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Flashback Friday: Memorable Moments From the WGC Match Play

Flashback Friday - Memorable Moments From the WGC Match Play

Sports fans around the world are currently going through a withdrawal. The stretch from early March to mid-April is some of the best times of year for sports, between March Madness, playoff races heating up for the NBA and NHL, Opening Day for baseball and culminating with The Masters and a trip down Magnolia Lane. Seeing all these events postponed or cancelled has made life pretty depressing.

But instead of mourning what we have lost, we can take this time to commemorate the great moments in sports we’ve seen and the hope that the joy we get from it will someday return.

Let’s go back in time and revisit some great moments from the WGC Match Play

2002 – Kevin Sutherland vs. Scott McCarron

The 2002 WGC – Accenture Match Play is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Back then, the match play format was a straight single elimination 64 golfer knockout, which exposed the event to significant and unexpected upsets that could jeopardize weekend television ratings should a few big names get knocked out early.

That’s exactly what happened in 2002. Three of the #1 seeds all lost their first round matchups. Tiger Woods lost to Peter O’Malley 2&1 in probably the biggest upset in WGC Match Play history. John Cook took out Phil Mickelson 3&2, and David Duval (who we later would find out was beginning his descent into golf irrelevance) lost in the first round to the 62nd ranked player in the field Kevin Sutherland in extra holes. In all, the only player from the Top 8 in the field to advance to the quarterfinals was David Toms, who isn’t exactly the most exciting name out there. At the end, a pair of journeymen in Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron was the tournament’s final match, which was one of the worst case scenarios the WGC could have to generate mainstream interest.

While the Championship Match received very little fanfare, it was actually a very good 36 hole match between the two competitors. Despite very little confidence in his driver all day, Sutherland managed to keep things close with his childhood friend McCarron until the 33rd hole, when he finally took a 1 Up lead. This lead held all the way through the 36th hole, where McCarron had an 8 foot birdie to try and send the match into extra holes. His birdie putt lipped out, and Sutherland was handed not just his biggest win, but his only win of his PGA Tour career. Pretty good way to go one and done.

2006 – Tiger Puts Stephen Ames In A Body Bag

Tiger has won the WGC Match Play three times, but if you ask anyone for their favorite Tiger moment of the event their answer would probably be his beatdown of Stephen Ames in 2006.

As usual, Tiger was the top overall seed for the 2006 WGC Match Play event and was paired up in the first round with Ames, who was the lowest ranked player in the field at 68th in the World Golf Rankings. Tiger came into the event off a WD at the Nissan Open citing the flu, but he made the cut on the number and some thought that he was using the flu as an excuse for his poor play that week.

Among the doubters was Stephen Ames, who when asked what he thought his chances were against Tiger replied “Anything can happen, especially where he’s hitting the ball”. Lost in the annals of history is that this wasn’t the first time the opinionated Canadian took a swipe at the #Goat. In 2000, he called Tiger “spoiled” and that he doesn’t respect other players with how badly he beats them.

What happened next was an absolute demolition. Tiger came out of the gates on fire, shooting six under through his first six holes to put Ames in a hole from the jump. Overall Tiger was seven under through his first 9 holes, and his par at the 10th completed the 9&8 drubbing over his hapless opponent. If that wasn’t enough, during his post round interview he said with a s**t-eating grin on his face “I think he understands now”.

While Tiger fell to Chad Cambpell in the Round of 16, he became the unofficial winner of the 2006 WGC Match Play with the most dominating match-play performance in history.

2014 – Duel In The Desert

The final match of the 2014 WGC Match Play between Jason Day and Victor Dubuisson was set up as David vs. Goliath. Jason Day was considered the next big star on the PGA Tour based on his stellar recent performances in major championships, while the young Frenchman was rapidly ascending the world golf rankings but was relatively unknown here in the United States.

Jason Day got off to a very fast start, leading Dubuisson by three as they headed to the Back Nine. Dubuisson began to chip away at Day’s lead with a birdie at the 13th to pull within 2, and another birdie at the 17th to cut the match to 1 heading into the 18th hole. After Day three putted the 18th and Dubuisson had a wonderful up and down from the bunker to save par, the two headed to extra holes.

That’s where things got wonky.

On the first playoff hole, Dubuisson’s approach shot air mailed the green and settled into a cactus bush where his ball was literally suspended in mid-air. Miraculously, Dubuisson hacked out to 5 feet and buried the par saving putt to extend the match.

The very next hole, Dubuisson once again found himself in a hopeless situation as his approach shot leaked left of the green to leave him another terrible lie against desert shrubbery. But like Houdini he amazingly hacked out again onto the green and buried the par saving putt, which left Day incredulously shaking his head laughing.

