'Sergio is very upset': Reliving 4 of the most contentious WGC Match Play moments
With the WGC-Dell Match Play being played for the final time this week at Austin Country Club, it's only natural to look back on some of the most memorable moments in the event's 24-year history.
Of course, not all of those memories have been of epic matches or heroic shots. There have been a fair share of contentious moments as well.
Here are four of the biggest controversies in Match Play history:
'You don't tell my caddie to shut up'
Keegan Bradley vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez, 2015
With both players sitting at 0-2, neither Keegan Bradley nor Miguel Angel Jimenez had a shot at advancing out of their group at the 2015 Match Play at TPC Harding Park.
But that didn’t keep emotions from running high.
On the par-5 finishing hole, Jimenez interjected himself into one of Bradley’s rulings for the second time in the match. Bradley, who was taking a drop with the assistance of a rules official, told Jimenez to go back to his ball.
At one point, Bradley’s caddie, Steve “Pepsi” Hale, confronted Jimenez, who then told the looper to “shut up.”
That escalated the situation, as Bradley quickly got in Jimenez’s face and told the Spaniard, “You don’t tell my caddie to shut up.”
Jimenez took the hole and won the match, and the two players had another tense moment during their handshake. Hale refused to shake hands with Jimenez.
“We didn’t do much talking after the round,” Bradley told reporters afterward. “I have nothing but respect for him; he’s a great player out here, but I have to be able to stick up for myself when I feel like something’s been wrong.”
Bradley then added, “I felt like he was being very disrespectful to me, not only me but my caddie. I felt like I had to kind of stand up for my boy here. Me and Pepsi have been through a lot. That’s all it was.”
Jimenez didn’t want to discuss the incident that evening, but he did so two weeks later.
“He tell me in my face, 'You never tell my caddie to shut up.' Of course, I don't have to tell that, you have to tell that,” Jimenez said. “I think that we need to have respect to everyone. If I go there and demand that information, just give me the information. Simple. If you don't want to give me it, then let the referee give me it. … My thing is we need to be honest [with] each other and be professional as we are. It's not about a rule anymore. It's about the attitude.”
Davis Love III vs. Tiger Woods, 2004
As if going up against Tiger Woods in Southern California wasn’t hard enough, Davis Love III had to battle more than just the world No. 1 in the 2004 Match Play final at La Costa.
Love led Woods, 1 up, halfway through the 36-hole championship match when he began getting heckled by a pro-Woods spectator.
When Love missed a par putt on the 20th hole, the man shouted, “Whoop!” Three holes later on the tee box, he began yelling, “No Love!” That’s when Love called in security and had the man identified and removed.
“I wasn't going to play anymore until somebody got kicked out, because he had already cost me a hole,” Love said after losing the match, 3 and 2. “I mean, I hit awful shots at 2. I wasn't going to put up with it. I want to win, and I want to play, and I want to play fair. If his fans are pulling for him, I'm used to that. I've played with Fred Couples. Freddie is just as popular in California as Tiger Woods, but you can't have people picking on you.”
Love also was perturbed by other people in the gallery offering him beers during the match.
“I don't drink beer when I'm out at dinner, like last night,” Love said. “I don't need a beer when I just birdied a hole or when I just bogeyed a hole. People just assume we're out here screwing around, and we're not screwing around, we're playing hard.
“... I don't come into your office and screw you up. Don't come into my office and screw me up.”
'Sergio is very upset'
Sergio Garcia vs. Matt Kuchar, 2019
It was of little surprise that controversy occurred during the 2019 Match Play quarterfinal between Matt Kuchar, who was just a few months removed from stiffing his local caddie after winning at Mayakoba, and Sergio Garcia, who … where do we begin?
Trailing Kuchar, 1 down after six holes, Garcia had a 7-footer for par to win the seventh hole. His putt missed just left, and Garcia then quickly walked toward the ball, just inches from the cup, and hit it with the back side of his putter, the ball lipping out before Garcia picked it up.
A hole-tying bogey, right? Not exactly.
