Big stars advance, Tiger’s record tied and everything to know from Friday at WGC-Dell Match Play
9 Min Read
Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic
A quick look at the big stories from Friday’s third round of pool play at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. The field has now been pared from 64 men to 16 heading into the weekend’s knockout rounds. Two rounds apiece of single-elimination match play will be played Saturday and Sunday to crown a champion.
MATCH OF THE DAY
Fridays at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play haven’t been kind to Patrick Cantlay in recent years.
Twice in Cantlay’s first four appearances at the event he finished group play 2-1 but failed to advance to the Round of 16. In 2021, Cantlay lost to Brian Harman in a playoff despite beating the lefty earlier in the day during group play.
So Cantlay’s 2-and-1 win Friday was cathartic on multiple levels. Not only did it give him a perfect 3-0 record and ensure he’ll play the weekend in this event for the first time, but it came against the same player, Harman, who knocked him out last time he had a chance.
Patrick Cantlay drives par-4 to set up birdie at WGC-Dell Match Play
“I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Cantlay said shortly after he birdied the par-3 17th to win the match. “We've played obviously in this tournament before, so we've traded blows back and forth. It was a tight match all day.”
Harman took the lead first with a par on the third as Cantlay failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker. Cantlay immediately answered with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 to flip the lead in his favor.
Cantlay’s lead ping-ponged between 1-up and 2-up through the rest of the match. Harman had his best chance to draw even on the 16th hole, hitting his second shot on the par-5 to 7 feet for an eagle chance. He couldn’t convert, though, and Cantlay matched with a birdie to tie the hole. Then on the par-3 17th, Cantlay stuck his tee shot to within 7 feet and made the putt to close it out.
“I've been playing really well for the last month or so,” Cantlay said. “I'm excited about all the big tournament golf we have coming up. I've never made it to the weekend in this event before, so I'm excited to get into that match tomorrow against Sam (Burns).”
By seeding this was an upset. Based on how Jason Day has played this season – and historically at this event – it was hardly a surprise.
Day (32) finished group play undefeated, capping it with a 4-and-3 victory Friday over Collin Morikawa (9), the only other man that could’ve advanced from Group 9.
Perhaps Day’s dominant start to the tournament should’ve been expected. He won this event in 2014 and again in 2016, the first time it was held at Austin Country Club. Since 2009, he’s gained more FedExCup points at this event than any other outside of the Farmers Insurance Open, which he’s also won twice.
Then consider the resurgent season that’s firmly underway. Day has compiled five top-10 finishes, ranks inside the top-25 of the FedExCup and entered the week sixth in Strokes Gained: Total.
“It's been really pleasing to see that the game is showing all the good signs,” Day said. “I know I can't get ahead of myself too much because every day is different, especially at a match-play event.”
He can’t get ahead of himself but he’s also shown he can no longer be considered an underdog.
Mackenzie Hughes (50) and Kirk Kitayama (19) lost their opening round matches Wednesday. Hughes fell 4-and-3 to Jordan Spieth (12), while Kitayama lost 2-and-1 to Adrian Meronk (45).
For most, that one loss on the first day is enough to signal a Round of 16 berth is out of grasp. Since 2015, 79.5% of players who have advanced from group play won their opening match. It’s often a pre-requisite for success. An early loss requires two wins over the next two days and, usually, a playoff win to clinch it.
That was again the case this year as both Hughes and Kitayama won their next two matches and secured their spot in the Round of 16 via sudden-death playoffs.
“Behind the 8-ball after Wednesday. At that point, all I can do is try to win a couple matches and see what happens,” Hughes said. “I played really nice golf the last two days to get it done. Yeah, I mean, it's a long way from where I was Wednesday afternoon.”
Hughes was the first to clinch his spot, waxing Taylor Montgomery 6-and-4 in group play and then besting the PGA TOUR rookie again in a playoff several hours later. Hughes hit his second shot in the playoff to 5 feet while Montgomery made a mess of the hole, failing to get on the green in four shots.
Kitayama, meanwhile, blitzed Tony Finau in group play, notching six birdies and no bogeys on the way to a 4-and-3 win. Then Kitayama beat Finau and Adrian Meronk, all of whom finished 2-1, in a playoff to advance. Kitayama sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the second hole to clinch the group win over Meronk. Finau was eliminated on the first playoff hole.
“I hit a ton of great shots, and I think what helped in that playoff was I was putting it really well,” Kitayama said.
Something just seems to click for Matt Kuchar (59) at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
His 7-and-6 victory over Si Woo Kim (34) to advance to the Round of 16 is evidence enough. Then add the historical context. The win is Kuchar’s 36th at event. That ties Tiger Woods for the most in tournament history.
Matt Kuchar converts tee shot to 7-feet at WGC-Dell Match Play
“That's something I still find it hard to comprehend that I'm saying that, that I tied one of (Woods’) records,” Kuchar said. “So I'm hugely proud, pleased. There's 300 more records, I'm sure, to go, but it's a fun one to be able to say you've kind of got something you tied Tiger with.”
