MARANA, Ariz. — Geoff Ogilvy has looked like a world-beater ever since he stole the 2006 U.S. Open out from under the embarrassed noses of Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie.
Three years later, Ogilvy seems to be hitting his stride. He is, indeed, starting to beat the world on a semi-regular basis. Ogilvy won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in 2006, and he won the World Golf Championship’s CA Championship last year (ending Tiger Woods’s winning streak in the process). Now he’s in the Match Play final for the third time in four years. He appears to be entering his prime. (Sunday’s 36-hole match begins at 9:20 a.m. Eastern.)
Ogilvy played his best golf of the week here Saturday, winning a pair of matches to advance into the 36-hole championship match on Sunday against Paul Casey, a friend and fellow Scottsdale resident who is also a member of Whisper Rock, an elite club in Scottsdale where several pros are members.
The two drove here — in separate sports cars — for a practice round on Friday the 13th. As it turns out, it was the smartest busman’s holiday they’ve ever taken. The Ritz-Carlton Resort course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, is a funky track that requires a lot of local knowledge.
“It’s an incredible coincidence that we’re the last two guys in the tournament,” Ogilvy said. “I saw him at Whisper Rock that week and said I was going down here, and he said, let’s play, I’ll go down, too. We had a good game and checked out the course. We were very glad we came. The more you play this course, the better you are going to be because of the greens.”
Ogilvy was tipped off to the course’s unique design — the greens are unusually sloped and awkwardly banked — by fellow tour players Mike Weir and Camilo Villegas during the FBR Open. Weir and Villegas had just made their own visit to the course and told Ogilvy about the severity of the greens.
“They’re incredibly slopey and different than most of the greens we play, with all the humps,” Ogilvy said.
Ogilvy and Casey live within five miles of each other and play at Whisper Rock, but that’s only the beginning of the similarities. Their wives are friends. They’re both big hitters, very athletic, and very good around the greens. Ogilvy is an outgoing, personable Aussie. Casey is an outgoing, personable Englishman.
The big difference is their resumes. Ogilvy has his major, the 2006 U.S. Open, plus two WGC titles. Casey has been a Ryder Cup star and a winner in Europe. In fact, he won in Abu Dhabi last month. He hasn’t won in the U.S. yet, but he’s been in contention at the occasional major championship. You may recall his second-round 66 at Oakmont in the ’07 U.S. Open, a round he considered one of his finest. Casey has long been labeled a potential world-beater, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations quite as well as Ogilvy.
It will be a little strange to be paired in the final with a friend, Ogilvy said. Of course, the final is always a little strange in this event because only two players show up on Sunday. Ogilvy talked Saturday about playing Davis Love in the final in California in 2006.
“It’s not strange out on the golf course, but when you’re alone for breakfast at La Costa, there’s 25 tables in there and Davis Love and I are having breakfast on either side of the room, it’s kind of weird,” he said. “And the locker room attendant is standing over you the whole time because you’re only one of two guys there. You pull into the parking lot and there’s two cars. That’s it. And when you’re on the range, one goes to one side, one goes to the other. That’s the odd part.”
Ogilvy is in the final because he likes match play and he likes on-course confrontations. And, thanks to having lived in Arizona for a number of years, he has a feel and understanding for desert golf. Casey, too.
It was an impressive display of golf Saturday. In the morning, Ogilvy made eight birdies in 17 holes and still only squeaked past the 19-year-old Irish phenom Rory McIlroy, 2 and 1. In the afternoon, Ogilvy knocked out Stewart Cink with an impressive birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie finish to win, 4 and 2.
“Those were two pretty satisfying guys to beat,” Ogilvy said, “and I guess the most satisfying part was I played my best golf in the last few holes of each match.”
Ogilvy birdied 15, 16 and 17 against McIlroy but only won 15. McIlroy is someone to keep an eye on if you haven’t already figured that out. Ernie Els said earlier in the week that McIlroy is the next No. 1 player in the world, whenever the day comes that Tiger steps down. Ogilvy was equally impressed.
“Right now, this will be the worst world ranking he’ll have for the next 10 years,” Ogilvy said. “It’s feasible that he’s going to be in the top two or three in the world within a year. He’s that good. He’s got the whole package. I had to play the best golf I played all week to just kind of stay level with him at the end.
“He was playing fantastic. My caddie said in the car, ‘If you want to be the second best player in the world, you’re going to have to be better than Rory.’ It might take him a couple of years, but that’s what he’s going to be.”
Against Cink, Ogilvy blew open a close match with birdies at 13 and 14 to go 2 up. At the drivable par-4 15th, he hit 3-wood to six feet and made the putt for eagle to go dormie in the match. At the 16th, a long par 3, he stuffed a shot to eight feet, a real exclamation point.
“He played very solidly,” Cink said later. “I would be very surprised if he doesn’t win tomorrow.”
Casey, who has never trailed in a match this week, had a relatively easy morning showdown with Sean O’Hair, who had five bogeys and a double in his first 12 holes; he was 5 down through seven. Casey won, 4 and 3. He had quite a tussle in the afternoon against Ross Fisher, but the match got a bit sloppy near the end when both players made double-bogey 6 at No. 14. Casey took a 2-up lead to the 15th, which they both birdied. Fisher birdied the 16th to get to 1 down, but Casey rolled in a birdie putt at the 17th to end it, 2 and 1.
That set up the Sunday rematch between Scottsdale buddies. Looks like yet another Friday the 13th sequel.