MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — The Match Play Championship enters its longest day and Martin Kaymer welcomes it.
One day after he was forced to go 20 holes to get out of the second round, Kaymer had to rally on the back nine Friday against Hunter Mahan before closing him out on the 17th hole. That put Kaymer in the quarterfinals, and more than a World Golf Championship at stake.
Because of cold weather expected on the final day, the schedule has been altered to play the quarterfinals on Saturday morning, followed immediately by the semifinals.
“Hopefully, it’s going to be a long day, that I can play two matches,” Kaymer said.
Next up for Kaymer is Miguel Angel Jimenez, the 47-year-old Spaniard and oldest player in the field. If the German can win, he would face the winner of the slugfest between big hitters J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson.
Two wins would put Kaymer in the championship match and guarantee a new No. 1 in golf.
“If I can get up one more spot in the world rankings, of course I wouldn’t mind it,” Kaymer said. “But I think I’ll have a chance the next few weeks, months, as well.”
The 26-year-old German is not one to get ahead of himself, whether its the world ranking or the Accenture Match Play Championship. Jimenez has proved to be tough, especially the way he dismantled Ben Crane in a 7-and-6 victory.
As far as the world ranking, the possibilities are limited.
Lee Westwood, bounced out in the second round, will remain No. 1 if Kaymer loses a match on Saturday. Luke Donald, who beat Italian teenager Matteo Manassero, can move to No. 3 if he wins the tournament. Otherwise, Graeme McDowell will rise to No. 3, even though the U.S. Open champion was beaten Friday by Y.E. Yang.
Whatever the case, Tiger Woods will slip to his lowest ranking – No. 4 or No. 5 – since the week before he won the 1997 Masters.
As for the Match Play Championship?
Sure, there are only eight players left, but that makes it no less predictable.
Crane is a great example. The American simply couldn’t miss when he hammered Rory McIlroy in the second round, an 8-and-7 victory that was the second-most lopsided margin in tournament history. One day later, Crane was on the other side of a beating. He didn’t make a birdie until the 11th hole, and by then it was over. Jimenez closed him out, 7 and 6.
Then there’s Rickie Fowler. The 22-year-old looked like the future of American golf when he hit dazzling iron shots from the fairway and several key putts for a 6-and-5 victory over Phil Mickelson, the worst loss ever for Lefty. The next day, Fowler took one too many trips into the desert and fell too far behind to catch up. Matt Kuchar beat him, 2 and 1.
Kuchar was lucky to get out of the first round, and here he is in the quarterfinals. The American next faces Yang, who birdied the last three holes of his match, chipping in on the 16th to beat McDowell. On the other side of the bracket, Donald faces Ryan Moore, who outlasted Nick Watney in 19 holes.
Such are the vagaries of match play – Watney made nine birdies and won his match, Kuchar made three birdies and won.
Perhaps the most intriguing quarterfinal match is elementary – Holmes and Watson.
Both have put on a powerful display.
Holmes has five of the longest drives this week at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, including a 400-yard shot in the opening round. He wasn’t always straight, but he was long enough to keep himself in the game and win the last two holes against Jason Day on Friday.
Watson didn’t win his match against Geoff Ogilvy on the par-5 11th hole, but it sure felt that way. Already 2 up in his match, Watson was 290 from the hole when he ripped a 3-iron with a tight draw that bounded onto the green and settled about 15 feet away.
“I knew if I hit a bullet 3-iron, it could roll up close,” Watson said. “We were just thinking about getting it on the green. We were thinking about missing it left, so we’d have an easy chip up on the slope. I knew it was good. I saw where it was running and it worked out in my favor again. I swung as hard as I could at a low, bullet 3-iron.”
Three holes later, the match was over, 6 and 4.
“It’s never fun to lose,” said Ogilvy, a two-time champion of this fickle event. “But it’s the first time I’ve played OK and lost. He played well. He hit great shots. I didn’t play that bad. I didn’t play ‘6-and-4’ bad.”
That set up more fireworks for Saturday morning – Holmes vs. Watson, two of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, head-to-head on a course nearly 7,800 yards long in the high desert with wind expected to top 20 mph.
“It should be fun,” Holmes said. “Me and Bubba move it out there pretty good.”
Watson’s performance has been so dominant that he has led every hole he has played for three days. He has won the opening hole all three rounds and closed out matches on the 16th hole, 13th hole and 14th hole. In three matches, he has played only 43 holes, and he has yet to see the 17th hole in competition.
“I’ve won every time, so it works out,” Watson said.