Scheffler, McIlroy at their best to reach Match Play semis; Canada’s Hughes edged by Burns
The golf was as good as it gets. Rory McIlroy made 17 birdies in the 36 holes he played on Saturday. Defending champion Scottie Scheffler rallied with six birdies on his last nine holes to reach the semifinals for the third straight year.
A little luck never hurts in WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. And as great as McIlroy was playing, he needed some of that too.
McIlroy never led in his quarterfinal match against Xander Schauffele. They hit the 18th square square and McIlroy sagged slightly as he saw his drive head left into the trees. Schauffele hit his shot and quickly picked up his tee shot.
Imagine their surprise. McIlroy struck a golf ball behind a tree and thought it was his. Schauffele walked behind him and was stunned when McIlroy walked on.
“He had a worse drive than me and he was fine,” said Schauffele.
He got no argument from McIlroy.
“I expected my ball to be Xander’s ball on 18 behind that tree and I was lucky mine rolled down the hill and obviously made the chipshot a lot easier,” McIlroy said. “Look, these things take a bit of luck, and that was a bit of luck for me today.”
McIlroy won with a 12-foot birdie putt, the right ending to a match both said was a testament to the quality of golf required. Schauffele applauded every crucial putt McIlroy made to stay in the fight.
It was like that all over the Austin Country Club. The final version of Match Play lived up to its reputation as the front runner, with wild twists and turns until there were only four players left.
Sam Burns advanced by beating Patrick Cantlay in 17 holes and then came from an early deficit to beat Hamilton, Ontario’s Mackenzie Hughes 3 and 2 to advance to the semifinals.
Burns advances to meet Scheffler, his best friend on tour, with whom he often shares a house when they are out. Their last encounter was at the Colonial last year when Burns made a 45-foot birdie putt to beat Scheffler in a playoff.
Cameron Young looked like he had it easy until he didn’t. He was 3rd on the turn, missed a chance for 4th on the 12th, and then had to play the 18th before he could finish off Bay Hill winner Kurt Kitayama.
Scheffler, who lost in the finals on his matchplay debut in 2021, has now won 10 straight games. He was 2 holes down against JT Poston in the morning and had five holes left when he birdied on the 17th to set the match straight and won the 18th by a par.
He was 3 down for seven holes in the quarterfinals against former matchplay champion Jason Day when he fought back, took his first lead with a birdie on the 13th and then pulled away. He wedged it to 2 inches on the 17th.
Scheffler said he and caddy Ted Scott chatted as Day birdie-birdie-eagled for the first nine to take third place. The Eagle came 5 feet on a 5-wood from 282 yards on the par-five sixth hole at the Austin Country Club.
“Just turn off the heating,” said Scheffler. “I had to be patient.”
Day began struggling with allergies on the eighth hole, and then Scheffler had a heater of his own by making six birdies over the last nine holes.
McIlroy advanced to the quarterfinals by making nine birdies against Lucas Herbert and it still wasn’t decided until the 18th hole.
“I was beaten by the best player in the world who would probably play the best golf that anyone in the world would play today,” Herbert said. “Pushed him to the end. I just didn’t feel like there was much more I could have done.”
Schauffele made seven birdies against McIlroy and it wasn’t enough.
“I had to dig deep,” McIlroy said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. I knew I had to produce something similar to this morning’s. I was 16-under for two rounds of golf. That shows the caliber you need to play out there.”
Next is McIlroy Young, who finished ahead of him with a 31 in the back nine at St Andrews last year. Young has 31 birdies and two eagles in his five matches this week. He won his group on Friday with a 5-and-3 win. He made it through Saturday morning with a 5-and-4 win over Billy Horschel. He was on course for another romp against Kitayama.
But he missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 12th that would have put him on a 4. Kitayama won the next two holes with birdies. Young missed the next three from 10 feet for birdie, 15 feet for eagle and 10 feet for birdie, all three putts burning on the edge.
Ultimately, on the 18th, he needed just two putts from 15 feet to win. That was about the only easy part of his back nine.
“I don’t think I bogeyed today and I bit my nails to win my match,” Young said. “I think it just goes to show you the quality of golf that is played here and how hard it is to even get through on a day like today, not to mention that today was our fifth game.”
A day earlier on Saturday, Matt defeated Kuchar to leave the 44-year-old American a match short of the tournament record. Kuchar breaks 36-win mark with Tiger Woods.
Now it’s Scheffler’s turn. Woods is the only player to win back-to-back matchplay. One day remains and it feels like a long way.