Once again, pool play continued to provide golf fans with plenty of entertainment on Thursday at Austin Country Club. We had defending champion Bubba Watson calling out hecklers, Tiger Woods making what may be the par save of his life, a few marquee names get eliminated early and another sign of “progress” from Jordan Spieth. Miss any of the action? We’ll get you caught up below.
Tiger goes down
Unlike his opening match with Aaron Wise, Woods’ tilt with Brandt Snedeker was full of excitement, but it ended in defeat for the 14-time major champ. Woods never led, and he only won three holes total, but still found himself only 1 down on the 15th tee thanks to par saves like this one at the 10th:
Woods halved that hole and the next two, but a poor drive at the drivable par-4 13th found the water and he made double to go 2 down. He responded with this approach shot from a fairway bunker at No. 14:
That led to an easy birdie that cut the deficit to 1 down, making it a very interesting match with four holes to play. But after halving with pars at No. 15, Woods lost to Snedeker’s birdie at the par-5 16th, and Snedeker closed him out with a par at No. 17.
Woods is not out of it, but he’ll need some serious help from Wise, who lost again on Thursday to Patrick Cantlay to fall to 0-2-0. Cantlay and Snedeker halved their match on Wednesday, which gives them each a slight advantage over Woods. Woods will need to beat Cantlay to get to 2-1-0, and he’ll need Wise to beat or halve his match Snedeker so that Snedeker falls to 1-1-1 or 1-0-2. If both Woods and Snedeker win their matches, Sneds would be 2-0-1 and he would advance to the Round of 16 thanks to that half point, so Tiger unfortunately does not control his own destiny. Cantlay, of course, also still has a chance to make the dance with a win over Woods, so he’ll be bringing his A game. This was all a long-winded way of saying that we don’t love Tiger’s chances of making the Round of 16.
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Jordan Spieth is heating up
Well, well, well, look who won a match! And Spieth didn’t get handed this point from Kevin Na, he went out and made a statement early. Well, after a little chaos at the par-4 third hole. Take a look at this mess:
What’s that awful dad joke you hear every weekend during the season? “I’m playing army golf! ‘Left, right, left, right, left.'” Where you will never hear that is the PGA Tour, but that appeared to be the case for Spieth at No. 4, though he still made bogey. But after that the three time major winner caught FIRE, rolling in a seven footer for birdie at the fourth, a 14-footer for bird at the fifth and then a seven-footer for eagle at the par-5 sixth after hitting a perfect second shot on to the green. Spieth made the turn with a 4 up lead, adding to it with birdies at 11 and 12 to go 6 up. Na applied a little late pressure, winning the next three holes to cut the lead to 3 up, but it wouldn’t be enough as Spieth finished him off on the 16th to win 3 and 2.
So, obviously, Jordan Spieth is BACK…. just kidding, but these first two days are a great sign. With a 1-0-1 record, he’s in good position to make the Round of 16, needing to win his match against Bubba Watson on Friday and at least guarantee himself a sudden death playoff for a spot in the Round of 16. It would be against Billy Horschel, but only if Horschel defeats Na to get to 2-0-1. Even a halve would keep Spieth alive, but a win would be a much safer idea, and it would certainly be another big sign of “progress”:
“Like I mentioned yesterday, I’m just trying to each day feel like I progressed a little more in what I’m working on,” said the three-time major winner. “And whatever happens this week as far as win or lose the match, whatever happens next week score-wise, if I continue to do that I’ll be in the best position day in and day out to succeed.
“So I’m not looking for certainly anything results-wise. It’s more just trying to play better golf. And tomorrow, I mean, I could shoot 8-under in my match tomorrow, win the match and make a par on the first hole and I don’t advance, if Billy wins and birdies. I’ve got to win and prepare to have to go back out.”
A Round of 16 appearance would be Spieth’s first since 2016, when he lost in the opening round to Louis Oosthuizen.
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Lefty, Jason Day get bounced in the Group of Death
The quartet of Jim Furyk, Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day has delivered on its “Group of death” moniker, as Day and Lefty fell victim to the stiff competition, each losing their first two matches and getting eliminated before Friday. For viewers, it sets up a winner-take-all match between the resurgent Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson on Day 3. Stenson handled Day with ease on Thursday, winning 4 and 3, while Furyk and Mickelson’s match went to the 18th hole, and they halved with birdies, giving Furyk a 1 up win. Let’s just say match play has not been kind to Lefty over the last year, and maybe Captain Furyk should have inserted himself into the lineup in Paris last fall.
