Tiger Woods had a chance to go 3 up on Lucas Bjerregaard at the sixth green on Saturday during their quarterfinal match at the WGC-Dell Match Play. The 14-time major champion was in complete control, and with just six feet left for birdie at the par 5. It felt like he was about to wrap this thing up much earlier than expected. Bjerregaard's story was a nice one, but Woods was in freight-train mode, firing at every pin and holing every subsequent birdie putt.
But Woods missed, then he three-putted the par-3 seventh hole at Austin Country Club, allowing Bjerregaard to win with a par. That potential 3-up lead was suddenly only a 1-up edge, and Woods' back-to-back short misses changed the entire match. Bjerregaard, a 27-year-old relative unknown from Denmark with two European Tour wins to his name, hung in there for the remainder of the match, never trailing by more than 1 down and eventually squaring the match at the par-5 16th with a 29-foot eagle putt.
At 17, Bjerregaard had the honor, hitting his tee shot to 13 feet, but Woods answered with a vintage high draw that stuck five feet from the pin. They both holed their birdie putts, setting up a winner-take-all final hole with the match all square, or a potential playoff were they to tie. After identical drives at the short par-4 18th, Woods left his second short in a bunker, while Bjerregaard hit his second 16 feet past the pin. Woods splashed one to five feet, Bjerregaard missed his birdie, and Woods had a five-footer to extend the match.
It's a putt he's made countless times in his career, at the 18th hole with all eyes on him, to the point making it has become a foregone conclusion. It still might be in the future, but it wasn't meant to be on Saturday, as Woods lipped out, giving Bjerregaard the match victory.
"We read it inside left, left center, and the putt went left," said Woods, who made seven birdies and still lost his quarterfinal match. "I went back and hit it again and it did the same thing. Just one of those weird spots. Had a lot of difficult pins out there. It is match play and they're going to put the pins on the difficult side, and they did. And we just have to hit good shots."
Woods and Bjerregaard both hit plenty of good shots, producing a match that was worthy of a playoff, but Tiger's putter didn't cooperate.
"It's a shame it had to end that way because it was a really good match," said Bjerregaard, who also beat Henrik Stenson this morning, 3 and 2. "Conditions were tough today and we both threw in a bunch of birdies at it. So it's a shame it had to finish with a bogey. But obviously I'm happy to be standing on the winning side."
So now Bjerregaard heads to the semifinals, where he'll take on Matt Kuchar, who had an eventful afternoon quarterfinal match with Sergio Garcia. Trailing 1 down on the seventh green, Garcia had a chance to square the match, but missed his putt, then quick-raked the next. By rule, it counted because Garcia didn't give Kuchar enough time to concede the putt, and Kuchar couldn't retroactively concede it. That gave Kuchar a 2 up lead.
A noticeably hot Garcia appeared to begin to melt down, but he was able to channel the fire and mount a comeback. He got the match all the way to the 18th hole, needing to win to extend, but a poor second shot cost him and he had to concede the hole, giving Kuchar a 2 up victory. Afterwards, the two cordially shook hands.
Contrary to popular belief, there were two other matches that occurred, both ending much earlier than Bjerregaard v. Woods and Garcia v. Kuchar. Francesco Molinari, who crushed Valspar winner Paul Casey 5 and 4 in the morning, made quick work of Kevin Na, beating him 6 and 5 despite going 1 down on the opening hole. Molinari made six birdies, and at one point had won six consecutive holes to rip the match away from Na. He's now 5-0-0 on the week, and 10-0-0 in his last 10 matches if you include his incredible record at the Ryder Cup last fall. Scary good.
"Yeah, but Tommy [Fleetwood] had a bit to do with the first four," said Molinari when asked about winning 10 straight matches. "I hadn't won a game in match play in ten years. So I was due a few wins."
Molinari will be pitted against Kevin Kisner in their morning semifinal match. Kisner similarly ran through his Saturday opponents, defeating HaoTong Li, 6 and 5, in the morning and then getting hot late in his round to beat Louis Oosthuizen, 2 and 1, in the afternoon. Kisner was 1 down at the 15th tee, but won the next three straight holes to close out the match.
"He's been playing well," Kisner said of Molinari, his opponent on Sunday morning. "We're good buddies, so we'll have a good time. I know I'm going to have to bring my A game to compete with him."
This marks the second straight year Kisner has advanced to the semifinals, and last year he won his semifinal match over Alex Noren on the 19th hole. He went on to lose to Bubba Watson, 7 and 6, which was a nice learning experience.
"I'll tell you, I learned a lot about the prep," said Kisner "And I'll approach how I get ready for the round a little differently and take it a little more seriously. And I'll be excited if I can get through and play for the title.
"It's a long week, so my prep will be a little different. I'll approach getting ready for the second round, if I have a chance to win, a little differently. And look forward to the opportunity."