In his new hometown, Sergio Garcia has made himself right at home at Austin Country Club, winning all three of his matches in the group stage of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Friday’s 3&1 victory over Xander Schauffele advanced Garcia to the knockout round for the first time in his fourth try in the event’s format.
For the second day in a row, it took a mini-comeback from the Masters winner, overcoming a 2-down deficit through 11 after Schauffele made four birdies on the front nine. But the Spaniard made five birdies on his last six holes to set up a match on Saturday in the round of 16 with Kyle Stanley, who won his group with a record of 2-1.
“Xander played unbelievable on the front nine, tricky conditions, and he kept making good putt after good putt on me,” Garcia said. “So I was just hoping to stay in it and give myself some chances as soon as he gave me a little opening on 12. And then I was able to make a great birdie on 13 and 15 and 16. And that kind of closed the match a little bit for me.”
Cameron Smith is the lone Australian to make it through to the final 16. The unbeaten Queenslander birdied his final hole to halve his match with Japan’s Yusaku Miyazato. He topped the group and eliminated Patrick Cantlay and Hideki Matsuyama. Smith now faces Englishman Tyrrell Hatton in the knockout phase.
After being 2-down at the turn, Smith said: “That’s pretty big not having to do a playoff to get into the weekend. That was kind of on my mind the last four or five holes there. To bring one back on the last hole was pretty special.
“I feel as though I’ve had three really tough matches. All three days I’ve played really well. The putter got a little bit cold there towards the end, kept hitting lips, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a bit of practice.”
Also finishing the group stage 3-0 was Justin Thomas, who disposed of Francesco Molinari, beating him 7&5 to advance. Thomas, who came into the week fresh off wisdom teeth surgery, will face off with reigning Players Champion Si Woo Kim (2-0-1) on Saturday.
“I definitely feel better. I feel great. My game is feeling better each day. I’m playing better each day. I hope I can continue to get better,” Thomas said. “That would bode well for my performance for the tournament. But that’s the thing about golf in general, let alone match play, is you don’t know what you are going to get. You don’t know what your opponent is going to do. All I can do is go out and play my game and if it’s good enough to win holes and matches, then great.”
As for 2015 WGC-Match Play winner Rory McIlroy, he won’t be playing in the knockout round for the second straight year after losing 5&3 to Brian Harman (2-0-1), who will take on fellow southpaw Bubba Watson (2-0-1) on Saturday. With the Masters in his sights, the Northern Irishman isn’t losing too much sleep over his 1-2 record this week.
“Especially after what happened last week, that takes it out of you being in contention, and all that mental energy. So, I wish I was hanging around for the weekend. But I’ll rest up and get a little bit of work in before going to Augusta,” he said.
The epic match between Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth wasn’t as epic as everyone imagined, but that’s fine with Reed, who heads to the knockout stage after taking down his Ryder Cup partner 2&1. It will be Reed’s second appearance in the knockout stage, the first coming in 2016 when he lost in the first round to Dustin Johnson. He’ll play Sweden’s Alex Noren, who finished 3-0 defeating Tony Finau 1 up.
Australia’s Jason Day (1-2) and Marc Leishman (0-2-1) were two of the big-name casualties, which also included Johnson (0-3), Phil Mickelson (2-1), Jon Rahm (0-2-1), Tommy Fleetwood (2-1) and Paul Casey (2-1).