It is the very nature of Matchplay that creates upsets and unexpected winners, especially over a relatively short 18 hole match. It is also true that hot players stay hot and rise to the occasion.
This year’s WGC Matchplay Championship showcased both scenarios.
Former World #1 and current #3, Jason Day, withdrew after playing 6 holes in his opening round match to go home and be with his Mother who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. An emotional Day explained that he was not able to focus on golf at the moment and felt that he needed to be at home with his Mother. Rightly so.
Other prominent players who failed to advance out of the 3 qualifying rounds were World #2, Rory McIlroy, #4 Hideki Matsuyama, #5 Jordan Spieth, and #7 Sergio Garcia.
Such is the nature of todays’ professional game with the enormous depth of talented players that we’ll see short bursts of dominance by a player rather than a prolonged reign of supremacy in the vein of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
In 2014, a resurgent McIlroy dazzled us again winning 2 Majors http://www.birdgolf.com/doubt/ 2015 was the breakout year for Spieth who not only won the years’ first two Majors but had a legitimate chance to complete the Grand Slam http://www.birdgolf.com/22-at-22/ In 2016, Day took the mantle in his best year to date http://www.birdgolf.com/next-day-delivery/
The latest player to assert himself and play the game with subliminal skill is current World #1, Dustin Johnson. Since his ascendancy to the top spot six weeks ago http://www.birdgolf.com/the-newest-1/ the 31-year old has won both tournaments he has played in; the Genesis Open at Riviera CC (winning by 5 shots) and the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship.
His brilliance continued in the Matchplay’s first five matches as Johnson never trailed in any of the 75 holes he played. He was joined in the semi-finals by one of the game’s up and coming stars, 22-year old Jon Rahm from Spain. Rahm had been equally dominant in his matches and has been playing superbly (including being a runner-up to Johnson at the WGC-Mexico) since his maiden PGA Tour victory at the Farmers Open in January http://www.birdgolf.com/a-return-and-an-arrival/
They were joined by unheralded Japanese player, Hideko Tanihara, and American, Bill Haas. Once again, the Matchplay format had produced a quartet of very different players.
In the first semi-final, Rahm dispatched Haas 3 & 2 while Johnson was tested by Tanihara before ultimately prevailing on the last hole for a 1-up win. The final would therefore be a showdown between the week’s two hottest players who are both capable of overpowering a golf course.
A string of 4 consecutive birdies starting on the 3rd hole of the final gave Johnson an early 4-up lead but Rahm battled back on the back-9 with 4 birdies of his own to leave Johnson with a slender 1-up advantage as they played the 18th hole. Matching pars on the last gave Johnson the victory.
There will be several other days for Rahm who is the first Spaniard to reach the Matchplay finals and is most assuredly a rising star.
Johnson becomes the first player in history to capture all 4 WGC Championships and further cements his stranglehold as the #1 player in the world. How long he can maintain this spectacular level of golf remains to be seen, but the New “Big 3” (McIlroy, Spieth and Day) is now the Big 4.