PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Even without the math associated with the Official World Golf Ranking, it might not be easy to determine which players get into the 64-man field for the Match Play Championship in Arizona at the end of the month.
The first World Golf Championship of the year is for the top 64 in the world ranking.
Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott already have confirmed they won’t be playing — Scott because of his poor record (especially at Dove Mountain), Mickelson because his children are on spring break that week. Tiger Woods also is unlikely to play, which would be the first time he missed Match Play when healthy and it was played in America.
There was talk that Justin Rose might miss that week, though that was before he injured his shoulder. Rose now is scheduled to make his 2014 debut next week at Riviera, and depending on how it goes, he is likely to play in Arizona to make up for lost time.
So the absentee list could include three or four players, meaning the magic number is either No. 67 or No. 68 — or deeper if anyone else withdraws. Scott Piercy, for example, has been dealing with an elbow injury. He’s at No. 65 in the world.
This is the final week to qualify for the Match Play, though players have until next Friday (Feb. 14) to officially commit.
So who’s on the bubble?
The only players competing this week are Richard Sterne (No. 64) in the Joburg Open, Kiradech Aphibarnrat (No. 66) at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Bo Van Pelt (No. 73) at Pebble and D.A. Points (No. 75) at Pebble.
Brooks Koepka finished third in Dubai last week and moved to No. 68, one spot of Florida roommate Peter Uihlein. Neither is playing this week. Uihlein, a former U.S. Amateur champion, missed the cut in Dubai by one shot after his 3-wood to the par-5 18th in the second round caromed off the grandstands and back across the green into the water. That missed cut could end up costing him a spot in a WGC.
Four players worked their way into the top 64 by winning this year — Patrick Reed (Humana Challenge), Scott Stallings (Torrey Pines), Pablo Larrazabal (Abu Dhabi), Stephen Gallacher (Dubai) and Kevin Stadler (Phoenix). Mikko Ilonen also secured a spot by finishing second in Qatar and fifth in Dubai.
FOREIGN WOES: One tale from another generation was that the ideal outcome for an American taking appearance money overseas was to finish second. That way, the player could feel as though he earned his money and didn’t have to return to defend.
Tiger Woods for so many years broke the mold.
Woods won at least one international event (not sanctioned by the PGA Tour) in 11 of his first 13 full years as a pro. Only twice in those 29 events did he finish out of the top 10 (a tie for 15th in the 1998 Casio World Open in Japan and a tie for 29th in the 2003 Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany).
He had 11 wins in 29 starts overseas through the 2009 Australian Masters at Kingston Heath.
That was his last win overseas.
Whether it’s due to injuries, issues in his personal life or simply a record that balances out over time, Woods has gone eight straight international events without winning.
His tie for 41st in the Dubai Desert Classic was his worst finish in seven appearances. In his previous overseas event, Woods missed the cut in Abu Dhabi.
OUT OF HIS GROOVE: Padraig Harrington, who always seems to be tinkering with his swing, attributes his victory drought to the change away from square grooves that began in 2010. His last official win was the Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour at the end of that year.
“I have been trying to deal with that for a few years now, and it makes a big difference to my game, no doubt about it,” Harrington said.
Harrington said when the square (or box) grooves were allowed, he often had a mixed bag of clubs depending on the course conditions.
“I used to carry two sets of clubs to every event. I don’t think anybody else did that,” he said last week at the Phoenix Open. “Depending on the length of the rough, sometimes you want the ball to come out spinning, sometimes you want the flier.”
He said he used the V-grooves (less spin) at the U.S. Open because of the rough. And here’s another calculation — if a course had trees lining the fairways, he would not use the square grooves because the ball tended to come out lower and could not get over the trees.
“I might have a box-groove 7-iron, a V-groove 8-iron, box-groove 9-iron, all sorts of different combinations,” he said. “That changes.”
The most difficult part for Harrington has been with pitch shots. He said he has struggled to find consistency with the required V-grooves.
“With the old grooves, everything came out low and spinning,” he said. “So it was a big advantage to me to be able to work it like that.”
PEREZ ON WHEELS: Pat Perez commuted to the Phoenix Open in a mini-car that doubles as a golf cart — a golf cart that can go 80 mph.
“It’s a Toyota Scion iQ,” Perez said. “And if you saw one go down the street, you would laugh. But my buddy down here, Jay Francis, owns a dealership, made that thing, and it’s like driving a UFO. You cannot believe the attention that thing gets. ... You see this thing go by, they don’t know what it is. It’s so cool. It’s so fun to drive.”
The black convertible has Arizona State graphics — Perez played for the Sun Devils — and the personalized Arizona license plate reads “NO IQ”
“The tail folds down, and there is a rack that was built that goes on either side,” Perez said. “And the rack comes out, and you can put two sets of clubs on the back and drive it on the fairways because it’s lighter than a mower. They took everything out, took the top and all the windows. Everything that wasn’t needed is gone.”
And how fast does it go?
“About 80, full stereo, cooler in the back,” Perez said. “It’s awesome.”
DIVOTS: The LPGA Tour has a title sponsor for its second tournament in Alabama. Yokohama Tire Corp. has signed on for the Sept. 18-21 tournament in Prattville, about 10 miles from Montgomery. It will be called the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic. ... The Joburg Open this week is offering spots in the British Open to the leading three players (not already exempt) who finish in the top 10. ... American golf architect Larry Packard died last week at 101. He was involved in more than 600 golf courses in North America, including three 18-hole designs at Innisbrook outside Tampa, Fla. That includes the Copperhead Course, regarded by many players as the best tournament course in Florida. Packard was a past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. ... Bubba Watson is now 1-6 on the PGA Tour with at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker are the only players from the top 50 in the world who have yet to play a PGA Tour event this season. Both have played only the unofficial World Challenge since the Tour Championship in September. Furyk is playing Pebble Beach this week.
FINAL WORD: “The game is about who can handle the changes.” — Padraig Harrington.
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