WGC-Accenture Match Play: Breaking Down the Quarterfinal Matches
The week kicked off with a major snow fall in a desert, and the top seeds dropped like flies in the days to follow.
Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, the top two overall seeds, lost in round one. Only two clutch putts on 17 and 18 saved Luke Donald from that same result, yet he was thrashed 7&6 in the very next round. Louis Oosthuzien, the final No. 1 seed, also fell in round two. And by the time round three rolled around, there was only one player among the top 10 in the world left in the tournament (Bubba Watson).
Sticking to the underdog-be-victorious script, Watson was handled easily by the fast-charging Aussie Jason Day Saturday morning.
The last three-and-a-half days in Arizona certainly have been crazy and many a great player has fallen, but there are plenty of top-notch golfers left to watch for.
The PGA Tour is a deep circuit with a host of talent spread throughout its membership. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are the creme of the crop, but No. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and even up to double digit seeds are players who have some serious game.
These players will be on serious display this afternoon, as we break down all of the quarterfinal matches.
Bobby Jones Bracket: Graeme McDowell vs. Jason Day
Do not sleep on this match. It could be the best one of the afternoon.
McDowell's name is of course very well-known. He is a major championship winner and a man who has gained a reputation as a maven in handling pressure situations. The Northern Irishman closed out a European Ryder Cup victory three years ago and out-clutched Tiger Woods (yes, the actual Tiger Woods, not somebody else with the same name) three months later to win a late-season exhibition tournament.
Jason Day has flown a little more under the radar, but he is every bit as gutsy. If you want proof, look back at the tape of the 2011 Masters. Day, needing birdies on the last two holes to have any chance at victory, secured them in spectacular fashion. Only a late surge by Charl Schwartzel prevented Day from parlaying his courageous finish into a playoff.
Both players have struggled in recent years. McDowell reacted poorly to the attention he got as a major champion and his game suffered accordingly. After his breakout 2011 season, Day fell off the map a bit, gathering just four top-10s on the tour the next season, as he fought a series of unfortunate injuries and had to take time off to deal with the birth of his first son (not that it was a distraction he didn't want).
Since then though, both players have gained some of their form back. McDowell was in the thick of contention in both the U.S. and British Opens last year and is back to being a world-class player. Day has already secured his third top-10 finish of the 2013 season less than two months in and looks prepared to make a run.
McDowell and Day have already received some scares this week, but they can only serve to strengthen their resolve. These are two players whose steely attitudes are made for match play.
McDowell has the better swing and Day is the scrambling extraordinaire (watch his third shot at the 17th during round two for proof).
Which will win out? The victor of this match could easily win the whole tournament and put his name back near the top of the golfing pecking order. Day is going to be a star very, very soon, but McDowell will come through in a tight battle.
McDowell wins 1-Up
Ben Hogan Bracket: Robert Garrigus vs. Matt Kuchar
There will be an interesting contrast of styles and attitudes in this quarterfinal match.
On one side, you have the calm, collected Matt Kuchar who methodically picks apart golf courses and only reveals his emotions when he let's his classic wry smile peak out.
On the other, you have the explosive Robert Garrigus. The 35-year-old can bomb the big dog out there with the best of them and will wear his emotion on his sleeves. Garrigus is prone to the big blow up but that is somewhat mitigated in a match-play format where you can lose only one spot per hole.
Kuchar has been somewhat quiet since his breakthrough Players Championship victory last May, but he appears back in great form. Every part of his game is clicking, and he has yet to see the 18th hole this week.
He may not have an easy time in the quarterfinals though. Garrigus has blitzed the Dove Mountain course this week at times, producing 19 birdies and an eagle in 48 holes. Hidden behind those gaudy red numbers, though, is the great deal of mistakes Garrigus makes as well.
If the birdies are coming, Garrigus is a tough out, but if he makes a couple early bogeys, he could really be treading water early in this match. Let's also not forget that his clutch gene hasn't surfaced yet, after all he did botch a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole in Memphis in 2010.
Overall, Garrigus has been hot and believes he can win, but Kuchar's steadiness is going to outlast here.
Kuchar wins 4&3
Gary Player Bracket: Hunter Mahan vs. Webb Simpson
Two of the young, brightest American stars meet in the quarterfinals of the Gary Player bracket.
Mahan, the defending champion, looks like he is quickly becoming a stalwart in this format. He won the event last year and has beaten down his opponents in each of his first three matches this time around (he has only played 43 holes).
Normally, a superior ball-strker isn't incredible in this format, but Mahan has been bucking the trend with his play in these last two WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships.
Simpson is more in the mold of the more-apt scrambling match play champion. He's not a shabby iron player but he definitely makes more of his living with his ability to chip and putt. The young American has dealt with much greater tests thus far than his opponent Mahan, reaching the 18th hole in each of his last two matches.
With less experience of success in this tournament and more fatigue from his earlier matches, Simpson is going to need everything that he can muster in his arsenal to take down this growing match play monster.
As fiery as Simpson is though, it likely will not be enough. He'll put up a fight, but Mahan will cruise to the semifinals.
Mahan wins 3&2
Sam Snead Bracket: Steve Stricker vs. Ian Poulter
This man is the player who is by far the greatest fit for this match play format. He seems to elevate his game when the emotion of a one-on-one battle comes to the forefront. He has already won this tournament once before, as well as the Volvo World Match Play Championship in 2011. Not to mention his 4-0 singles record in the Ryder Cup.
Nothing has changed this week thus far, as he's predictably dispatched his first three opponents this week.
The fourth will be Steve Stricker, who was one of the main scapegoats of the Americans' Sunday collapse at the Ryder Cup. Stricker seems to have gotten over it pretty quickly though and is fighting hard in the desert.
In round three, Stricker staved off the super-hot Scott Piercy by producing 8 birdies in 18 holes, including a winding 30-footer to close out the match. So do not think for a second that Stricker still can't get his putter to work in match play when he needs it.
That being said, Stricker is going to be pretty tired from that see-saw battle and just doesn't match up to Poulter in this format.
I still think Poulter gets burned in the semis or the finals, but he bashes Stricker in this quarterfinal match.
Ian Poulter wins 5&4