Fitzpatrick, Simpson share lead at WGC-Workday Championship

By Sports Desk February 25, 2021

England's Matt Fitzpatrick and American Webb Simpson took a share of the lead in a star-studded field at the WGC-Workday Championship.

World number 16 Fitzpatrick carded a six-under 66 without dropping a shot on day one at the Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.

Ninth-ranked Simpson closed a clean back nine with three straight birdies and a par to climb up the leaderboard and match the 26-year-old Englishman's score.

Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka dropped his only shot at the par-four 16th, but is alongside three others at five under.

Americans Kevin Kisner and Billy Horschel also carded 67s and were joined in third place by 2017 Masters winner Sergio Garcia, who drained a round-high eight birdies.

World number two Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed were among six players tied in seventh at four under, along with Tony Finau.

Adam Scott saw a potential hole-in-one come back off the flag at the sixth and shot an up-and-down even-par 72, while Justin Thomas recovered from dropping four shots in three holes to close with three birdies in the last four to sign for a one-over 73.

World number one Dustin Johnson posted a pair of double bogeys on his way to a five-over 77. That score was matched by US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, who dropped shots on seven holes.

Rory McIlroy made a decent start, shooting a three-under 69 to sit in a tie for 13th.

The first World Golf Championships event of the season kicks off the Florida swing of the tour, heading towards The Players Championship starting on March 11.

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  • The Masters: Augusta champion Matsuyama inspired by MLB stars Ohtani, Darvish and Maeda The Masters: Augusta champion Matsuyama inspired by MLB stars Ohtani, Darvish and Maeda

    Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama said he admirers countrymen and MLB stars Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda and Shohei Ohtani after becoming the first Japanese man to win a major.

    Matsuyama made history with his one-stroke victory ahead of Will Zalatoris in a tense finale at Augusta on Sunday.

    A five-time PGA Tour winner before this success, Matsuyama withstood a wobble and the threat posed by Xander Schauffele (72) and Zalatoris (70) to complete a history-making performance in Georgia, where he carded a final-round 73 to claim the green jacket.

    Matsuyama was asked about his golfing heroes after the memorable achievement, but the 29-year-old instead listed his baseball idols – Los Angeles Angels two-way sensation Ohtani, four-time All-Star and San Diego Padres ace Darvish and Minnesota Twins pitcher Maeda.

    "You know, the people that I admired were a lot -- were mainly baseball players: Darvish, Ohtani, Maeda," Matsuyama told reporters.

    "As far as golf, not so much. Hopefully now others will, like you said, be inspired for what happened here today and follow in my footsteps."

    "It's been a struggle recently," added Matsuyama, who had last won on the PGA Tour in 2017. "This year, no Top 10s, haven't even contended. So I came to Augusta with little or no expectations. But as the week progressed, as I practiced, especially on Wednesday, I felt something again. I found something in my swing.

    "And when that happens, the confidence returns. And so I started the tournament with a lot of confidence."

    Matsuyama (2011) – who finished 10 under – became the third Masters champion in the last five years to have previously earned low amateur honours, following in the footsteps of Woods (2019, low amateur in 1995) and Sergio Garcia (2017, low amateur in 1999).

    With his final-round 73, Matsuyama became the eighth player (nine instances) to claim The Masters despite an over-par final round – Trevor Immelman was the last to do so in 2008.

    It came after Matsuyama – four strokes clear at the start of the day – had extended his lead to five at the turn, before his title bid threatened to turn sour as Schauffele closed in and Zalatoris loomed.

    After finding water at the par-five 15th hole, Matsuyama took the penalty and cleaned up for bogey as Schauffele continued to heap pressure on the Japanese hopeful, cutting the lead to two shots with his fourth consecutive birdie.

    But Schauffele's pursuit of a maiden major collapsed when the American – seven back at the 12th tee before rallying – also found water before sending his next shot into the crowd.

    Matsuyama had a routine par to move three shots clear with two to play, but he dropped another shot, his lead down to two ahead of Zalatoris as an ill-timed triple-bogey sent 2019 runner-up Schauffele down to equal third alongside Jordan Spieth – four shots behind.

    That was the breathing space Matsuyama needed as Japan's new poster boy held his nerve, doing what he needed to do during the final two holes in front of an appreciative crowd on the 18th, where not even a bogey could wipe away the champion's smile.

    "Xander had just made three birdies in a row at 12, 13 and 14. I hit the fairway at 15, hitting first, with Xander having the momentum," Matsuyama said as he discussed his approach on the 15th and 16th holes. "I felt I needed to birdie 15 because I knew Xander would definitely be birdieing or maybe even eagling.

    "But it didn't happen. And so I stood on the 16th tee with a two-stroke lead, and unfortunately for Xander, he found the water with his tee shot and I played safe to the right of the green at 16."

