Fisher's finish leads to Match Play and a shot at Masters
MEXICO CITY (AP) Ross Fisher arrived at the Mexico Championship fully aware that it could be his last significant tournament for the next month. He closed with three straight birdies for a 65, and now he can count on another World Golf Championship, and possibly a trip down Magnolia Lane.
Fisher was at No. 72 in the world ranking. His tie for third moved him to No. 55 in the world, making the Englishman a lock for the Dell Match Play on March 22-26 in Austin, Texas. The top 64 available players from the world ranking after this week are eligible.
He was hopeful of more.
''I knew it was probably the last chance to get into the Masters,'' Fisher said Sunday. ''Whether that's done me enough, hopefully that should have done me enough to get into the Match Play.''
His work is not done if he wants to get to Augusta National. The top 50 in the world after the Match Play are eligible for the Masters, and while there will be plenty of world ranking points available, everyone around him in the ranking is getting points. Advancing out of his four-man group to the third round might not be enough.
But at least he has a chance.
The other side of Sunday belonged to Pat Perez, who was No. 67 in the world going into Mexico. He was going along nicely at 3 under with three holes to play. But he took a soft bogey on the par-3 seventh, made a triple bogey from the bunker on the tough par-4 eighth and finished with a birdie. But dropping three shots on the last three holes might have cost him a spot in the Match Play.
He would have gone to No. 63. Instead, he remained at No. 67 and is not playing the Valspar Championship. Perez still has a chance because Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose are not playing the Match Play, and Rickie Fowler was leaning against it.
The next four players behind him in the world ranking are playing - Soren Kjeldsen, Si Woo Kim and Charley Hoffman in Florida, Scott Hend in India. Not too far behind are Jason Dufner and Billy Horschel, also playing the Valspar Championship.
The good news for Perez? At least he already has his spot locked up for the Masters, having won last fall at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. So at least one trip to Mexico worked out for him.
DIFFERENT TAKE: Jack Nicklaus nearly won the 1960 U.S. Open at age 20 when he was an amateur. He had a one-shot lead over Arnold Palmer and Ben Hogan with six holes to play when he wasn't sure if he could repair a ball mark on the 13th green. He missed the short par putt, three-putted the next hole and missed two short birdie attempts. He was runner-up by two shots to Palmer's great comeback at Cherry Hills.
Looking back, Nicklaus said it might have been ''the best thing that ever happened to me.''
''I think if I would have won that, I would have been scratching my ears out here,'' he said, extending his hands a foot from his head. ''I probably wouldn't have worked as hard as I did and I wouldn't have gotten a lesson from that.''
Jordan Spieth nearly won the 2014 Masters in his debut as a 20-year-old. He had a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play and lost to Bubba Watson. He was asked if he wondered what would have happened had he slipped into a green jacket at that age.
''I'd have three majors now, maybe four,'' Spieth said with a laugh. ''Someone asked me, `Do you think it was better for you in the long run?' I think I learned plenty from wins and plenty from losses. I don't wonder about that. Now I wonder more about last year.''
Spieth had a five-shot lead on the back nine last year until a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole. He tied for second behind Danny Willett.
THE LONGEST TRIP: Matt Griffin's victory in the New Zealand Open last year helped him win the Order of Merit on the PGA Tour of Australasia and earned him a spot in his first World Golf Championship. It also created a scheduling nightmare.
The Mexico Championship was one week before he defends his title in the New Zealand Open.
Griffin left Mexico City on Monday morning for a flight to Los Angeles, a connection to Auckland and then about an hour flight to Queenstown. He was due to arrive short after 1 p.m. Wednesday to defend his title on a different course (Millbrook Resort) without even having a chance to play in the pro-am.
''I knew it was going to be difficult,'' Griffin said. ''But to get the opportunity to play one of these, I was just happy to have the chance.''
Griffin at least has some company. Michael Hendry of New Zealand also was headed home from Mexico to play in his national open.
Griffin had his best round on the final day, an even-par 71 to finish next-to-last. The experience was invaluable - it was the biggest event he has played, surpassing the BMW Masters in Shanghai on the European Tour in 2013 - and he still made $43,750.
Winning the Order of Merit also gets him into the British Open at Royal Birkdale, which will be his first major. In the meantime, Griffin has asked for a sponsor exemption into the Memorial, hopeful the committee will look favorably on winning the money title in Australia last year.
Three others faced long trips from Mexico City.
Rafa Cabrera Bello, who played in his first Ryder Cup last year, is the feature attraction at the Hero Indian Open in New Delhi. He left Sunday night for London, connecting in Dubai and then onto India. Also playing the Indian Open are Scott Hend and Marcus Fraser.
WHEN THE PHONE RINGS: Gary Woodland had the pleasure of meeting with Arnold Palmer a few times at Bay Hill, though nothing will top the time the King called. Woodland received an exemption to the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2013, and Palmer gave him the good news over the phone.
''Which was awesome,'' Woodland said. ''That was pretty cool. I answered the phone, and I didn't even know who it was. I said, `Hello? Oh, Mr. Palmer. Oh, gosh.'''
That wasn't Woodland's first jolt answering the phone.
When he signed an endorsement deal with Adams Golf, one of its other staff members called him to congratulate. Woodland didn't know who was calling, so he answered by saying, ''Whazzup?''
It was Tom Watson.
''The one time I answer the phone like an idiot,'' Woodland said with a laugh. ''I answer the phone more correct now. You never know who's going to be calling.''
DIVOTS: The PGA Tour added a small wrinkle to the eligibility for the Dell Match Play. The field is the top 64 players available from the world ranking up to a floor of No. 100. That was to avoid a situation where a past champion at the tournament site - in a broadcast role, for example - could not take a spot in the field if someone withdrew and an alternate could not get there. ... Matt Griffin was in last place at the Mexico Championship when NBC showed his approach to the 18th green. Why that shot? It was golf producer Tommy Roy's respectful decision of showing at least something from all 77 players in the field. Roy believes if a player earned a spot in a World Golf Championship, he deserves to be shown. ... One ripple effect of the draft to modernize the Rules of Golf? By allowing players to used damaged clubs, it eliminates 11 of the decisions under Rule 4-3.
STAT OF THE WEEK: For the first time since the World Golf Championships began in 1999, no Australian finished in the top 40.
FINAL WORD: ''I like to travel. I don't like traveling.'' - Rafa Cabrera Bello, who left Mexico City for the Hero Indian Open, followed by a week at home in Dubai before returning to Texas for the Dell Match Play.