WGC-Dell Match Play
Rahm vs. Koepka, Scheffler vs. Horschel highlight a loaded final 16 at the WGC-Match Play
Jon Rahm tees off on the eighth hole during the WGC-Match Play on Friday.
Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire
AUSTIN—The action was nonstop on a wild Friday at the WGC-Dell Match Play, particularly when the group playoffs began around 2:30 p.m. local time. Among the borderline ridiculous moments of drama:
• Scottie Scheffler, last year's runnerup, beat Matt Fitzpatrick in a six-hole playoff that tied the record for longest playoff since group play was introduced in 2015. It was the second time he beat Fitzpatrick for the da day; he had to earn his way into the playoff by taking down the previously undefeated Englishman earlier in the group match, winning by a gaudy score of 6 and 5. A break of about two-and-a-half hours ensued, and then he did it again.
• The unheralded Takumi Kanaya pulled off a double victory of his own against Lucas Herbert, first in a 5-and-4 blowout, and then in a one-hole playoff in which he got up and down with a bunker shot from 85 yards for par and watched Herbert blow his short par putt for the tie.
- Will Zalatoris, very much on theme, topped Hovland 1 up to reach a playoff against ... yes, Viktor Hovland, and ... yes, beat him in two holes, going birdie-birdie and finishing off the group with a nine-footer.
- Kevin Na buried a 13-footer in his first playoff hole to end the underdog dreams of Maverick McNealy, the last man in the field who surprised many by finishing group play undefeated at 2-0-1 before losing out in sudden death. As for that putt? You KNOW he walked it in:
The only certainty coming into Frantic Friday is that 16 players would emerge from the chaos to make the round of 16. What was absolutely not guaranteed is the general appeal of those eight matchups. As it turned out, though, the chips fell fortuitously, resulting in one of the most exciting knockout brackets in memory ... at least on paper.
One of the highlights is Scottie Scheffler vs. Billy Horschel, a rematch of last year's championship. Horschel has been on an absolute match play heater, and finished the group stages with a tie against Thomas Pieters. That was his eighth straight match without a loss, but it's not going to get much easier against Scheffler, who impressed U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker by defeating Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm at this event last year, took down Rahm again at Whistling Straits, and made it two against Poulter this past Wednesday. After staring down a red-hot Fitzpatrick, twice, he'll be ready for Horschel.
If you go by the world ranking, though, the best match of all comes in the Group 1 vs. Group 16 portion of the bracket, with Rahm facing Brooks Koepka. Rahm won his group Friday in anticlimactic style, losing to Patrick Reed but benefiting Sebastian Munoz's win over Cameron Young. The World no. 1 backed his way into the knockout stages at 2-1, while Koepka went unscathed through his group at 3-0.
There are three other headliners among the eight matches, one of which is the man who has to be considered America's premier match play gamer, Kevin Kisner. He jumped all over Justin Thomas Friday, making four birdies and an eagle over the first nine holes to go 5 up at the turn and coasting to a 4-and-3 win to sweep his group. He'll face Adam Scott, who atoned for blowing a sure win against Keegan Bradley Thursday by taking down Jordan Spieth 3 and 2.
The classic David vs. Goliath match pits a steamrolling Dustin Johnson against scrappy, 49-year-old Richard Bland in a match that even Bland admits appears lopsided on paper. If you count the Ryder Cup, DJ has now won eight straight in match play (including team matches) and isn't bound to find much to fear in Bland, who defeated friend and fellow oldster Lee Westwood to make the weekend.
Those who remember Collin Morikawa's divine drive at Harding Park to win the PGa Championship might have thought they were seeing double at the 18th hole Friday, when he drove the green to stifle a late comeback by Jason Kokrak and secure his place in the final 16. He'll face Abraham Ancer, who completed his group tour with a 2-up win over Webb Simpson, and considering that these are two of the best iron players on tour, it's likely to be a dart-fest from start to finish.
It's a phenomenal slate of matches, and it sets up some compelling quarterfinal possibilities for the afternoon ... imagine DJ vs. Koepka, or Scheffler and Hatton, or an all-Kevin derby between Kisner and Na. The great concern each year at this event is that the matches on the weekend won't live up to the entertainment that's inherent to the first three days. This year, at least for Saturday, there's no need to worry—the ingredients are all in place to keep the action humming on a hot, windy weekend in Texas.