Scottie Scheffler makes spectacular comeback and a dream final in Match Play is still alive
Scottie Scheffler of the United States signals to the crowd on the 18th green during his match against J.T. Poston.
AUSTIN — Over the three days of group play at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, five of the top six seeds went undefeated. Jon Rahm struggled to a 1-2 finish in a difficult group, but the others—Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, and Max Homa—breezed to an undefeated record and a spot in Saturday's Round of 16 knockout stage.
In this volatile format, "chalk"—the favorites advancing—is not a concept that is closely associated with the Match Play, and it's no surprise that Saturday morning brought with it a swift reckoning. This wasn't exactly a twilight-of-the-gods situation—Rory McIlroy and Xander Schauffele lived on to face each other in the afternoon—but Cantlay and Homa fell victim to the Bitter 16.
For most of the back nine, it seemed very much like World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler was bound for the same fate. After a wild front nine against J.J. Poston, in which the two only split a single hole, Poston turned it on against Scheffler, making birdie on 10 and benefiting from a rare Scheffler bogey on 12 after his second shot on the par-5 went left and found the water. From Poston's position, it was time to go into grind mode, and for two holes he did it, splitting 13 and 14 with pars. Now he was 2 up with four to play, and the task started to look incredibly tall for Scheffler.
Perhaps we should have kept in mind Scheffler’s pedigree, not just in golf as a whole, but match play in particular. After making the final at this event in 2021, he beat Europe's dragon in Jon Rahm in Ryder Cup singles, then came back to Austin in 2022 and won. Add to all that a 3-0 start this week in Austin, and it may have been inevitable that Scheffler would at least make a run.
The comeback began on 15, a par-4, when he followed his approach to 10 feet by making the birdie putt to reduce the margin to one—although he didn't need the birdie, since Poston made a mess of the hole and conceded. A pair of birdies on 16 brought them to the par-3 17th, and once again Scheffler stuck his iron to 10 feet. Poston made par, but with his back to the wall, Scheffler delivered, sinking the birdie to tie the match.
On the par-4 18th, both players laid up, but Poston's approach caught the front of the green before trickling into the valley below the hole. The fans cheered at this outcome, clearly pulling for their Texan favorite.
"Yeah, it's definitely hard, especially on the last hole," Poston said. "You know who everybody is cheering for, and people were pulling for my ball to roll off the green and pulling for my ball to miss, which is fine. It's expected. It doesn't hurt my feelings one bit. It's kind of part of what I knew was going to be the atmosphere out here."
Scheffler found the green, and though he missed his birdie putt, Poston's six-foot attempt to complete the up-and-down par and extend the match slid by, handing Scheffler a spot in the final eight for the third straight year. This was, perhaps, the most stressful and even frustrating win of Scheffler's run in Austin.
"I've done a great job over the years in this tournament of staying patient and not trying to force things," Scheffler said after his win. "I got down, and J.T. is such a fantastic player and putter that he put the pressure on me today and I let it get the best of me, but I was able to finish strong and come out on top."
In the afternoon, Scheffler faces Jason Day for a spot in the semifinals, and as hot as Day has been all week, it's worth remembering that Scheffler has never done worse than making the final round in Austin, and it's tough to bet against him now. And maybe it's also worth remembering that dream final with McIlory, for now, is still alive.