WGC-Match Play: Rickie's run, G-Mac's comebacks, and cactus problems
By Alex Myers
Here's a look at what transpired Thursday at Dove Mountain and what we can look forward to Friday:
Revelation of the day:
Playing desert golf can be fun, as long as you avoid hitting it into the desert. Here's a photo of Jonas Blixt looking for his ball on No. 18, via @TweeterAlliss on Twitter:
As you can probably guess, Blixt lost that hole and the match. Hopefully, he didn't lose any blood either. Those cacti are pretty prickly.
Biggest "upset of the day" -- Harris English vs. Rory McIlroy:
McIlroy became the latest No. 1 seed to go down (in fact, the remaining three top seeds all lost Thursday), falling to English in 19 holes in a matchup of two of the three active golfers 25 and younger to have multiple PGA Tour titles. In other words, don't count on English being a No. 9 seed in this event next year. The University of Georgia product already has five top 10s in the young season, including a victory.
Match of the day -- Jason Day vs. Billy Horschel:
Horschel went 3 up through four holes and maintained that advantage until Day started chipping away on the back nine. He tied it on No. 16, and then the two matched pars for the next five holes before Day birdied the 22nd hole to move on. The No. 2 seed will face No. 14 George Coetzee, who beat Patrick Reed in 21 holes.
Match of the day that didn't go extra holes -- Rickie Fowler vs. Jimmy Walker:
In this battle of Butch Harmon students, neither held more than a 1-up lead. In the end, Fowler's five birdies and an eagle were too much for the hottest golfer on the planet. Fowler holed roughly 40 feet worth of putts on the final three holes, including a 10-footer for par on No. 18.
"That's soooo match play" moment of the day -- Jimmy Walker's wife, Erin, on Twitter:
"-8 for two days and headed home. Darn it! But man! Match Play is fun though!! Really hope it sticks around!" Yep. More than anything, this format is about timing. You can play great, like you have all season, but if you run into a guy who makes five birdies, an eagle and every clutch par putt he looks at, you're going to be hitting the road regardless.
"That's soooo Bubba Watson" moment of the day:
Only Bubba could play a huge cut on No. 15 that landed just short and left of the green and then funnel off a slope all the way to the back where the Thursday's pin position was. The remarkable drive traveled about 350 yards total and set up an easy two-putt birdie. Watson would win his match against Jonas Blixt, 2 up.
"That's soooo Jordan Spieth" moment of the day/shot of the day:
In his brief time as a pro, we've learned one thing when it comes to Spieth when he's faced with bunker shots he needs to make: He likes to make them. Granted, Spieth left his first attempt in the trap on No. 3 in his second-round match against Thomas Bjorn, but this was still impressive. With Bjorn in with par, Spieth needed to hole out to halve the hole. He took the flagstick out and boom:
It was all part of a 5-and-4 drubbing of Bjorn, and it also was reminiscent of Spieth jarring a bunker shot on the final hole of regulation at last year's John Deere Classic. The shot got him into a playoff, where he became the youngest winner on the PGA Tour in 82 years.
Friday's match we're most looking forward to -- Sergio Garcia vs. Rickie Fowler:
One guy is a great ball-striker who has improved his putting in recent years. The other is a great putter who is quickly improving his ball-striking under the tutelage of Butch Harmon. Neither is afraid of wearing bright colors. Here's what Sergio tweeted after his match: "Good win today. Really enjoyed playing with Billy. @RickieFowlerPGA looking forward to a nice and colorful match with you tomorrow!" Yeah, this one should really stand out.
Friday's other matches of the day -- Hunter Mahan vs. Graeme McDowell and Matt Kuchar vs. Jordan Spieth:
Mahan, 13-1 in his last 14 matches in this event, takes on the comeback king in McDowell. G-Mac advanced to the Sweet 16 despite having never led until the 18th hole in each of his first two matches. And then there's Kuchar, the defending champion and a former U.S. Amateur winner, taking on Spieth, a two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champ seemingly on the verge of superstardom. Get comfortable, golf fans. This is shaping up to be a very sweet Sweet 16.