MARANA, Ariz. (AP) - The weekend arrives at the Match Play Championship along with the usual assortment of surprises.
Only this year, the surprise is not who.
Graeme McDowell has defied all logic at a fickle tournament that never had much of it in the first place. How else to explain how a player can go 58 holes without once having the lead while any of his rounds were in progress and yet still win all three matches?
“You might win one of those three matches,” McDowell said. “You don’t win all three of them. It just doesn’t happen.”
But it did.
He was 3 down with three holes to play against Gary Woodland in the opening round and won the next four holes. He was 2 down with four holes to play against Hideki Matsuyama and won on the 18th hole. And on Friday, he was 2 down to Hunter Mahan and still managed to win. McDowell made a 10-foot slider for par on the 17th (Mahan missed from 8 feet on the same line), he birdied the 18th from 6 feet, made a 20-foot par putt on the 20th hole to extend the match and won in 21 holes with a birdie.
“Nine lives have been used up - and then some,” McDowell said.
And then there’s Ernie Els, the Big Easy who has had the toughest time at the Golf Club of Dove Mountain. Els has made nine birdies all week, which is one fewer than Jordan Spieth had in one round. Els is 5-over par for the week. Factoring the conceded putts, he has rounds of 75-73-73.
He’s still playing, facing Spieth on Saturday.
“Every match has been like that, you know?” Els said after a 1-up win over PGA champion Jason Dufner. “I’ve been playing a little ‘C’ golf and hanging in there. At the end, I’m hitting good shots when it counts.”
And ultimately, winning is all that counts.
Jason Day at No. 8 is the top seed remaining. Rickie Fowler at No. 53 is on the other end of the spectrum. The good news for Fowler is that winning three matches - after coming into this event having missed the last three cuts - assured he will move into the top 50 in the world and play the next World Golf Championship in two weeks at Doral. That one is stroke play, with a little more sanity.
Here is how the quarterfinals shape up for Saturday.
Day needed 40 holes to win his opening two matches. He had far less trouble against George Coetzee of South Africa, winning on the 17th hole. Next up for Day is Louis Oosthuizen, the South African with the dream swing. Oosthuizen is among the best in the world when he’s healthy and on his game, and he was both of those on Friday in a 5-and-4 win over Webb Simpson. It was the shortest match of the day.