Elimination day at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was electric, much of that due to the play of Tiger Woods. But there were plenty of other impressive performances from the rest of the field, including a particularly impressive one from a well-known major champion. And playoffs? Playoffs? You kidding me? Oh, we had playoffs.
If you missed any of the action from Day 3 at Austin Country Club, we’ll get you caught up below.
Tiger, Rory set for Saturday showdown
Following his loss to Brandt Snedeker on Thursday, things did not look good for Tiger Woods in terms of making the Round of 16. Through eight holes on Friday against Patrick Cantlay, things looked even worse, as Woods fell to 2 down after making a mess of the par-5 eighth. It began to feel like another disappointing week that would end with quotes like, “I’m happy with where I’m at” and “things are trending nicely for Augusta” from Tiger.
Instead, Woods completely turned the tide, winning six of the last eight holes and providing some fireworks along the way. It started with a gift from Cantlay at No. 9 when his drive found the hazard, and Woods took advantage of that much-needed momentum, rolling in a 21-footer for birdie at the par-3 11th to square the match, then taking back the lead with a birdie at 12. At the par-4 13th, Woods tore the roof off the place:
Cantlay was only 2 down with five to play, but when that dropped, it was all but over. Meanwhile, Woods was getting the help he needed from Aaron Wise, who conjured up his best stuff despite losing his first two matches. He disposed of Brandt Snedeker in 14 holes, winning 6 and 4, which helped Woods advance to the Round of 16 with his record of 2-1-0. Tiger owes the kid a beer.
That sets up a must-see Saturday morning showdown between Woods and Rory McIlroy, who has looked unbeatable this week. The Northern Irishman has lost three total holes in his three matches (yes, you read that correctly), and has yet to reach the 17th tee in any match. Is that good?
Tiger looked incredible on the back nine Friday, but he has a tall task in facing McIlroy in the Round of 16. Would it be nice if these two faced off in the semifinal or final? Of course! But we’ll take what we can get. Last time these two played in a match it was an exhibition in China in 2013, which Rory won, not that that matters in the slightest for tomorrow.
• • •
Matt Kuchar the Match Play maven
Last year, during this event, our Shane Ryan wrote a great piece on why Matt Kuchar is a “sneaky” match-play stud. Kuchar is proving that once again at this year’s event, as he advanced to the Round of 16 for the second straight year and the third time in this format. Kuchar’s record in this event? An insane 25-9-4 after this week’s 2-0-1 run in which he beat J.B. Holmes, 3 and 1, dismantled Si Woo Kim, 6 and 4, and managed a halve against Jon Rahm on Friday, which was perhaps the most impressive feat of all considering Rahm birdied four consecutive holes to take a 1 up lead heading into the 18th. If not for shots like this one at No. 14, Kuchar would have lost the match and gone extra holes with Rahm to decide the group:
What a battle is right. Kuchar matched Rahm birdie for birdie on 13, 14, 15 and 16 to keep the match all square. And after Rahm took a 1 up lead with another birdie on 17, Kuchar answered by driving the 18th green and two-putting for birdie while Rahm missed a must-make 10-footer to win the match. When asked by Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis what his secret to match play was afterwards, “aw shucks Matt” came back with “didn’t you read my book?!” Classic Kooch (let’s not bring up the other stuff for now).
• • •
The Iceman Cometh
It went somewhat unnoticed because of the early start time, but Henrik Stenson’s play on Friday morning was simply outstanding. He threw dart after dart at the pin, earning numerous concessions on tap-in birdies from back in the fairway. It was a demoralizing affair for Jim Furyk, who could do nothing but sit back and watch. Check out some of Stenson’s highlights:
We have a saying/acronym in the Golf Digest slack channel: DTFI, also known as Dialed The (you know what) IN. It’s never applied more to a player than it did to Stenson’s round on Friday. What a clinic, and it gave him a perfect 3-0-0 record for the week. Next up? Lucas Bjerregaard, the most surprising name of the bunch to make the Round of 16, at least to American golf fans. If you follow the European Tour much, you know the Beer Garden has some serious potential to go deep in this tournament.
• • •
Underrated International players continue to be underrated
The combined record for Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman and Branden Grace this week: 8-1-0. Unfortunately, Big Leish and Louis will have to meet in the Round of 16, while Grace will take on Sergio Garcia. Hey guys, save some for the Presidents Cup, maybe you’ll win one! Ha, just messing around.
• • •
After getting dusted by Kevin Kisner, 8 and 6, last year in the quarterfinals, Ian Poulter got some revenge on Wednesday in their opening match, winning 2 up. But Kisner ultimately won the war, taking down Poulter on the third playoff hole this afternoon with a birdie to win the group. Has America finally found Poulter’s match-play nemesis? Steve Stricker, if you’re listening, let’s lock in Kisner for Whistling Straits in 2020.
All hail HaoTong Li! Last year, Li went 0-3-0 in his Match Play debut, and now he’s headed to the Round of 16 after beating Alex Noren on the first playoff hole:
Li gets Kisner in the Round of 16. Should be an interesting one.
