MARANA, Ariz. — It took just two hours and 49 minutes to set the tone for a bad day in the desert for some of Europe’s top players. That’s all the time Ben Crane needed to dish out an 8-and-7 thrashing to Rory McIlroy.
Crane is one of the slowest players on tour. He. Does. Every. Thing. In. Sloooooow. Motion. Not the ideal opponent, then, for McIlroy and his speedy step-up-and-lash-it style. The tortoise beat the hare. Crane was a blur as he sped past McIlroy with seven birdies. If not for Stephen Ames’s 9-and-8 loss to Tiger Woods in 2006, it would have been the most lopsided defeat in the tournament’s 12-year history.
McIlroy has been taking some heat on Twitter since suggesting on Wednesday that Woods is not the player he once was. Tiger’s fan club mobilized. “You got your arce kicked!” tweeted one new Crane fan to McIlroy, who had the good humor to respond. “It’s actually ARSE! But yes I did!”
McIlroy took defeat with grace and charm. When told his match had finished so quickly he hadn’t missed lunch, he joked: “I could almost make a second breakfast. I find this easier to take than getting beaten on the last. He just didn’t give me a sniff, and I didn’t give myself a sniff either. I just didn’t hit it close enough to have chances for birdie, and every time I did have a chance, he rolled it in ahead of me.
“It’s match play. I have done it to people before and been five and six under through as many holes. This is one of the first times it’s happened to me.”
More bad news for Europe. World No. 1 Lee Westwood lost 1-up to Nick Watney. In a tight encounter, Westwood couldn’t hole enough putts to come back from 2 down after 10 holes. He birdied the 14th and had a chance to level the match with two putts from 25 feet at the 16th. He three-putted and kicked his ball off the green in disgust. He’ll be kicking himself all the way home to England. Westwood has now failed to get past the second round in 11 attempts.
“Well that’s disappointing, clean sweep, all out — home James!” tweeted Chubby Chandler, manager of Westwood, McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel and Ernie Els, who all lost on Thursday.
“I haven’t worked on my putting much lately,” Westwood admitted. “And it showed.”
Westwood’s defeat opens the door for Martin Kaymer to become the new World No. 1 — if the German makes the final on Sunday. Kaymer saw off Justin Rose at the second extra hole, and he will meet Hunter Mahan in the third round.
Of the 13 Europeans who advanced to the second round, five made it through to the last 16. Friday matches for Graeme McDowell, Matteo Manassero, Luke Donald, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Kaymer; in-flight movies for McIlroy, Ross Fisher, Paul Casey, Edoardo Molinari, Thomas Bjorn, Robert Karlsson, Rose and Westwood.
McDowell, McIlroy’s Ryder Cup partner, had a better day in the desert than his pal. He defeated Fisher 4-and-2 in a scrappy battle that included four holes that were conceded as they hacked along like 18-handicappers on a corporate outing.
“The back side disintegrated into a comedy of errors,” McDowell said. “It’s tough to have that killer instinct against a friend. But you don’t have to shoot 65. You just have to win. That’s the nature of the beast. I’m still alive and kicking. Just getting the confidence back.”
With a second-round victory, McDowell has accrued enough ranking points to move past Woods in the top-10 standings. How does it feel to be a better golfer than Woods?
“I’m perhaps a better golfer than Tiger in the past 12 months,” he said. “But he’s definitely the greatest player that’s ever lived. If someone had told me that at some point in my career I would be No. 3 in the world, I’d be proud of that fact. It would be nice to slip by Tiger for a little while.”
Next up for the 2010 U.S. Open champion is Y E Yang, who began the demystification of Woods’s invincibility by beating him at the 2009 PGA Championship.
McDowell had advice for his pal McIlroy after admitting he couldn’t get his head around the enormity of McIlroy’s defeat.
“Every career is going to have setbacks. This is just a mini one. He makes the game look so easy when it’s all going well. Maybe he has to learn to grind it out on tough days. He’s got to develop that doggedness. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes a phenomenal player and a prolific winner.”
There are five Europeans left in the tournament, eight Americans, one South Korean and two Australians. Seven players in the round of 16 are in their 20s. One, Manassero, is still just 17. The young Italian followed up his victory over Steve Stricker by sending home Schwartzel, 1 up. He faces a third-round tussle with Donald, who defeated Molinari, 2 and 1.
“Another great victory,” Manassero said in wonder. Does he expect to win? “My expectations were none, actually. I was trying to maybe get some lucky breaks and get through a few rounds to get into the top 50.”
Mission accomplished. He clearly loves the match play format, and his performances in Tucson would make his boyhood hero proud.
“Seve Ballesteros has always been my idol,” he said. “Then on TV, I was watching Faldo and Tiger — he is fantastic. But Seve has always been my idea of a golfer.”