Well, round one of matches at the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship is in the books, and boy, that was a lot of golf for a day! I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything that happened, but that’s nearly impossible (and I don’t want to spend all night writing up every single match), so let’s just take a look at the key match-ups and a few of the upsets.
Of course with the format change, the players who lost on Wednesday aren’t automatically eliminated, even though many treated it kind of like they were because they’ve now put themselves behind the eight ball and/or have to rely on some help from the other guys in their round-robin group. Rory McIlroy summed it up well.
“You’re definitely swimming upstream if you lose that first match,” said McIlroy after beating Jason Dufner 5&4.”But you lose the first one, and it is tough because all of a sudden you’re not in control of your own destiny. You’re looking at the other guys in your pool and seeing what they’re doing, and you’re not fully focused on yourself. If you win every match, at least you’re in control of what you’re doing and you don’t need to rely on anyone else to win or lose for you to progress.”
That said, let’s kick off this round-up.
Rory McIlroy (1-0) vs. Jason Dufner (0-1):
Result: McIlroy 5&4
McIlroy didn’t necessarily have his A game on Wednesday, but he didn’t need it against Dufner, who just couldn’t buy a putt and find any momentum. McIlroy and Dufner both started the round with birdies to halve the first hole, but that was actually the only birdie on both their scorecards for the rest of the day. Considering McIlroy won the match 5&4, that basically tells the tale of Dufner’s play. Rory won five holes with pars, while Dufner made bogeys.
The world no. 1 closed out the match on the par-4 14th (which is normally the 18th hole in Harding Park’s normal routing) after hitting a monster drive 311 yards, knocking his approach to 25 feet and then two-putting for an easy par.
“I did what I needed to do out there,” said McIlroy. “Jason didn’t have his best stuff, obviously. So I just tried to put him under pressure from the start, tried to hit fairways, hit greens, and try and make him force a little bit.
“(In) match play, you just need to beat the person that’s in front of you and I did that today.”
McIlroy hit 10 of 14 greens and found 8 of 11 fairways.
“It’s good to win that first match,” he said. “Luckily, I’ve done that. My mindset going into tomorrow (is to) have to win, you have to win every match. No point in thinking you can’t win matches and progress here. Maybe (I could) hole a few more putts.”
Rory needed 23 putts in 14 holes (which isn’t a stellar stat).
He played a bit more conservative than usual to adjust to what his opponent was doing.
“I didn’t feel like I throttled back from tee to green,” said McIlroy. “There were some holes where you put it out of position and it was pretty likely that he wasn’t going to make a par, so I hit it in the middle of the green and played quite conservatively, which is sort of different than what I would usually do in match play.
“But I adjusted to what he was doing and I really just did what I had to do. If things were different and I had to be a little more aggressive, I would have played that way. But the situation dictated that I hit fairways, hit greens and put him under pressure, and that was going to be enough.”
Even if McIlroy makes it through to the semifinals on Sunday, he still plans to attend the blockbuster fight with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night in Vegas. He will fly private to sit ringside for the big fight and then return that same night to compete the following morning in the semis.
“Let’s put it this way, if that was Saturday night and I finished on the 14th, I’d be pretty happy,” said McIlroy, laughing. “I could finish on 12, but finish on 14, I’d be okay.”
McIlroy will face Brandt Snedeker, who lost his first match against Billy Horschel 5&4, late Thursday morning.
Jordan Spieth (1-0) vs. Mikko Illonen (0-1):
Result: Spieth 4&2
Jordan Spieth continued his fine play at Harding Park. He’s making his sixth start in eight weeks and it’s been quite the whirlwind for him as he’s fresh off his victory at the Masters, but there’s no slowing down for the 21 year old when it comes to winning. Spieth was almost flawless on Wednesday, making a lone bogey on no. 3 and rolling in seven birdies.
Illonen tried to keep up and drained a birdie on the par-4 11th to close the gap to just one-down at the time, but Spieth then put it in an extra gear and made three birdies on nos. 12, 13 and 16 to win the match 4&2.
Spieth’s ballstriking helped propel him to the victory, hitting 13 of 13 fairways and 13 of 16 greens in regulation.
“(It was) solid,” said Spieth. “I was happy. I didn’t strike the ball particularly well at Hilton Head a couple of weeks ago. I put in some good work with my instructor at home. I put it to the test out here and it was good. It was a solid round, one bogey and I think five or six birdies there. I would certainly take it the rest of the week…
“It’s good to get off to a good start. It got a little interesting there on the back nine. Big turn around on 12 and 13 to get 3-up and close it out on 16. I’m extremely pleased.”
