Rory McIlroy stood over his ball on the par-3 16th tee Thursday about ready to deliver a shot only one of the world’s best could.
All-square with 24-year-old American Harris English, McIlroy hit his ball 4 feet, 11 inches away from the hole. He easily made his birdie — his third in a row — and took a 1-up lead on English.
It felt as if the match was over and McIlroy would easily cruise into today’s third round.
And then we were reminded what the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is all about: Just when you think you have it figured out, you don’t.
English won No. 17 with a birdie. After the two halved No. 18, McIlroy double-bogeyed the first playoff hole, and English parred to win the match.
The Golf Club at Dove Mountain sure can be cruel.
“Rory hit some really good shots. That shot he hit on 16 was unbelievable,” English said. “He stands up there and hits
it (within) 5 feet, and I
was like, ‘All right, here we go.’
“It was an awesome match. This is what you play for.”
McIlroy will head to Florida to prepare for next week’s tournament. English gets set to face former Arizona Wildcat Jim Furyk in the third round today at 10:55 a.m.
McIlroy wasn’t the only star to leave Dove Mountain on Thursday. The other two remaining No. 1 seeds, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, also lost. Stenson fell to 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen 4 and 3, and Rose went 20 holes with four-time major champion Ernie Els before losing.
For the second straight year, the tournament will be without any No. 1 seeds in the third round.
Again, Match Play isn’t always friendly — even to the winners.
“I don’t know if I can say I enjoy it,” Els said. “It’s a battle. Sometimes you’re up for it. I found myself at times not being quite up for it. It’s a matter of who is going to gut it out.
“And I guess the nature of match play is how much you want it.”
Even though all the No. 1 seeds are gone, plenty of proven winners are still around. Els will take on
Jason Dufner in today’s third round. Dufner, who won the 2013 PGA Championship, came from behind to beat Matteo Manassero 2 and 1. Dufner won his final three holes to close out Manassero on No. 17 and did it dramatic fashion, chipping in from 33 feet for the clinching birdie.
“I’ve been lucky to survive both days,” Dufner said. “I haven’t played very well either day, but that’s just the format we’re in. You can get through by not playing very well. But I don’t think I can do that all week.
“Hopefully my couple of bad rounds are done with, and I can start playing some good golf going forward.”
Dufner wasn’t the only former major champion to move on Thursday. Bubba Watson, the 2012 Masters winner, outlasted Swede Jonas Blixt 2-up and will face Victor Dubuisson of France today.
Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open winner, also survived Thursday, beating Hideki Matsuyama 1-up.
McDowell battled back from a late deficit to defeat Matsuyama. Watson won the first hole from Blixt and never trailed.
“Anytime you can get the lead like that, it’s good,” Watson said. “I was just trying to get an early lead and get ahead of the game. Then I made the turn, a couple of bad swings here and there, and I fought him at the end.”
There are plenty of big names on the other side of the bracket as well.
Fan favorite Rickie Fowler persevered in a back-and-forth match with Jimmy Walker, 1-up. Fowler trailed by one after the 15th, but won Nos. 16 and 17, before halving No. 18 and earning the win.
The Californian had some of the biggest crowds of the day. He made his fans happy with a second straight strong performance.
On Wednesday, Fowler, 25, beat match-play phenom Ian Poulter. Thursday, he took out Walker, who has won three of the last nine events he has entered.
“To get the win yesterday against one of the best match-play players there is and then today against Jimmy, arguably the best player the last six months or so, is great,” Fowler said. “I knew coming in today that even if he didn’t bring his ‘A’ game, he was going to be tough to beat.
“We had a fun match. It’s definitely nice to come out on top.”
Fowler will face Sergio Garcia today at 11:07 a.m. Garcia won three of the last four holes and beat Bill Haas 3 and 1.
“I was fortunate to play quite well the first two days, shoot some good scores, and my opponents were just slightly worse than me,” Garcia said.
Match Play tee times for Friday's round of 16
|Tee time||Player (seed)||Player (seed)|
|10:55 a.m.||Harris English (36)||Jim Furyk (20)|
|11:07 a.m.||Sergio Garcia (6)||Rickie Fowler (53)|
|11:19 a.m.||Hunter Mahan (30)||Graeme McDowell (14)|
|11:31 a.m.||Victor Dubuisson (27)||Bubba Watson (11)|
|11:43 a.m.||Louis Oosthuizen (32)||Webb Simpson (17)|
|11:55 a.m.||Jason Day (8)||George Coetzee (56)|
|12:07 p.m.||Ernie Els (31)||Jason Dufner (15)|
|12:19 p.m.||Matt Kuchar (7)||Jordan Spieth (10)|