MARANA, Ariz. — This year, more than ever with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson missing, there is no such thing as an upset in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
There are mild surprises and eyebrow-raisers but no true upsets. That said, the last of the top four seeded players were eliminated in Thursday’s second round. Nick Watney threw two late birdies to knock out England’s Lee Westwood, 2 and 1; South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel used six birdies to defeat Jim Furyk, 3 and 2; and giant-killer Tim Clark, who stunned Woods a year ago, beat Germany’s Martin Kaymer, 3 and 2. Top-seeded Steve Stricker lost in Wednesday’s opening round.
The Match Play is clearly wide open. Based on the seedings within the four 16-man brackets, Paul Casey of England is the only remaining No. 2 seed still alive in any bracket.
Even defending champion Geoff Ogilvy, a two-time winner of this event, was ousted by Camilo Villegas, 2 and 1. Ogilvy, who had an 18-2 record in the Match Play, couldn’t keep up with a hot finish by Villegas. At the par-5 13th, Villegas hit a 5-iron shot that landed hard and ran across the green, hit the flagstick and kicked two feet away for a conceded eagle. At the short par-4 15th, Villegas drove the green and two-putted for birdie to take a 1-up lead. At the par-3 16th, Villegas holed his birdie putt and watched Ogilvy miss, giving him a 2-up cushion.
“Geoff is a great player, obviously has a great record in this tournament and he beat me last year,” said Villegas, a native of Colombia. “Funny enough, we players don’t forget those things. So last night I went to bed and said, ‘Geoff beat me last year. I think it’s my turn.'”
Ben Crane, who got the equivalent of a free pass in the opening round when Henrik Stenson conceded the match on the first hole due to illness, advanced to the sweet 16 with a 3-and-2 victory over PGA champ Y.E. Yang. Crane figured that was some kind of record.
“Henrik hinted about five minutes before our tee time yesterday that he was going to play the first hole,” Crane said. “We got there and he said, good — good, I concede the match. Was that the quickest victory in match play history? Does it make any better sense that I should have the fastest victory?”
Crane laughed, an acknowledgment of his reputation on the PGA Tour for slow play. He played on to get another look at the course and had some fun with the gallery. On the second hole, his birdie putt lipped out. Said Crane, “The crowd goes, ‘Oh!’ And I go, ‘It’s OK, I still won the hole.’ ”
The field still has some name players. Sergio Garcia outlasted Anders Hansen, 2 and 1; British Open champion Stewart Cink edged Sean O’Hair, 1 up; last year’s runner-up Paul Casey trounced Mike Weir, 5 and 4; Luke Donald rolled over Robert Allenby, 6 and 5; and Ian Poulter played the back side three under par to pull away from Adam Scott, 2 and 1.
Some other well-known names also went home. Former Masters champ Zach Johnson lost to Brian Gay, Rory McIlroy went 20 holes before losing to Oliver Wilson, and former Ryder Cupper Robert Karlsson was routed by Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, 4 and 3.
Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, both from South Africa, played a hard-fought match. Goosen birdied the 16th and 17th holes to go 1 up, then watched Els run in a 10-footer for birdie at the 18th to force extra holes. Els did it again at the first extra hole, holing a 12-footer to save a halve.
Goosen put a thrilling cap on the day by stiffing an iron shot to four feet for eagle on the 20th hole. Els conceded the hole after he hit his third shot into a greenside bunker, then blasted long.
Watney, Cink and Gay are the only remaining American players.