Jon Rahm lost his match and made it to the weekend anyway. Scottie Scheffler only needed 14 holes to win his match against Matt Fitzpatrick and then six more to beat him in the playoffs.
The third full day of endless action in the Dell Technologies Match Play finally came to an end on Friday when Collin Morikawa drove the green on a par 4, this one not as dramatic as his shot that won the PGA Championship but still effective in getting him through group play.
Sixteen players remain for the knockout phase which begins on Saturday morning, all knowing that three days of tense matches mean nothing for the rest.
“Now it’s real,” Abraham Ancer said after being pressed by Webb Simpson. “Now you definitely won’t advance if you don’t win.”
Rahm had that luxury by winning his first two matches. He was sloppy on the back nine losing to Patrick Reed, who played his best golf having already been knocked out. But the world No. 1 player avoided a playoff in his group when Cameron Young also lost.
Seamus Power also lost his match, but by then he was already guaranteed to win his group. The Irishman got another reward: by reaching the fourth round, Power is guaranteed to stay in the top 50 and access the Masters.
Four of the groups were decided in extra holes.
There is no tiebreaker and three players who won their match had to return to the first tee for sudden death against the player they had just beaten.
Scheffler had the toughest time. Takumi Kanaya felt the luckiest.
Scheffler had to beat Fitzpatrick to stand a chance, and that was the easy part of a 5 and 4 win. They had to wait over two hours for all games to trigger before their playoffs started. They matched birdies on the No. 1, pars on the next three holes and birdies on the fifth. Scheffler finally won at the par-5 sixth when he made a 6-foot putt after Fitzpatrick missed by about 15 feet.
“I knew the rules,” Scheffler said of the extra holes after beating Fitzpatrick in the match.
“I didn’t know we had to wait so long to get back to the playoffs. I was a little surprised by that. I would have loved to continue like I was playing in the beginning, and Matt did a really good job of regrouping, and he came out and played some really good golf in the playoffs.
His reward is a fourth-round match against Billy Horschel, who beat Scheffler in the championship game last year.
Rahm takes on Brooks Koepka, who narrowly avoided the playoffs. Koepka was tied with Shane Lowry on the 18th when he hit a 45-yard drive off the hard-packed dirt well left of the 18th green from 8 feet out and birdied the putt for a 1-up victory.
Kanaya was in the same situation as Scheffler. He had to beat Lucas Herbert from Australia, and he finished the match in 14 holes.
On the first playoff hole, Kanaya found a fairway bunker and was only able to advance about 90 yards from the hole – Herbert with a good drive was just outside with his second shot. Kanaya expertly used the slope for a 2-foot shot, and Herbert threw three putts 18 feet over the hole to lose the game.
Kanaya is No. 56, the lowest seed who still plays, but not much. And considering he’s leaving for the Masters in two weeks, that’s not the biggest surprise.
That would be England’s Richard Bland, at 49, the oldest player on the pitch and the No. 54 seed this week. Bland began his Match Play debut by halving his match with Bryson DeChambeau. On Friday, he beat Lee Westwood to win the group.
Last year, Bland became the oldest first-time winner in European tour history. With one more match win, he could be heading to his first Masters.
“It’s just my time. That’s all I can say,” Bland said. “But I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.”
Will Zalatoris, known for his iron game, knocked out Viktor Hovland with his putter. Zalatoris made 12-foot putts on the 16th and 18th holes, the latter giving him a 1-up win to level the Norwegian in group play.
In the playoffs, Zalatoris birdied 10ft on No. 1 – Hovland made his own from 6ft – and another 10ft on No. 2 to advance.
Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner and Tyrrell Hatton were among the five players who won all of their games. Kisner, who won and was a Match Play runner-up, looked tougher than ever in knocking out Justin Thomas. Kisner had 6 shots under six holes and shot 28 on the front nine to create a 5 lead. He closed it on the 15th hole.
“It had to be a 10,” Kisner said when asked to rate his performance.
He then faced Adam Scott, who had no trouble beating Jordan Spieth to qualify for the weekend for the first time since 2005. His record isn’t as bad as it suggests.
“It’s hard to get there when I’m not at the event,” Scott said with a smile. He hasn’t featured in Match Play since 2016. He liked it better at La Costa, especially in 2003 when he went 19 holes before losing to Tiger Woods.
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