representation level was preserved.  The other four were from the US (2), South Africa and Australia.  Unfortunately for those enjoying the thrust of this argument, the four from the UK were drawn against each other.  Conversely, this guaranteed the impressive 50% factor would be maintained.

The two from the UK that did make it to the semis, McIlroy and Willett, would go on to face the two Americans; Furyk and Woodland, respectively.

In one semi-final, McIlroy beat Furyk 1-up, but it needed a phenomenal birdie, birdie, eagle finish.  Woodland accounted for Willett 3 & 2 to book his final match with the world number one.

McIlroy never looked likely to lose the final, accounting for Woodland 4 & 2.  But the 49th seeded Willett upset the world’s fifth ranked golfer, Furyk, 3 & 2.

This tournament reflected very well on the strength of UK golf, at least as far as match-play is concerned.  Of the five that made the last 16, four made it to the last eight and two to the last four.  Those two went on to finish first and third.  Some statement.

McIlroy didn’t have it all his own way, having to show his new-found grafting skills on many occasions.  He won without his “A” game, relying on grit and determination to get him through.  Against Billy Horschel, he was 2-down with two to play when he sank a 30-footer on 17, which he regaled as his biggest shot of the week.  He went on to birdie 18, forcing the match into extra holes.  McIlroy finally won on the 20th.  On two other occasions McIlroy, when reaching the 16th tee, was down yet still managed a win.  Gutsy.

Then the classic match against an in-form Jim Furyk, where he went birdie-birdie-eagle to win 1-up.  The eagle was a result of a monstrous 45-foot putt on 18.  On a course which is scheduled to host a PGA Tournament in the near future, McIlroy, under stroke-play format, would have finished 26 under par.

With this win, McIlroy joins Nicklaus and Woods as the only players to have won ten PGA Tour titles before turning 26.  Whilst McIlroy’s purse for winning was a whopping $1,570,000.00, spare a compassionate thought for those golfers who didn’t manage to win any of their three group games; they all walked away with a measly $49,384.61; poor them.

One highlight that didn’t involve winners, but turned more heads than anything else Friday, was the heated exchange between group losers Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez.  Both were 0–2 and had no hope of going further, yet the result obviously meant something to both protagonists.  It appeared to boil over on the 18th when Jimenez had walked back some 40 yards to question a drop that Bradley had taken, when seeking relief from an immovable instruction.  The Rules official present had already given Bradley relief, but that didn’t appease Jimenez.

During Jimenez’s continued questioning of the Rules official, Bradley’s caddie interjected.  Jimenez immediately told him to “shut up.”  This brought an angry reaction from Bradley who walked up to Jimenez saying “Don’t you ever tell him to shut up.”  Bradley continued his advance to a point where he was staring down Jimenez from a distance of six inches.  He repeated. “Don’t you ever tell him to shut up.”

Jimenez went on to win 2-up.  Words were exchanged during the customary handshake, and again in the locker room.  To say this was a heated exchange is, in golfing terms, an understatement.  In many years watching golf, I have never seen the like.  Check it out:

And they say match-play is boring; yeah right.