Youngsters put on quite a show

2012-02-23T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:41:24Z Youngsters put on quite a showPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 23, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The ebullience of youth is wasted on golf.

While basketball and football embrace an athlete's fresh-faced enthusiasm, contagious with each dunk and tackle and touchdown, golf is different.

Rather, the best at golf have the steely nerves of a baseball closer or an air traffic controller.

"They got a lot to gain and not much to lose," said Ernie Els, the 42-year-old whose 5 and 4 upset of top overall seed Luke Donald was the talk of Wednesday's opening round at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. "When you're in that situation, you are playing cool."

And how cool is this?

Seven of the 10 players 25 or younger won Wednesday - with one of the losses, by George Coetzee to Rory McIlroy, coming against a fellow 25-and-under player.

Four of those wins at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, were upsets.

Eighteen-year-old Matteo Manassero, the event's youngest player, topped No. 2 seed Webb Simpson.

Twenty-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, the second-youngest competitor, beat No. 3 Bill Haas as a No. 14 seed.

Kyle Stanley did the same to K.J. Choi.

And Sang-moon Bae, seeded No. 11, topped 2010 Match Play champ Ian Poulter.

"There is something really nice here that doesn't give me that much tension," said Manassero, an Italian. "And especially, maybe, having to go out with very, very good players. … Obviously with nothing to lose - it's just the first round and you go out and perform as well as you can, and that's what I did this year and last year, as well."

Manassero, who led by three holes after four were played, said the "week seems pretty special" thus far.

"Going up on the tee, certainly with thinking I've nothing to lose helps everybody, I think," he said. "But that depends on how the match goes on.

"And attitude can be different all the time."

Case in point: Ishikawa's victory, among the most impressive of the day.

He won four of the final five holes to overcome Haas' three-hole lead.

"The only thing I could do was be myself, and that's the only thing to be done," he said through a translator.

"No misses were allowed you in that situation."

By the end, he said, "maybe more than myself, Bill felt pressure."

Ishikawa, the so-called "Bashful Prince," expressed his affinity for the desert course. Had he been playing somewhere else, he lamented, "maybe there was no chance for me to win" Wednesday.

"It's different from stroke play," he said. "You will either win or lose or square. And my bad tendency is not to be able to shake off previous results."

That calmness is the product of experience gained by playing amateur events as teens, said McIlroy, a 22-year-old No. 1 seed, who held on for a 1-up victory against Coetzee, 25.

Els' upset opened up another avenue for the Northern Irishman.

Were he to win the event, McIlroy would become the world's No.1-ranked player.

"Obviously, it's another incentive, waking up each morning and knowing that if you win your match at the end of the day, at the end of the week, you could be the world No. 1," he said.

The redhead stressed there was a difference between the world's best player and its top-ranked golfer. Tiger Woods, he said, was the world's best golfer but not its No. 1.

By Sunday, McIlroy - who lost Holes 16 and 17 Wednesday but took the final one - could be the latter.

Or maybe both.

"It would be an incredible achievement," he said. "A great honor to add my name to the list of players that have been No. 1 in the world.

"I've always dreamed about it, and I didn't think it would come so fast, at 22.

"It shows, if you work hard and dedicate yourself, in the end, great things can happen."

Young guns

There were 10 players 25 and younger that participated in Wednesday's first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Seven of them won. Four were upsets. Here's a look at the golfers, their ages and how they fared:

Golfer Country Age Wednesday

Matteo Manassero Italy 18 beat Simpson 3 and 2

Ryo Ishikawa Japan 20 beat Haas 1 up

Rory McIlroy Northern Ireland 22 beat Coetzee 1 up

Rickie Fowler United States 23 lost to Toms 1 up

Kyle Stanley United States 24 beat Choi 2 and 1

Jason Day South Africa 24 beat Cabrera Bello 1 up in 19 holes

George Coetzee South Africa 25 lost to McIlroy 1 up

Sang-moon Bae South Korea 25 beat Poulter 4 and 3

Keegan Bradley United States 25 beat Ogilvy 4 and 3

Kyung-Tae Kim South Korea 25 lost to Hansen 5 and 3

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