    "I can't say I'm the greatest. However, I'm the first to win a major, and if that's the bar, then I've set it," Matsuyama said when asked if he is the greatest male golfer out of Japan following his success.

  • The Masters: Runner-up Zalatoris frustrated but revels in Augusta 'dream' The Masters: Runner-up Zalatoris frustrated but revels in Augusta 'dream'

    Will Zalatoris was frustrated to have finished second at The Masters, but the Augusta debutant basked in his "dream" week at the iconic major.

    Zalatoris did not look out of place in his rookie Masters appearance, the 24-year-old earning the runners-up cheque, just a stroke behind history-making champion Hideki Matsuyama on Sunday.

    Tied for sixth at last year's U.S. Open, Zalatoris – who had no status when the 2020-21 PGA Tour started in September as the coronavirus pandemic meant there was no Qualifying Tournament for the developmental Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 – catapulted himself into Masters contention.

    Attempting to become the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win his Masters debut, Zalatoris carded a two-under-par 70 in the final round, which included five birdies and three bogeys.

    Zalatoris, who now has six top-10 and 11 top-25 finishes in his 15 Tour starts this season, said: "Absolute dream. To be in a situation, I've been dreaming about it for 20 years.

    "I thought I did a really good job this week of just enjoying the moment, but not letting it get to me. I think I kind of let everything soak in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then back to work on Thursday.

    "So it was an absolute treat, and obviously to come up one short and be disappointed is motivating but obviously very exciting."

    Zalatoris – the only player to shoot under par in all four rounds at this year's Masters – said: "I think the fact that I'm frustrated I finished second in my third major says something, and the fact that I didn't let any moment really get to me, was really exciting.

    "And obviously my two majors as a pro, I finished sixth and runner-up. I know if I keep doing what I doing, I'm going to have a really good chance in the future."

    "I've wanted to be on this stage for forever, for basically my entire life. So I think, if anything, it's like you finally get to this moment, and why shy away now? I've gotten here. So let's go do some damage. It was a fun week," Zalatoris continued.

    "I can play with the best players in the world."

  • The Masters: No regrets for Schauffele after another close major call The Masters: No regrets for Schauffele after another close major call

    Xander Schauffele has no regrets after a rare triple-bogey ended his Masters hopes in another close call at a major tournament.

    Schauffele – runner-up at the 2019 Masters and 2018 Open Championship, having also finished third at the U.S. Open almost two years ago – had to settle for a share of third position alongside Jordan Spieth on Sunday.

    The former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year closed within two shots of eventual champion Hideki Matsuyama before losing his way on the 16th hole at Augusta, where he ended up finishing four strokes adrift.

    A run of four consecutive birdies heaped pressure on Matsuyama, but Schauffele's pursuit of a maiden major collapsed when the American – seven back at the 12th tee – found water before sending his next shot into the crowd.

    An ill-timed triple-bogey sent Schauffele down to equal third – it was his first triple-bogey in a major championship, a run of 1,042 holes.

    "I hit a perfect eight iron. It was 184 yards. I can hit my eight iron 180 yards out here," Schauffele said when asked about the 16th tee. "I turned it right to left. The wind was into left to right. It got smoked and eaten up. You could kind of see it. The ball hovered there.

    "So I was chasing. I was still two back. Hideki is a great left to right iron player. I figured, if I hit it close, he was going to hit it right on top. I was in full chase mode, so I have no regrets from that aspect."

    Schauffele added: "I never gave up. It was pretty wild. Kind of a weird start. It almost took the edge off.  I knew the first through five, if you could be even par, it would be a really good score. I imagined to play five the way I did all week, which is five-over for the week or even worse.

    "I fought hard. I felt like I made it exciting at the end, hit a really good shot on 16. I committed to it. I hit a perfect shot. We thought it was down left to right. It was not down left to right, and the rest is history."

    After his latest close call, Schauffele said: "It's another lesson to put in the memory bank. 2019, I had a rookie hiccup moment of, oh, my goodness, I'm leading the Masters. This year I was chasing. I'm playing better than I was in 2019, and I made a mistake on shot selection and wind.

    "If you look at my second shot after I dropped, I hit a nine iron that went downwind. I think the way that thing flew, it flattened out and flew 160 yards. Austin and I just kind of painfully laughed at each other and said, 'Well, I guess it switched again'. It is what it is. I think I just need to hit a different shot in there."

    "It's hard to win out here," the 27-year-old said. "Especially at this tournament. I think I'll throw 16 in the memory bank. I think a lot of great shots into 16 are left to right. High cuts into that mound. I've been hitting a good high cut all week. I just didn't think of it at that time. I hit like a hard draw eight-iron, and it wasn't the shot.

    "Moving forward, just kind of throw it in the memory bank. I'm going to keep collecting thoughts. Hopefully, I keep coming back here for years to come, and the goal is to win one day."

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