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Like we said on Wednesday, calling any of these matches upsets is a stretch, but it is March Madness. So if we had to play along …
Considering the fact he’s the top-ranked player in the world, and a former winner of the event, any time Dustin Johnson loses a match in this event it’s a nice victory for his opponent. Even if that opponent on Thursday was Branden Grace, who has certainly proved himself over the last seven years around the world, winning eight times on the European Tour, once on the PGA Tour (2016 RBC Heritage) and collecting five finishes of T-6 or better in the majors. That said, he was a +260 underdog to take down D.J., so it would still fall under the upset umbrella. Regardless, it’s a great win and another full point for Grace, who is now 2-0-0 and can punch his ticket to the Round of 16 with only a half a point in his match against Chez Reavie on Friday. If he loses and DJ wins his match against Hideki Matsuyama, they’ll meet again in a sudden death playoff.
Another very slight upset? Kiradech Aphibarnrat beating Bryson DeChambeau, putting them both at 1-1-0 for the week. Next up for the Barnrat is Russell Knox, who was eliminated on Thursday by Marc Leishman. The Aussie sits at 2-0-0 and controls his own destiny, while Aphibarnrat will need a win for himself and a win from DeChambeau over Leishman to set up a three-man playoff.
Best of the rest
Not only is Sergio Garcia 2-0-0, but he’s yet to see the 17th hole. After beating Shane Lowry 4 and 2 on Day 1, he disposed of Andrew Putnam on Day 2 with a 5 and 4 victory. A half point on Friday gets Sergio into the Round of 16, and even if he loses he’ll still get a chance in a playoff against Putnam if Putnam were to win his match. He’ll face off with Patrick Reed, who did manage a half point on Thursday but has already been eliminated. Seems like a good time of the year for Sergio Garcia to start to find his game. Just sayin’
We told you to keep an eye on that HaoTong Li-Brooks Koepka match on Thursday, and if you did you were in for a treat in primetime. Koepka squared the match at the 13th, but Li was able to take back his 1 up lead at No. 15 and hang on to it until the 18th, where they halved with birdies, giving Li the full point. He’s now 2-0-0, which puts him that much closer to making the Round of 16 in just his second appearance in this event. I think we’ll be seeing this kid in the Presidents Cup for at least the next decade.
Others at 2-0-0 that we’ve yet to mention: Gary Woodland, Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari, who may never lose in a match play event ever again.
Branden Grace (2-0-0) df Dustin Johnson (1-1-0), 1 up
Hideki Matsuyama (0-1-1) halved Chez Reavie (0-1-1)
Justin Rose (1-0-1) halved Eddie Pepperell (0-1-1)
Gary Woodland (2-0-0) df Emiliano Grillo (0-2-0), 1 up
Alex Noren (1-1-0) df Tom Lewis (0-1-1), 4 and 2
HaoTong Li (2-0-0) df Brooks Koepka (0-1-1), 1 up
Rory McIlroy (2-0-0) df Justin Harding (1-1-0), 3 and 2
Luke List (1-1-0) df Matthew Fitzpatrick (0-2-0), 2 and 1
Keegan Bradley (0-1-1) halved Lucas Bjerregaard (1-1-0)
Justin Thomas (1-1-0) df Matt Wallace (1-1-0), 3 and 1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (1-1-0) df Bryson DeChambeau (1-1-0), 2 and 1
Marc Leishman (2-0-0) df Russell Knox (0-2-0), 2 up
Francesco Molinari (2-0-0) df Thorbjorn Olesen (1-1-0), 4 and 3
Webb Simpson (0-1-1) halved Satoshi Kodaira (0-1-1)
Matt Kuchar (2-0-0) df Si Woo Kim (0-2-0), 6 and 4
J.B. Holmes (1-1-0) df Jon Rahm (1-1-0), 2 and 1
Rafa Cabrera Bello (0-1-1) halved Lee Westwood (0-1-1)
Xander Schauffele (1-0-1) halved Tyrrell Hatton (1-0-1)
Paul Casey (1-0-1) halved Charles Howell III (1-0-1)
Abraham Ancer (1-1-0) df Cameron Smith (0-2-0)
Louis Oosthuizen (1-1-0) df Byeong Hun An (0-2-0), 1 up
Tommy Fleetwood (1-1-0) halved Kyle Stanley (1-0-1)
Jim Furyk (2-0-0) df Phil Mickelson (0-2-0), 1 up
Henrik Stenson (2-0-0) df Jason Day (0-2-0), 4 and 3
Patrick Cantlay (1-0-1) df Aaron Wise (0-2-0), 4 and 2
Brandt Snedker (1-1-0) df Tiger Woods (1-1-0), 2 and 1
Kevin Kisner (1-1-0) df Tony Finau (1-1-0), 2 up
Keith Mitchell (1-1-0) df Ian Poulter (1-1-0), 1 up
Jordan Spieth (1-0-1) df Kevin Na (1-1-0), 3 and 2
Billy Horschel (1-0-1) df Bubba Watson (0-2-0), 2 and 1
Sergio Garcia (2-0-0) df Andrew Putnam (1-1-0), 5 and 4
Patrick Reed (0-1-1) halved Shane Lowry (0-1-1)