Kuchar has now advanced out of group play in nine of his 12 appearances at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. One of his nine PGA TOUR wins came at this tournament in 2013. Since the event moved to Austin Country Club, Kuchar finished second in 2019 and third in 2021.
While the final margin over Kim looks remarkable, it wasn’t much of a departure from the golf Kuchar normally plays. Strong and steady. Kuchar won two holes with birdie, four with par and one concession after Kim dunked one in the water on the par-3 11th. Without a bogey on his card Kuchar was in prime position to take advantage of Kim bogeys, which came in bunches during the middle of the round (four in a row on No.’s 5-8).
“It takes skill to win matches, and it also takes luck, and I've been a part of both of those,” Kuchar said.
Scheffler’s run at a repeat: Stroke play, match play, it doesn’t matter. Scheffler continues to flex his dominance in any format put in front of him. The latest feat he’s on the brink of achieving? Back-to-back titles at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. It’s been done only once before, by Tiger Woods in ’03 and ’04.
Pretty fitting considering Scheffler’s recent stretch of golf is reminiscent of the dominance Woods so often displayed.
“I feel like if I'm playing my best, then I should win the match,” said Scheffler, who is now 13-2-2 in his career at this event.
Scheffler didn’t always show his best stuff in his 3-and-2 win over Tom Kim (17), but the victory was emblematic of Scheffler’s mettle. Kim won the first two holes with birdies, but Scheffler answered back win a birdie to win the third hole and stuffed it close on the par-4 fifth that led to a Kim concession. Scheffler won the sixth hole with a par to take a lead that he never gave up. The two times that Scheffler did make bogey coming into the clubhouse, he followed it with birdies both times.
Horschel sends Rahm, Fowler home: Billy Horschel (22) played spoiler to a few storylines in his group. Jon Rahm (2) advancing would’ve meant all the top six seeds advanced to the Round of 16, with a potential Rahm-Scheffler final looming. Rickie Fowler (49) advancing would’ve brought the lovable veteran one step closer to a Masters invite (he needed at least a top-8 finish to qualify).
Instead, it was Horschel, the only player who has yet to trail in a match this week, who beat Rahm 5-and-4 and took down Fowler yesterday to eliminate either possibility and claim Group 2 for himself.
Horschel (2-0-1) finished half a point ahead of Fowler (2-1-0). Rahm finished 1-2-0.
Fowler was one of several players that could’ve played his way into the Masters with a deep run this weekend. His last chance to qualify is to win the Valero Texas Open next week.
Playing for the Masters: Fowler will need to wait another week, but several players still have the chance to gain a Masters invite off of a strong finish this week. Kuchar, J.J. Spaun (61), Lucas Herbert (46), and Andrew Putnam (56) all advanced to the Round of 16 and could qualify depending on their finish.
“That's certainly a big goal of mine,” said Kuchar, who will likely need to make it to the finals or win the consolation match to get inside the top 50 of the world rankings. Kuchar’s long Masters history started with his low-amateur finish in 1998 (T21) and includes four top-10 finishes.
For others, the road isn’t as tough. Herbert, currently No. 56 in the world, would likely lock up a spot with a win over Rory McIlroy on Saturday.
Perfect: Twelve golfers finished group play 3-0. Scottie Scheffler (Group 1), Rory McIlroy (Group 3), Patrick Cantlay (Group 4), Max Homa (Group 5), Xander Schauffele (Group 6), Andrew Putnam (Group 7), Jason Day (Group 9), J.J. Spaun (Group 11), Sam Burns (Group 13), Lucas Herbert (Group 14), Cameron Young (Group 15) and J.T. Poston (Group 16)
Max Homa (5) vs. Mackenzie Hughes (50), 8:35 ET: Homa got the day off Friday after Hideki Matsuyama withdrew. Can he take advantage of the rest?
Patrick Cantlay (4) vs. Sam Burns (13), 8:46 ET: Presidents Cup teammates turned Round of 16 foes. Both went undefeated in pool play.
Jason Day (32) vs. Matt Kuchar (59), 8:57 ET: A couple of past champions back in the knockout stage. Can either make another run at the title?
Scottie Scheffler (1) vs. J.T. Poston (43), 9:08 ET: Scheffler’s the heavy favorite, but Poston has yet to lose.
Xander Schauffele (6) vs. J.J. Spaun (61), 9:19 ET: A couple of San Diego State alums can celebrate or commiserate together depending how their Aztecs do in the NCAA Tournament Friday night.
Rory McIlroy (3) vs. Lucas Herbert (46), 9:30 ET: Another undefeated pairing with a clear favorite, but doubt Herbert at your peril. A pair of Irish Open champions by way of Northern Ireland and Australia, respectively.
Kurt Kitayama (19) vs. Andrew Putnam (56), 9:41 ET: Neither were the favorite to come out of their group. Who can continue their unexpected run?
Cameron Young (15) vs. Billy Horschel (22), 9:52 ET: Both have made birdies in bunches. This match could be fiery.