One day after the best two players in the world went home, more top seeds followed Friday when golf’s most unpredictable tournament served up another reminder that the only time the word “upset” should be used is to describe the guys who are no longer playing.
Luke Donald, the No. 3 seed who is regarded among the best in match play, suffered his worst loss in 25 matches at this tournament. Louis Oosthuizen (No. 4) and Justin Rose (No. 5) never even reached the 17th tee when it was time for them to leave.
When another wild day ended at Dove Mountain, Masters champion Bubba Watson was the last man standing among the top 10 seeds.
“This game … it’s a toss-up,” Watson said after going 22 holes to beat Jim Furyk. “You can’t really judge who’s going to win, or bet who’s going to win. It really means nothing, is what I’m saying.”
At least he’s still playing, even though he made it hard on himself.
Watson missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have won the match. He missed another 5-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole. He had to stand to the side of the green as Furyk stood over a 12-foot putt to win the match. Given new life, Watson finally advanced to the third round.
It was the first time since this World Golf Championship began in 1999 that only one top-10 seed was remaining after two rounds.
“I think we’re beyond surprises, in this event especially,” Graeme McDowell said after needing 20 holes to beat Alex Noren. “Anybody can have a great day and anybody can have a tough day. It’s what makes the game exciting, and it’s what makes this game extremely fickle and extremely frustrating.”
“Yeah, it’s fun when you’re sitting in a car coming back from a second playoff hole having won,” McDowell said. “I drove past Alex Noren in the car park and he’s dragging his flight bag to the locker room. And he’s not having fun.”
Donald, who birdied his last two holes Thursday to win his opening match, didn’t know what hit him.
Scott Piercy won the first three holes, and if that wasn’t enough, he hit a 4-iron into the cup for eagle on the fifth hole and was on his way to a 7-and-6 win, a margin known as a “dog license” in Britain. Back in the day, it used to cost 7 schillings and six pence.
Donald felt like a wounded pup.
“Losing (stinks) and it’s very disappointing,” Donald said. “But I would have liked to have given him a bit better of a match.”
Piercy is having a blast in his first match play since he won $2 million in Las Vegas for something called “The Ultimate Challenge,” which was two days of match play and two days of stroke play.
All he can get from this event is $1.5 million, and he still has to win four more times, starting with Steve Stricker on Saturday.
“I looked at all the guys in my bracket and I was like, ‘I can beat him. I can beat him. And I can beat him.’ If I’m playing well and putting well, I’m going to be hard to beat. And a lot of guys will tell you that, too, because I hit the ball in the fairway. Because these fairways are huge, and if I can keep it out of the bushes, I’ll be all right out here.”
He’ll find out Saturday morning against Jason Day, who overcame a clutch putt on the 18th hole to beat PGA Tour rookie Russell Henley on the 19th.
Shane Lowry earned a footnote in history at this 15-year-old tournament. After knocking out McIlroy on the 18th hole of the first round, the burly Irishman became the first No. 64 seed to advance to the third round. This wasn’t that difficult, as he seized control early and beat Carl Pettersson, 6 and 5.
“I would have been all right to beat Rory, but to lose in the second round is not what I want coming here this week,” Lowry said. “I wanted to go on. I feel like I could potentially do very well in this tournament.”
Two more wins on Saturday and Lowry will qualify for the next WGC event at Doral in two weeks. But there will be only one Irishman left standing on Saturday. Next up for Lowry is McDowell, who plans on having dinner Friday night.
“I always think that Shane has got three or four of the qualities that are required to be a great player,” McDowell said. “He drives the ball well, he’s got a phenomenal short game, and he’s got guts. I really feel like he’s got those three qualities and he always has had them. It never surprises me when he does things like this on the biggest stage. I think he’s a very quality player and he’s certainly one to look out for in the future. I just hope he doesn’t go crazy on me in the morning.”
The other giant killer, Charles Howell III, wasn’t so fortunate. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who had to finish his 1-up win over Francesco Molinari in the morning, never lost a hole in a 6-and-5 win. Howell, one day after beating Woods, didn’t make a single birdie.
In other matches:
— Defending champion Hunter Mahan had an easy time with Richard Sterne to win his eighth straight match, and next faces the last player to beat him in this event — Martin Kaymer, who defeated Rafael Cabrera Bello of Spain.
— U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to beat Peter Hanson.
— Steve Stricker came out of retirement and knocked out Nick Watney on the 21st hole. It was the first time Watney has failed to reach the third round in this tournament, though it wasn’t from a lack of effort. He birdied four of the last six holes to force overtime, scrambled for par from a desert bush on the second extra hole and ended his long day with a bogey to lose. Stricker next playsPiercy, and the ease with which Piercy won caught his attention.
“I played the type of golf that’s going to be tough to beat,” said Poulter, the 2010 winner of the Match Play. “I had seven birdies, no bogeys, and when you play like that, then obviously it’s going to be a tough day for him.”
The tough part for Van Pelt was leaving. He later tweeted that he had to remove golf tees from his bag to meet the 50-pound weight limit for luggage on the flight home.
Under beautiful sunshine and mild temperatures, the snow-delayed tournament is almost back on schedule. The third round will start Saturday morning, followed by the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon. Of the 16 players remaining, Europe and the United States each have seven players. Four matches Saturday morning will be U.S. against Europe.
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