AUSTIN, Texas – The format is fickle enough even before that notorious Texas wind arrived. Kevin Kisner, Mackenzie Hughes and even Sergio Garcia showed how quickly fortunes can change Thursday in the Dell Technologies Match Play.
Kisner added to his record of most matches won since the move to Austin Country Club in 2016 when he poured in three birdies over the last four holes and rallied from 2 down on the back nine to beat Luke List on the final hole.
“Yesterday was a lot more fun on the head,” Kisner said of his 4-and-3 win in the opening session. “But today, I love that grind. I love being in that moment. I love having the ball in my hand trying to grind it out, and I feel like I have an advantage when it’s going that way.”
Hughes was in a similar predicament against Max Homa, until he won four straight holes along the back — twice helped by Homa mistakes — and held on for a 2-up win to keep his hopes alive of advancing to the weekend.
“There are gusts that blow 25 and then it could lay down and blow 10. But if you’re over the ball thinking it’s going to be 10 and then it’s 25, it creates indecision,” Hughes said. “I kind of got in my head earlier in that back nine a lot of pars and the occasional birdie were going to be good enough.”
They were among five players who trailed by at least 2 holes on the back nine and rallied to win, joining Lucas Herbert over Xander Schauffele, Takumi Kanaya over Tony Finau and Min Woo Lee over Thomas Pieters. Bubba Watson was 1 down with two holes to play when he made a 35-foot birdie on the par-3 17th and won the 18th with a par to beat Webb Simpson.
Not to be overlooked were Garcia and Kevin Na.
Garcia, the Spaniard who now resides in Austin, was 3 down against British Open champion Collin Morikawa with five holes left. He won the next three holes with birdies and matched pars with Morikawa to earn a halve.
“I you would offer me a tie on the 14th tee I would have definitely taken it and walk — run — to the clubhouse,” Garcia said.
It was all part of a dynamic afternoon in round-robin play, with 15 of the 32 matches going the distance.
That included Lee Westwood, the 48-year-old from England, losing a 2-hole lead to Bryson DeChambeau and clawing back with a 7-iron to 8 feet for eagle on the par-5 16th to square he match, halving the 17th with birdies and winning the 18th when DeChambeau sent a wedge over the green and made bogey to lose the match.
Next up for Westwood is 49-year-old Richard Bland of England, whom he has known for 30 years dating to their time on the junior circuit in blighty. Both have a chance to win the group, while DeChambeau has been eliminated from advancing.
Westwood is the only player in the 64-man field who played in the first edition of this World Golf Championship in 1999 when it was at La Costa. Such experience has only taught him to lower whatever expectations he has in his game.
“There's lots of strange things happen this week, and I think that’s what makes it fun,” he said.
Westwood reached the semifinals in 2012 in Arizona. Since the format moved from knockout to 16 four-man groups of round-robin play, he has never advanced to the weekend.
With one more day remaining, clarity was provided to 19 players, and it wasn't good news. They already have been mathematically eliminated from winning the group and reaching the knockout stage.
DeChambeau, who was playing for the first time since Feb. 3 in Saudi Arabia because of injuries to his left hand and hip, was wild off the tee and it cost him. Also eliminated was Patrick Cantlay, the No. 4 player in the world. He halved his first match against Keith Mitchell, and then was steamrolled Thursday by Seamus Power of Ireland, who beat him in 14 holes.
Patrick Reed battled back to halve his match against Sebastian Munoz, but it was all for naught. Reed also was eliminated.
Paul Casey wound up playing two holes Wednesday and no more. He had back spasms on the opening day and conceded his match to Corey Conners. He tried to warm up for Thursday's match and it wasn't getting any better, so he forfeited to Alex Noren. Casey withdrew from the tournament, which was just as well. He would have faced Louis Oosthuizen, already with two losses and eliminated. Neither will play, and Oothuizen will get his first win of the week.
Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka were among 12 players yet to lose a match, which means next to nothing. None is assured of advancing. All have to treat Friday as it's starting over.
The group includes Tyrrell Hatton, who might have been speaking for the entire field when he said, “It's definitely more stressful for me.”
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