Best of the rest
-Great stuff from the aforementioned Lucas Bjerregaard, who advanced in a group that included Justin Thomas, a red-hot Keegan Bradley and England’s Matt Wallace, who finished T-6 earlier this month at Bay Hill. Bjerregaard vs. Stenson might be the best match of the day on Saturday.
-There were plenty of questions about the state of Patrick Reed’s game after the recent news that he was working with David Leadbetter on the range, and more eyebrows were raised when he lost to Andrew Putnam on Wednesday. But you’ve got to hand it to Reed, he fought hard to earn a half point Thursday against Shane Lowry, and then he dug real deep on Friday to beat Sergio Garcia. No, he isn’t in the Round of 16, but he showed some guts, which should have been expected. Put Reed in a match against a European player and he’s going to treat it like life or death.
-We joked yesterday that Francesco Molinari may never lose a match again. It’s actually not a joke anymore. He finishes pool play with a 3-0-0 record. Should Paul Casey even bother showing up for their match tomorrow?
-Speaking of Paul Casey, the guy had every excuse to pack it in this week after his Valspar win. But he just kept it rolling instead, going 2-0-1 and ending two of his matches before the 16th hole. Maybe he should show up for his match with Molinari tomorrow.
Branden Grace (3-0-0) df Chez Reavie (0-2-1), 2 and 1 — Branden Grace advances to Round of 16
Hideki Matsuyama (1-1-1) df Dustin Johnson (1-2-0), 4 and 2
Emiliano Grillo (1-2-0) df Eddie Pepperell (0-2-1), 4 and 3
Tom Lewis (1-1-1) df HaoTong Li (2-1-0), 1 up — HaoTong Li df Alex Noren on first playoff hole, advances to Round of 16
Alex Noren (2-1-0) df Brooks Koepka (0-2-1), 3 and 2
Rory McIlroy (3-0-0) df Matthew Fitzpatrick (0-3-0), 4 and 2 — Rory McIlroy advances to Round of 16
Justin Harding (2-1-0) df Luke List (1-2-0), 2 up
Lucas Bjerregaard (2-0-1) df Matt Wallace (1-2-0), 1 up — Lucas Bjerregaard advances to Round of 16
Justin Thomas (1-1-1) halved Keegan Bradley (0-1-2)
Marc Leishman (3-0-0) df Bryson DeChambeau (1-2-0), 5 and 4 — Marc Leishman advances to Round of 16
Russell Knox (1-2-0) df Kiradech Aphibarnrat (1-2-0), 2 up
Francesco Molinari (3-0-0) df Webb Simpson (0-2-1), 2 and 1 — Francesco Molinari advances to Round of 16
Satoshi Kodaira (1-1-1) df Thorbjorn Olesen (1-2-0), 3 and 1
Matt Kuchar (2-0-1) halved Jon Rahm (1-1-1) — Matt Kuchar advances to Round of 16
J.B. Holmes (2-1-0) df Si Woo Kim (0-3-0), 6 and 4
Tyrrell Hatton (2-0-1) df Lee Westwood (0-2-1), 3 and 1 — Tyrrell Hatton advances to Round of 16
Rafa Cabrera Bello (1-1-1) df Xander Schauffele (1-1-1), 1 up
Paul Casey (2-0-1) df Cameron Smith (0-3-0), 4 and 3 — Paul Casey advances to Round of 16
Abraham Ancer (2-1-0) df Charles Howell III (1-1-1), 5 and 3
Louis Oosthuizen (2-1-0) df Tommy Fleetwood (1-1-1), 4 and 3 — Louis Oosthuizen advances to Round of 16
Byeong Hun An (1-2-0) df Kyle Stanley (1-1-1), 6 and 5
Henrik Stenson (3-0-0) df Jim Furyk (2-1-0), 5 and 4 — Stenson advances to Round of 16
Phil Mickelson (1-2-0) df Jason Day (0-3-0), 2 up
Tiger Woods (2-1-0) df Patrick Cantlay (1-1-1), 4 and 2 — Tiger Woods advances to Round of 16
Aaron Wise (1-2-0) df Brandt Snedeker (1-1-1), 6 and 4
Ian Poulter (2-1-0) df Tony Finau (1-2-0), 1 up
Kevin Kisner (2-1-0) df Keith Mitchell (1-2-0), 2 and 1 — Kevin Kisner df Ian Poulter on third playoff hole, advances to Round of 16
Kevin Na (2-1-0) df Billy Horschel (1-1-1), 3 and 1 — Kevin Na advances to Round of 16
Bubba Watson (1-2-0) df Jordan Spieth (1-1-1), 1 up
Patrick Reed (1-1-1) df Sergio Garcia (2-1-0), 2 and 1 — Sergio Garcia advances to Round of 16
Shane Lowry (1-1-1) df Andrew Putnam (1-2-0), 3 and 2