MARANA, Ariz. — Two of the usual suspects are still alive and kicking in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. They just aren’t the suspects you were expecting.
It is no surprise that Geoff Ogilvy and Stewart Cink advanced to the elite eight here Friday. Ogilvy, an Aussie who lives in Scottsdale, has a track record as a desert fox. He has won this event and been runner-up, which explains his 14-2 match record. Cink was runner-up last year when he was pummeled by Tiger Woods in the final match.
So it’s not shocking that they’re heading into Saturday’s fourth round, it’s just surprising who isn’t going there with them. The top-seeded players in each bracket had already been knocked out by Thursday — Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh. They’re gone. Tim Clark, the guy who knocked out Tiger? He’s gone now, too, having a bit of a letdown and losing to Rory McIlroy, 4 and 3.
Phil Mickelson, the second-biggest name in golf, is out. Cink edged him in a hard-fought duel that turned into a pillow-fight finish. The game’s glitzy young guns, Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas, are done. Kim went down Thursday to Oliver Wilson, and Villegas lost convincingly to, oh yeah, Ogilvy.
So it’s come down to this on Saturday morning: Ogilvy vs. McIlroy; Ernie Els vs. Cink; Sean O’Hair vs. Paul Casey; and Ross Fisher vs. Justin Leonard. Maybe it’s not the star power it could have been, but it’s pretty darned interesting.
Cink and Ogilvy may be the guys to beat, given their track records. Then again, you can probably toss those records out the window in the wacky world of match play.
You want wacky? Cink had three bogeys and a LOIBIP (Loss Of Interest, Ball In Pocket) on the back nine — and he still beat Mickelson. The crucial hole in the match looked like it would be the drivable par-4 15th, where Tiger’s comeback effectively ended when his drive cart-pathed over a fence and out of bounds. The match was all square when Mickelson went for the green and over-cut his tee shot. The ball bounced near the top of a bank of grass, onto a section of hardpan and skittered into some desert shrubbery. Mickelson moved it only a dozen feet, just barely getting it back onto grass, and ended up conceding the hole.
That gave Cink a 1-up lead, but he lost it on the 248-yard par-3 16th when both players came up short of the green off the tee. Mickelson got up and down to save par, and Cink didn’t.
Back to all square.
That’s when the 17th became the pivotal hole and when the feathers started flying out of the pillows. Mickelson drove into a fairway bunker, then bailed his second shot way right, onto desert hardpan right of a greenside bunker. What followed was a familiar scene for amateur hackers, a rare scene for a pro — Mickelson caught the ball thin off the hard ground and airmailed it over the green into a handicapped seating area. Then he played a miracle Phil Phlop shot to six feet.
Meanwhile, Cink found a greenside bunker, blasted out to six feet and missed his par putt. Mickelson suddenly had a chance to halve the hole with a bogey, but he missed. “I saw it going left, then I thought it was going right, and I hit it tentatively,” Mickelson said. “That was for bogey. I shouldn’t have been putting for bogey.”
Cink won the hole with a bogey to go 1 up. They both parred 18 and Cink was a winner.
“I hit a couple of squirrelly shots that cost me,” Mickelson said. “I had played 15, 16 holes without a bogey and then 17 kind of grabbed me. I don’t know what to say because I hit it better today than I did in the first two matches, but I didn’t get the ball in the hole as well.”
Cink laughed about the last portion of the match. “We played pretty well through 13, then after that the wheels came off for both of us,” he said. “There was somebody in trouble on every hole after that, except for 18.”
Ogilvy, meanwhile, was 3 up on Villegas on the front nine and cruising. He then bogeyed 14 and didn’t birdie 15, allowing Villegas to briefly cut his lead to 1 up. He made par at the long 16th, though, and Villegas didn’t, and their match ended at 17.
“I played quite well,” Ogilvy said. “I was up after a few holes and felt quite in control. It got closer than I wanted toward the end, but I hit a really good shot to 16 and he missed the green and I won the hole. So it was lots of good stuff.”
In other matches, Els was a surprised winner when Luke Donald conceded their match on the 18th tee. Els was 1 up, but Donald had just reinjured his wrist, the one he had surgery on last August, and said he couldn’t go on.
“I hit my tee shot on 17 and for the first time since coming back, I felt a twinge in my wrist,” Donald said. “It didn’t feel great when I hit that bunker shot, either. So rather than risk it, I wanted to play it safe. I tore the tendon sheath last year and they pretty much just sewed it up. Hopefully, I haven’t damaged it again.”
The hottest player in the field may well be Fisher, whose pre-tournament preparation included being socked in back home in England after a freakish two-foot snowfall. “My wife and I were pretty much stuck at home for four days, unless her mum and dad picked us up in their 4×4,” Fisher said. “We couldn’t get out of our own driveway.”
Fisher had seven birdies in a 4-and-3 win over Jim Furyk.
McIlroy, who defeated Clark, is gaining ground as the Next Big Thing. Els knows he’ll be a formidable opponent if they make it to the semifinals.
“Rory is going to be a major factor in world golf,” Els said. “I think you’re probably looking at the next No. 1 in the world with him. He’s got all the tools.”
In other matches, Casey was never threatened in beating Peter Hanson, 4 and 2; Leonard won a well-played match with Wilson when he got up and down to save par on the 19th hole; and O’Hair edged England’s Ian Poulter, 2 and 1.