Planet Golf — 20 February 2012 by Jim Street
PGA season moves to Match Play

One of the most thrilling starts in PGA Tour history takes a bit of a break this week when the top-ranked players in the world assemble at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz., for the Accenture Match Play Championship.

The brackets for Round 1 were announced on Monday and Luke Donald, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, heads the Bobby Jones Bracket; Martin Kaymer is top dog in the Ben Hogan Bracket; Rory McIlroy heads the Gary Player Bracket; and Lee Westwood sits atop the Sam Snead Bracket.

Fresh off a pulsating, three-way playoff win at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, Bill Haas takes on Ryo Ishikawa in Wednesday’s first round in the Sam Snead Bracket. Keegan Bradley, who missed by about an inch of extending Sunday’s playoff to a third hole, has a first-round clash against former Accenture winner, Geoff Ogilvy on Wednesday in the Gary Player Bracket.

The Accenture field does not include Phil Mickelson, the third player in Sunday’s playoff in L.A., but does include Tiger Woods. Tiger’s first outing since shooting a 75 in the final round of the AT&T Tournament in Pebble Beach, occurs on Wednesday morning against Gonzalo Fdez-Castano of Spain.

The first Match Play event of the year has some tough acts to follow, In the past month,  none of the leaders heading into the final round have won a tournament.

And the final day at the Northern Trust Open was beyond exciting.

Converted birdie putts by Mickelson and Bradley on the 18th hole created a three-way tie at the top. All three players had a par on the first playoff hole.

It was decided on the 312-yard 10th hole, regarded as the best short par 4 in America, certainly among the most interesting holes in all of golf. It can be reached with a drive, but it’s all about position — and none were in a particularly good spot.

Haas went long into thick rough, with enough of the back bunker in his way that he smartly played out to the right and left himself a long birdie putt that at least would assure him par.

Mickelson and Bradley each came up short, a horrible angle. Mickelson’s flop shot landed near the hole and rolled into the back bunker. Bradley was in the bunker, and did well to blast out to 15 feet, just through the green.

Haas ended the suspense with a 45-foot putt that capped a wise decision that he made on his second shot.

In thick rough behind the 10th green, Haas smartly played away from the flag with hopes of making par and going on to the next hole.

He wound up holing the putt.

“A part of me was saying, ‘I’ve done this once, let’s do it again,'” Haas said. “Another part of me was saying, ‘Don’t screw this up.'”

He didn’t.

Also this week, the LPGA Tour remains overseas with the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore, which starts on Thursday. The Champions Tour resumes on March 16.

 

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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, never had a hole-in-one, although once he came within two inches of an ace, and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick in Scotland, and Princeville are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and vacations in Arizona (and other warm climates) as much as possible.

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