But Dubuisson’s luck would run out three holes later, as his approach shot on the 23rd hole once again failed to find the putting surface and he couldn’t get up and down to extend the match. With that, Jason Day finally slayed Victor Dubuisson to capture his first WGC title and his 2nd career win on the PGA Tour.

2017 – Dustin Johnson vs. Jon Rahm

The final match of the 2017 WGC Match Play wasn’t the first dual between Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson that season. The two were paired together in the final group at the WGC – Mexico Championship, and while Dustin Johnson prevailed it was the young Spaniard who impressively showed he wasn’t afraid of the spotlight and would be a force on the PGA Tour for years to come. The two then went toe-to-toe again at the WGC – Match Play a few weeks later, with Johnson looking for his third straight PGA Tour win and Rahm looking to avenge his loss in Mexico.

Dustin Johnson got off to a very fast start, beating Rahm 5 out of 6 holes to go 5 Up through 8. But after a poor approach shot by Dustin Johnson on the 9th put him in a bunker where he failed to get up and down for par, momentum suddenly switched in Rahm’s favor heading to the back nine.

On the 10th hole, Dustin Johnson three putted while Rahm successfully got up and down to save par, cutting the deficit to 3. Dustin Johnson extended the lead back to 4 after Rahm couldn’t get up and down for birdie at the Par 5 12th. On the 13th, Rahm nearly jarred his tee shot over the water on the driveable Par 4 and converted for birdie to bring it back to 3. Two holes later, Rahm stuffed his approach shot to 3 feet and converted the birdie while Dustin failed to convert his own, bringing the deficit to 2. Both players wildly blocked their tee shots right on the Par 5 16th, but Rahm buried a 40 foot birdie putt to cut the lead down to 1.

After trading pars on the 17th, Rahm needed to best Dustin Johnson on the 18th to extend the match. Rahm drove his tee shot through the green and into a collection area. Johnson, meanwhile, opted to lay up to give himself an ideal wedge shot into the green, but left his approach shot woefully short. That opened the door for Rahm to square the match, but he left his chip shot just on top of the ridge, leaving him a diabolical downhill right to left breaker. After failing to make the putt, Dustin Johnson two putted from the fringe to take the match and win the WGC title.

For Dustin Johnson, he became the first and only golfer to win all four WGC tournaments (a feat even Tiger can’t claim to have). For Jon Rahm, he once again showed his immense talent to the world and fought back valiently after being down 5 after 8 holes. He left golf fans wondering how high his ceiling might be.

2019 – Tiger vs. Rory

Though the stakes were much lower, Tiger’s showdown with Rory McIlroy in the Round of 16 of the 2019 WGC Match Play was one of his most anticipated head-to-head matches of his career. Rory was fresh off a win at the Players Championship while the world was still abuzz about Tiger’s comeback after his surprising win at the 2018 Tour Championship. Huge galeries showed up to watch the match, and there was more of a Ryder Cup feel of it than the usually sleepy WGC vibe.

Tiger drew first blood on Rory at the driveable Par 4 5th, with Tiger converting his birdie putt while Rory missed his to go 1 up on the match. On the next hole, Tiger stuffed his approach shot to 4 feet and nailed his birdie putt to go 2 up after Rory failed to get up and down from off the green. A few holes later, Tiger extended the lead to three after Rory shockingly missed his 3 foot par putt.

Rory whittled the lead back down to 1 heading into the Par 5 16th, where he absolutely nuked his drive 395 yards. Meanwhile, Tiger found the fairway bunker and had to chip out to set up a long approach shot for his 3rd. But Rory proceeded to make an absolute mess of the hole, first leaving his approach shot woefully short in a bunker, and then he bladed his bunker shot over the green and against a stone wall. Rory was forced to take an unplayable and suddenly the tide had turned for Tiger, who had 24 feet left for a birdie. Rory ended up taking a double bogey and conceded the hole to Tiger to bring the match dormie.

On the Par 3 17th, Tiger nearly hit his tee shot into the hazard and hit a very poor chip onto the green. But Tiger drained his 13 foot putt for par to win the match over Rory and send the crowd into a frenzy.

Tiger would go on to lose his next match to Lucas Bjerregaard, but for the second time in his career he had the most memorable moment at a WGC Match Play event without winning the championship.

Golf and NASCAR analyst for SportsGamblingPodcast.com. Co-Host of the Golf Gambling Podcast on the Sports Gambling Podcast Network. Hit him up on the SGP Slack Channel at SportsGamblingPodcast.com/Slack

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