MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Justin Leonard and Stewart Cink are starting to get the hang of the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Both reached the quarterfinals at Dove Mountain for the second straight year, joining eight other players in the 11-year history of his most fickle tournament to reach the weekend in consecutive years.
The others are Tiger Woods, Brad Faxon, David Toms, Ian Poulter, Retief Goosen, Chad Campbell, Geoff Ogilvy and Henrik Stenson. Four of those players went on to win the title.
Given how unpredictable match play is over 18 holes, is it more skill or luck?
“I’d like to think it’s more skill,” Leonard said with a laugh. “Last year I came into the tournament playing pretty good. I got here and rode that momentum. This year, I missed the cut in my last two tournaments. But I’m feeling pretty good.”
On paper, his match with Oliver Wilson of England might have been the least interesting. It turned out to be among the most compelling.
They halved the first eight holes Friday before Leonard had a 20-foot birdie putt to take the lead. He wound up three-putting to lose the hole, then squared the match with a birdie on the next hole.
The match was tied when Leonard chipped in for birdie on the 17th only to see Wilson hit a wedge into the 18th and make a 6-foot birdie. Leonard won on the 19th hole with a par.
The difference this week could be the latest club he put in the bag.
“Not to sound like NASCAR or anything, but this Dymo driver is making a big difference,” Leonard said.
Leonard is sponsored by Nike, and he tried the new driver when he arrived on Monday. He asked for the shaft to be three-quarters of an inch shorter, allowing him a little more control. And he was surprised to see that his numbers on the launch monitor had not changed.
“That made a big difference in my game this week,” he said.
Cink now has played 60 holes in three rounds, the most of anyone. His first two matches went overtime, and he thought his match against Phil Mickelson was headed there until Lefty went from the bunker to the desert waste area, over the gallery, onto the green and then missed a 4-foot putt and took double bogey on the 17th hole. Cink closed him out, 1 up.
FASHION FAUX PAS: It’s probably a good thing Stewart Cink and Paul Casey were on opposite sides of the bracket.
Both players wore the same green shirt on Friday.
And that wasn’t the first time it happened to Casey. When he showed up on the range Thursday, he looked over and realized that he and Justin Leonard were wearing the same shirt.
All three players are sponsored by Nike.
“What are you wearing tomorrow,” Casey asked Leonard after their matches Friday. “I’m going to go wear orange.”
EASY DOES IT: Maybe all it took was a few miles up Dove Mountain for Arizona to feel like Australia to Ernie Els.
The Big Easy has never fared too well in the Accenture Match Play Championship, and his victory Friday was only the second time he has advanced to the quarterfinals. The other occasion was in 2001 at Metropolitan Golf Club in Australia.
Els was never a big fan of La Costa Resort, even to the point he stopped coming for two years. He didn’t have much success a few miles down the road at The Gallery, either, both times losing in the first round.
“Finally, maybe, I got a golf course that I can play,” he said. “The last one was in Melbourne in 2001.”
EARLY ARRIVALS: Geoff Ogilvy and Paul Casey live in Scottsdale, and both drove up to Dove Mountain a few weeks ago to take a look at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club. Is it any coincidence that both are among the final eight players in the tournament?
“It was probably worth coming down and checking it out,” Ogilvy said. “Most courses we play on tour, each round you play is probably a big advantage over everyone else who has played one less. So I think the one extra round we had is holding us in good stead. It’s a small coincidence, but a nice one.”
TOUGH LOVE: Davis Love III lost in the second round to Justin Leonard, and it might have been more crucial than he realized.
Because the top 64 in the world were at the Match Play, it requires more than a victory or two to move up. Love started the week at No. 58 in the world. If he had beaten Leonard in the second round, he likely would have moved into the top 50.
That would have made him eligible for the next World Golf Championship in two weeks at Doral. Instead, Love is likely to move up only to about No. 53. Alas, he still can try to break into the top 50 and qualify for the CA Championship next week in the Honda Classic.
DIVOTS: Paul Casey and Ernie Els are the only players who have not trailed this week at the Match Play Championship. Casey has played 48 holes, while Els has played 49 holes. On the flip side, Sean O’Hair has been behind on 13 holes this week, the most of any of the eight players still remaining. … No one has trailed by more than two holes and come back to win this week. … Ernie Els is the only player who still has not had to play the 18th hole in competition.