Russell Henley starts busting brackets early
MARANA, Ariz. -- When the WGC-Accenture Match Play brackets came out on Sunday night, the Russell Henley-Charl Schwartzel match caught my attention. You had a 23-year-old rookie up against a Masters champion who had won twice and finished in the top-5 in each of his last six starts.
But Henley was a winner, too. He was dominant in the Sony Open for his first PGA Tour start in January. Most importantly, he was an underdog and that made him very dangerous.
On Thursday, Henley surprised Schwartzel and the bracketologists with a 1 up win over the 28-year-old South African in the first round.
"I knew Charl was going to be tough," Henley said. "I was mentally prepared for that right when I saw I was paired with him. I just tried to give it everything I had and just hang tough and play until the end."
Henley's victory marked the first real upset of the Match Play. The former Georgia Bulldog now faces Jason Day in the bottom half of the Bobby Jones bracket in the second round.
Day dismantled another former Masters champion, Zach Johnson, 6 and 5.
Day has the experience advantage in this match, but Henley holds the edge in momentum.
Henley could become the first rookie to win in the tournament's 15-year history. On Thursday afternoon, he was asked would he rather be called Russell or Bracket Buster.
"Probably Bracket Buster," the Macon, Ga. native said. "There's plenty of people with the name Russell ... Not many with the name Bracket Buster."
Westwood sent packing
That can happen. McIlroy is pretty good.
But to lose in the first round to a player 52 places below you in the world ranking must be very disappointing for the eighth-ranked player in the world.
After jumping to a 2 up lead through seven holes, the former No. 1 in the world made three costly bogeys over the last 11 holes. Westwood eventually lost 1 down on the first extra hole to Rafael Cabrera-Bello, a 28-year-old Spaniard with two European Tour wins.
"I didn't know about that being 52 spots or anything, but I just know really obviously the odds were in his favor, but in match play anything can happen," Cabrera-Bello said. "I just tried my best, and I was fortunate enough to win."
This is just Westwood's second time losing in the first round of the Match Play in 13 appearances. Earlier this week, he talked about moving to Florida in an effort to focus more on the three U.S.-based majors and to curtail his globetrotting.
"The moving in process is happening as we speak, so my main incentive this week is to get as far as possible to stay away from box unpacking duty," Westwood said.
Now after an early exit, he will have some extra time to unpack.
On Thursday after beating Bill Haas 5 and 4, Nicolas Colsaerts confirmed his reputation as a bon vivant. The 30-year-old Belgian said that he was skipping the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Doral in two weeks so that he can go skiing in France and Switzerland.
"I can't wait to get some food in me, melted cheese and stuff," said Colsaerts, who beat Graeme McDowell 1 up in the 2012 Volvo Match Play Championship final.
On golf, Colsaerts said the wet conditions on Thursday made Dove Mountain very receptive to scoring.
"The course being wet makes everything a bit more accessible, like you're going to hit a lot of fairways because they are pretty wide and the ball is going to finish pretty much where it lands," said Colsaerts, who ranks second on the PGA Tour in driving distance with a 307.2 yard average. "It's pretty much throwing darts if you're on."
Colsaerts will have a tough second-round match on Friday against Justin Rose, who beat K.J. Choi 2 and 1. But with Colsaerts relaxed pose and strong long game, he might go deep into the tournament. With his win over McDowell last May at the Volvo in Europe, he's proven he has the game and nerves to outlast the best players in the world in this format.
Alexander Noren, a 30-year-old Swede, had seven birdies in his 6 and 4 win over the heavily favored Dustin Johnson. Noren, who last won in 2011 at the Wales Open, has had the best performance so far in these matches.
The Stockholm native credited his good play on Thursday to his comfort in the desert. He had a fourth in Qatar in January, a tie for 32nd in Abu Dhabi and tie for 30th in Dubai.
"The last five weeks I've played in the desert, so it's nice," he said.
Noren will face Graeme McDowell in the second round.