Jason Day

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

A stacked field of 64 players has dwindled down to four at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Most of the top players in the world were ousted early on, but one particular semifinal match presents plenty of intrigue: Justin Thomas vs. Bubba Watson.

Both Thomas and Watson cruised their way into the final four. Each player was pushed to play the 18th hole at Austin Country Club just once. Thomas won his Round of 16 match over Si Woo Kim, 6 & 5. Watson dismantled Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 & 3, in the quarterfinals. Each golfer’s game has been well-rounded this week, setting up for an electric semifinal match Sunday morning.

It’s no secret what both Thomas and Watson do best: drive the ball. Both players are nestled inside the top 10 in driving distance this season. Watson is fourth at 316.2 yards per drive, and Thomas is third at 312.5 yards per tee shot. The gallery at ACC might stop to wonder if they’re watching a match play event or a long-drive competition.

Jason Day, who’s 11th in driving distance at 312 yards per blast, and Dustin Johnson, who’s widely considered as one of the best drivers on TOUR, are the past two champions of this event. Going deep yields a distinct edge at ACC, and it’s a big reason why Thomas and Watson haven’t lost any matches this week.

“(Day and Johnson) are known for hitting the driver well, just like Thomas is doing right now — he’s been hammering it,” Watson said. “Anytime you’re hitting the driver somewhat straight, it’s an advantage.”

Watson compared being able to outdrive his opponents to NBA superstar LeBron James being able to jump higher than his adversaries. Watson’s edge won’t be as evident Sunday with Thomas vying to outdo him every time the two take their headcovers off.

Whoever lights it up and bombs enough fairways to advance will take on either Kevin Kisner or Alex Noren. Neither player cracks the top 40 in driving distance, but both are as steady as they come.

Kisner advanced out of group play by coming out of world No. 1 Dustin Johnson’s group. He made eight birdies in 1-up victory over Matt Kuchar in the Round of 16 before easily destroying Ian Poulter — who is notoriously known for being stellar in match play — 8 & 6. Kisner won six holes on the front nine in that match.  

“It’s starting to click now,” Kisner said. “I started seeing some stuff on Tuesday. I played a practice round with Daniel Berger and started seeing stuff that I hadn’t seen in a few weeks. That was starting to build the confidence there. And throughout the week I’ve gained a lot more confidence.”

Noren, meanwhile, knocked out the long-hitting, pure ball-striking Tony Finau to make the Round of 16. Then he beat Patrick Reed, who was fresh off a victory of former Longhorn Jordan Spieth on Friday. Noren clearly and cleanly outplayed Australia’s Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals in a 4 & 2 victory.

Johnson beat Noren in the quarterfinals at this event last year. He said he’ll keep the experience he gained from that loss in mind when trying to advance to the final match time around.

“It obviously helps,” Noren said. “The more times you’re up here, the better.

“It’s going to be a great day. It’s a fun course to play, especially match play.”

WGC Accenture match play does not disappoint, bizarre and interesting throughout

A lot went on over the past two weeks in the world of golf, from snow in desert Arizona to many shocking upsets and it all happened during the same tournament, the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. This tournament is always a unique one because of its format, which is a 64-player tournament in the spirit of the famous NCAA March Madness tournament, which determines the champion of the Division I collegiate basketball world. The tournament is held every year at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Marana, Ariz. While there’s nothing strange or unique about a golf tournament in Arizona, but snow in the Southwest, that definitely makes things interesting.

Round 1 was postponed with many of the matches still in play because of the unusual precipitation. The continuation of Round 1 on Day 2 saw two huge upsets that resulted in first round exits from the world’s No. 1- and 2-ranked golfers in the world, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. Both No. 1 seeds in their respective brackets, the career multi-major winners fell at the hands of 16 seeds Shane Lowry and Charles Howell III who combine for a total of four professional wins and just two PGA tour wins, both belonging to Howell. The world’s No. 1 golfer fell to Lowry by just one hole, while Woods fell to Howell III by two. However, seeding upsets aren’t too uncommon in match play. In Round 1 alone 15 out of the 32 matches had the lower seed move on to the next round, including two No. 2 seeds in Lee Westwood and Adam Scott falling in their respective opening matches along with two No. 3 seeds and two No. 4 seeds falling to their opponents.

Round of 32 to Final Four

Most of the Cinderella stories struck the cliché midnight in round two as only one of each of the 15 and 16 seeds advanced to Round 3. No. 16 seed Shane Lowry and No. 15 seed Tim Clark took their second round matches before falling in the elite eight. Only two of the elite eight golfers were seeded below eight, No. 11 seed Jason Day and No. 9 seed Robert Garrigus. Garrigus fell Matt Kuchar by three holes with two remaining in the match, while Day prevailed edging out No. 5 seed Graeme McDowell by one hole. This gave us a final four consisting of (11) Jason Day going up against (6) Matt Kuchar with the winner taking on the victor of the other final four match between No. 3 seed Ian Poulter and No. 6 seed Hunter Mahan. The two No. 6 seeds, Mayhan and Kuchar, were dominant and both cruised their way to victory with four-hole victories ending play in each match with three holes remaining. 

Mahan-Kuchar Final Round

In the championship matchup between the two six seeds, Matt Kuchar came out strong, capitalizing on Mahan bogeys on the 4th and 5th holes, getting on holes No. 6 and 8 to go up by four holes after the front nine was completed. Mahan immediately recovered to kick off the back nine, taking the 10th and 11th holes thanks to a Kuchar bogey on 10 and a birdie on 11 to chop the lead in half to two. The two tied on 12 with birdies on the par three before Kuchar birdied the 13th hole versus a Mahan bogey to stretch the lead to three with five holes left. Mahan did not let that discourage him as he would take the 14th with a birdie. The two would pencil in birdies on 15, and Kuchar bogeyed 16 to which Mahan pulled within one hole by taking advantage with a par and two holes to go. Kuchar finished off Mahan who conceded hole 17 to give Matt Kuchar his first PGA tour victory of the 2013 season and the fifth PGA Tour win of his career.