Austin, Texas: Golf as good as it ever was. Rory McIlroy carded 17 birdies in 36 holes played on Saturday. Defending champion Scotty Scheffler carded six birdies in his last nine holes to reach the semifinals for the third year in a row.
A little luck never hurt in WGC-Dell Technologies match play. And as great as McIlroy played, he needed some of that too.
In his quarterfinal match against Xander Schauffele, McIlroy never led. He came across square on the 18th hole, and dropped a bit when he saw his drive veered left into the trees. Schoeffel hit his shot and quickly raised his tee.
Imagine their surprise. McIlroy came upon a golf ball behind a tree and thought it was his. Schoeffel was following him and was stunned when McIlroy left.
Sheffel said, “He hit a worse drive than I did and he recovered.”
He didn’t get an argument from McIlroy.
“I expected my ball to zander behind that tree on 18, and I got lucky that my lay down hill obviously made the chip shot a lot easier,” McIlroy said. “Look, you need a little bit of luck in these things, and that was a bit of luck for me today.”
McIlroy won with a 12-foot birdie putt, a fitting end to a match that both said was necessary and a testament to the quality of golf. Schauffele lauded all the decisive putts McIlroy made to stay in the fight.
This was the case throughout Austin Country Club. The final version of match play lived up to its edge-of-the-seat reputation, with wild turns of pace until four players remained.
Sam Burns progressed by defeating Patrick Cantlay in the 17th hole and then overcame an early deficit to beat Mackenzie Hughes of Canada 3 and 2 to reach the semi-finals.
Burns goes on tour to visit his best friend, Scheffler, with whom he often shares a home when he is on the road. Their last encounter came last year at Colonial, when Burns made a 45-foot birdie putt to defeat Scheffler in a playoff.
Cameron Young looked like he had an easy time, until it wasn’t. He was 3 up at the turn, missed a chance to go 4 up on the 12th and then birdied the 18th before dispatching Bay Hill winner Kurt Kitayama.
Scheffler, who lost the final in his match play debut in 2021, has now won 10 straight matches. He was 2 down with five holes in the morning against JT Poston when he birdied the 17th to level the match and won the 18th with a par.
He was 3 down through seven holes in the quarterfinals against former match play champion Jason Day when he made a comeback, taking his first lead with a birdie on the 13th and then pulling away. He nailed it shut on the 17th with a 2-inch nail.
Scheffler said he and caddy Ted Scott had a conversation after Day birdie-birdie-eagle on the front nine to go 3 up. Eagle came in on a 5-wood from 282 yards to 5 feet on the par-5 sixth hole at Austin Country Club.
“Just ride the heater,” said Scheffler. “I had to be patient.”
Day began battling allergies on the eighth hole, and then Scheffler had a heater of his own, making six birdies on his final nine holes.
McIlroy made nine birdies to reach the quarterfinals against Lucas Herbert, and it was still not decided until the 18th hole.
Herbert said, “I lost to the best player in the world, probably the best golfer in the world today.” “Pushed him all the way to the end. I didn’t feel like I could have done much more.”
Schaffel carded seven birdies against McIlroy and it wasn’t enough.
“I needed to dig deep,” McElroy said. “He’s one of the best players in the world. I knew I needed to create something like this morning. I was 16-under for two rounds of golf. It shows the caliber you need to play there. Is.”
Next up for McIlroy is young, having surpassed him with 31 on the back nine at St Andrews last year. Young has made 31 birdies and two eagles in his five games this week. He won his group 5 and 3 on Friday. He overcame this on Saturday morning by trounching Billy Horschel 5 and 4. He was going to have another romance against Kitayama.
But he missed a 5-foot birdie at the 12th that would have put him 4 up. Kitayama carded birdies to win the next two holes. Young missed 10 feet for birdie, 15 feet for eagle and 10 feet for birdie on the next three, all three putts to take the lead.
Ultimately, he needed only two putts from 15 feet on the 18th to win. It was the only easy part of his back nine.
“I don’t think I made a bogey today and I was biting my nails trying to win the match,” Young said. “I think it shows you the quality of golf played here and how hard it is to get by on just one day like today, never mind that today was our fifth match.”
The 44-year-old American remained one match short of the tournament record after defeating Matt Kuchar a day earlier on Saturday. Kutcher shares the record of 36 wins with Tiger Woods.
Now it’s Scheffler’s turn. Woods is the only player to win back to back match plays. One day left, and it looks like there’s a long way to go.