Next, Spieth will face Matt Every, who lost in a tough match against Lee Westwood that went all the way to the 18th hole.
“Not only did he win at Arnie’s event, but he’s also been playing well the last few weeks,” said Spieth, referring to Every. “Matt is a strong player, really good putter of the golf ball. I have to play a round like today to win.”
Justin Rose (0-1) vs. Marc Leishman (1-0):
Result: Leishman 3&2
Leishman took care of perhaps the second hottest player in the world after Spieth on Wednesday, defeating world no. 6 Justin Rose, who just won on Sunday at the Zurich Classic and finished T2 at the Masters, 3&2. Leishman, who is ranked no. 60 in the world, made four birdies and two bogeys en route to his victory.
“It was a good day for me,” said Leishman. “I got off to a good start birdieing the first and holed a good par putt on the second hole to halve the hole. And then it flowed from there. I’m really happy for the day, drove the ball well and putted pretty well. Rosie probably missed a few putts he could have made, but that’s good. I’m really happy to win the first match.”
Leishman has a renewed appreciation for life and playing golf for a living. Just a couple of weeks ago, his wife Audrey endured a series of infections that put her in a coma. She was given a very small chance to live, but she managed to fight through the scare and is now recovering back home in Virginia.
“I’ve always had a decent perspective on golf,” said Leishman, who fought back tears several times talking about his wife during his press conference. “But I think sometimes you get into a mindset where you take it too seriously, like it’s a life and death situation. I’ve just been through a real one of those. So I know golf isn’t life and death anymore. If I don’t pull a shot off, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to affect my life.”
Leishman’s fresh viewpoint has compelled him to change his strategy on the course.
“I can be a bit more aggressive now feeling that at the moment I’m playing pretty well,” he said. “There’s a good chance I’ll pull it off and if I don’t, I had a crack and try to do it on the next hole. It’s been a great thing for my perspective on golf. It’s really good to just be out here on the golf course. I’m really trying to make the most of it…
“If I don’t play well, I can still go home and hug my wife, which I didn’t think I was going to be able to do a few weeks ago. I can still go home and hug my kids and they still love me.
“It’s been a real eye opener the last month. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I really feel like that. I feel like especially Audrey, she’s fought so hard just to be alive, and I feel like I owe it to her to be out here doing my best. But I don’t want to take it home with me, apart from trophies, baggage from the golf course. I don’t want to go home and be in a bad mood or do that because I’m happy that she’s here and that we can spend our lives together again, which didn’t look like it was going to happen (a few weeks ago).
Leishman received a text from Audrey congratulating him for his win, which nearly moved him to tears.
“Every time I get a text from her, it’s sort of like, that’s pretty cool,” he said. “As close as we were to losing her, it still feels really cool that I can get text messages from her and just do that. It’s just cool to have her around.”
Well, if this doesn’t make you want to root for Leishman, then you’re a heartless bastard.
Matt Kuchar (0-1) vs. Ben Martin (1-0):
Result: Martin 1-up
Martin, the second-lowest ranked player in the field at no. 67, upset Kuchar, defeating the world no. 14 1-up. After bogeying the par-4 6th, Martin was 2-down to Kuchar early, but a couple of birdies and an ace on the long par-3 17th propelled him to a victory in his maiden match in his first start at this event.
“I’d say under the circumstances that’s probably the best shot I’ve ever hit,” said Martin, referring to the hole-in-one. “It was a hybrid into the wind, 235 yards. I didn’t even see it go in. I knew it was on a good line, but I looked down and then it was almost too far to see it go in.
“But I tried to just stay even keel because I knew I was going to be 1-up with one to play, and I didn’t want to get too excited, too ahead of myself. I wanted to win the last hole. And we both missed our putts there, which was a little disappointing. But this is my first match play event and to go up against one of the best players in the world and we had a great match all day, it was a lot of fun.”
In a show of fine sportsmanship, Kuchar gave Martin a high-five.
“It was an awesome shot,” said Kuchar. “If it doesn’t go in the hole, it’s such a good shot. It was tight and he’s going to make 2, anyway. I’m going to lose to a 2 on that hole. So, you kind of go, well, match play is better than stroke play in that situation.”
I have to run to an appointment, but I’ll try to write more when I get back home.