MARANA, Ariz. — The marquee went dark Friday at the Accenture World Match Play Championship.
Listen to a roll call of the big names who’ve departed since Wednesday’s opening round of 64. Day One: Tiger Woods and Ian Poulter. Day Two: Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Ernie Els. Day Three (aka Black Friday): Rickie Fowler, Graeme McDowell and Geoff Ogilvy.
Don’t get the wrong idea. The weekend will be filled with great golf shots, thrilling matches and maybe some wild weather. It will be a good show, but it just won’t be a show starring players whom casual golf fans know as well.
The race for the title of “Last Man Standing” features the likes of Y.E.
Yang, Matt Kuchar, Luke Donald, Ryan Moore, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Bubba Watson. At least Germany’s Martin Kaymer, ranked No. 2 in the world, is still alive and kicking.
The beauty of match play is also its biggest flaw because yesterday’s heroes often turn into today’s losers. Bandwagons start and stop. Momentum changes like the wind. You could call this the Mongolian Reversal Open, because what goes around comes around before you can turn around.
Take Fowler. He gave the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship a double dose of color and pageantry Thursday when he eliminated Phil Mickelson.
Then Friday, the man who thrives on pink and orange and electric green went home, a 2-and-1 loser to Kuchar. Just when it looked like Fowler had appointed himself the favorite, he was felled. And he did so in bright yellow and blue.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Kuchar said. “I think I’m lucky I didn’t run into him yesterday. It sounded like he was on fire. He would have cleaned me out yesterday.”
Ben Crane also put a dent in the “young guns” storyline Thursday when he shocked Rory McIlroy by an audacious 8-and-7 margin. Crane was repaid in kind Friday, crushed by Miguel Angel Jimenez, 7 and 6.
After beating Thomas Bjorn on Thursday, two-time Match Play champ Geoff Ogilvy appeared to be heading toward another title. Not so fast, mate.
Ogilvy’s stellar match-play record fell to 20-4 Friday when he got swamped by Bubba Watson, 6 and 4.
“Bubba did good today,” Watson said, going third-person moments after Ogilvy conceded.
“It’s hard to beat a guy who plays well,” said Ogilvy, who is usually on the good end of playing well in this tournament.
Your U.S. Open champion, Graeme McDowell, glimmered like a player capable of taking this event all the way after two days of fine play.
Then he was chopped up by former PGA champion Y.E. Yang.
Nick Watney got the scalp of the No. 1 player in the world in the second round, eliminating Westwood in a well-played match, but a day later he was dropped by Ryan Moore, who won on the 19th hole after Watney won the 17th and 18th holes to square the match.
Here are some undoubtedly foolish picks for Saturday’s matches:
Ryan Moore vs. Luke Donald. (9:10 a.m. Eastern) Donald always plays well in Ryder Cups. Why? He doesn’t make mistakes. Donald has made only three bogeys in three rounds. He’s not going to beat himself. Moore was a match-play superstar as an amateur. This should be a fascinating tussle. Pick: Donald.
Y.E. Yang vs. Matt Kuchar. (9:22 a.m.) It’s no wonder McDowell fell — Yang made eight birdies, including four straight on the last four holes.
He looks like the hottest man in the field. Kuchar was solid but not spectacular in holding off Fowler. Pick: Yang.
Miguel Angel Jimenez vs. Martin Kaymer. (9:34 a.m.) I’ve already written that Kaymer is the future king of golf, the No. 1 player waiting to happen. Jimenez is tough and gritty and difficult to beat, but Kaymer’s talent is impressive. He was 1 down, then made three straight birdies starting at the 14th and held on to beat Hunter Mahan. Pick: Kaymer.
Bubba Watson vs. J.B. Holmes. (9:46 a.m.) Dueling long-ball hitters Watson and Holmes are two of the Tour’s biggest bashers. Holmes doesn’t get enough credit for his short game and Watson doesn’t get enough credit for his innate feel. This will be the morning’s marquee match. Pick: Holmes.
By the way, Saturday’s action will be a double-round after all.
Due to forecasts of lousy weather moving in by Sunday morning, which may include snow, the quarterfinals and semifinals will be played Saturday, leaving the 18-hole final and the consolation match for Sunday afternoon. The semifinals had been scheduled for Sunday morning.