You see, Kuchar didn’t have time to concede the putt, and he spoke up. Garcia was credited with a double bogey and lost the hole.
While Kuchar then tried to concede the putt retroactively, a rules official informed him that such a move was against the rules.
Here’s Kuchar explaining the situation afterward: “And as I looked up again, I saw he had missed the next one. And I saw him off the green, I said, ‘Sergio, I didn't say anything, I'm not sure how this works out.’ I didn't want that to be an issue. So, I asked [an official], I said, ‘Listen, I don't know how to handle this, but I didn't concede the putt; Sergio missed the putt.’ Sergio said, totally his mistake. He knew he made a mistake. I said, I didn't want that to be how a hole was won or lost. And he said, ‘Well, you can concede a hole.’ I'm not sure I'm ready to concede a hole.”
A few holes later, Garcia became agitated, shouting across the 10th fairway to Kuchar, “I would’ve given you the putt on the next hole.”
Commented on-course reporter Jim “Bones” Mackay moments after the exchange: “It is just very, very tense right now. Sergio is very upset.”
Kuchar went on to win, 2 up. But wait, there’s more.
The Monday after the tournament ended, Kuchar and Garcia released a video of them sitting together in a golf cart.
“What's gone on with the aftermath is just incorrect, wrong and shouldn't happen,” Kuchar said. "I want to tell you, Sergio handled the thing extremely well. When he missed the putt, we came off 7 and he said, 'You know what, I missed it. It's your hole.' I told him how bad I felt, didn't feel right at all, never want to win on a technicality. Tee off on 8, and I said, ‘Man, I really don’t like how this has played out.’ Sergio offered a suggestion but never said [for me] to give [him] a hole. He gave me an option or two how to play it out. But want everybody to know … Sergio handled it extremely well.”
Added Garcia: “I know I made a mistake on 7 and, you know, didn't give [Kuchar] time to say, 'That's good,' even though, obviously, we all know in our minds that it was good because it was a short putt. But at the end of the day, I made a mistake, and he unfortunately didn't know how to make up for what happened. But it's all good. We're all good.”
'We'll call it a halve'
Kevin Na vs. Dustin Johnson, 2021
Unlike the Garcia-Kuchar controversy, no hole was lost after Dustin Johnson scooped up a gimme-length putt on the 11th hole of his 2021 group-play match against Kevin Na before Na had a chance to verbally concede the putt.
As for awkwardness, well, there was plenty.
Moments after Johnson lipped out a hole-winning birdie putt that would’ve given him a 2-up lead and then proceeded to rake back his ball, Na, facing a short par putt, walked over the Johnson, put his hand on his shoulder and told Johnson he had not, in fact, given him that putt.
As Johnson tried to explain his perspective, Na could be heard by an on-course microphone saying, “I know it’s like this, but you still have to wait until I say something.”
Eventually, Na agreed to not pursue a loss of hole under Rule 3-2(b), and instead the pair tied the hole. Na went on to birdie four of the final eight holes to eliminate Johnson. Na even fist-pumped after birdieing No. 17 to square the match before birdieing No. 18 to win, 1 up.
“Obviously it’s good, but I hadn’t said anything, and he whacked it,” Na explained afterward. “And I froze there and looked at Kenny [Harms, Na's caddie], and I wasn't going to say, 'That's a penalty, you're going to lose the hole.’ I was going to say, ‘You know what, that was good anyway.’ I didn't want to be over that putt and be thinking about that. So, I called him over and said, ‘Hey, I'm not going to take the hole from you, but I want to let you know before I said something you whacked the ball. But I'm going to give that putt to you, so we'll call it a halve and go to the next hole.’”
Johnson did not comment after the round, but he was summoned by a rules official following his defeat to explain the situation.
Not that it mattered, with Na also eliminated, but Johnson maintaining that he thought he heard Na concede the putt saved the two from disqualification.
“Ultimately, it’s what Dustin believed he heard, and of course in golf, we always take players at their word,” PGA Tour rules official Gary Young said. “The rules are based on that people are always acting with honesty and integrity. And that’s just the way we apply the rules.”