Rory McIlroy and Jason Day advance in different ways at Dell Match Play
By Doug Ferguson
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Jordan Spieth had water on his left and a solid wall of fans on his right on his way to another comfortable victory in the Dell Match Play.
The former Longhorn gave the Texas fans what they wanted.
And when the wild round-robin session ended Friday, they got much more than that.
For the first time in 10 years, the top three players in the world made it to the round of 16. The only difference is how they got there.
Jason Day only had to play six holes. The No. 2 player in the world, just two days removed from his back seizing up on him, was all square through six holes when Paul Casey withdrew because of a stomach illness. Day was in good shape to win his group, anyway, but a short day was just what he needed.
Rory McIlroy, No. 3 in the world and the defending champion, had to work overtime. He struggled to the end with Kevin Na, and when their match ended in a halve, both were 2-0-1 and went to a sudden-death playoff to see who advanced. McIlroy outlasted him with a par on the second extra hole.
Spieth had no trouble at all.
For the third straight round, he was 3 up early in the match and never gave Justin Thomas much of a chance. He hit a few loose shots along the back nine, though he never lost control. That's what made the walk along the Colorado River so enjoyable.
"It's awesome," Spieth said. "I'd really like to play into the weekend, into Sunday afternoon, and keep feeding off this crowd."
But it didn't take long for reality to set in.
Spieth returns Saturday morning to face Louis Oosthuizen, the only player to reach the round of 16 each of the last three years. Oosthuizen won all three of his matches, beating Andy Sullivan of England on Friday to win his group. And then he was asked about going against Spieth, No. 1 in the world.
"I think it's going to be about 10-15,000 people," Oosthuizen said with that gap-tooth smile.
Oosthuizen and Spieth were among six players who went 3-0 in group play.
The most impressive was Zach Johnson, who finally played the last three holes at Austin Country Club, but only for practice. None of his matches went beyond No. 15. Spieth and Patrick Reed are the only players who have never trailed in any match.
Reed had an easy time with Phil Mickelson, and when he holed out from the 10th fairway, he was 7 up through eight holes to play. Mickelson did well to make the match last until the 14th hole. Reed moves on to play Dustin Johnson, who had to go extra holes to get by Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
McIlroy and Johnson were among four players who had to go extra holes to win the group and advance to the knockout stage. McIlroy, however, was the only player who went into a playoff against the player he faced at the start of the day.
Johnson won his match against Jimmy Walker, and Aphibarnrat beat Robert Streb.
Byeong-Hun An missed an opportunity to win his group when he lost the 18th hole to Rickie Fowler. That sent him into a playoff with Scott Piercy, who won the 18th hole to beat Jason Dufner. The fortunes turned quickly. An won the playoff on the first hole with a 4-foot birdie.
The most peculiar was Chris Kirk and Branden Grace, who each easily won their matches to finish group play at 2-1-0. There were no tie-breakers this year, which was good for Grace because he lost to Kirk in the opening round. Instead of going back out for the playoff after their matches ended, they had to wait nearly three hours to play one hole. Grace went from a fairway bunker over the green, made bogey and was out.
Nine players who went 2-1-0 in group play were out. Two players who won just one match – An and Patton Kizzire – are still alive.
Kizzire is the most intriguing. Just two weeks ago, he was on edge about whether he would qualify for the 64-man field. In his opening match, he made a 10-foot birdie putt to earn a half-point against Bubba Watson. The next day, he was 4 down with six holes to play and birdied the last hole to halve with J.B. Holmes. Those two halves proved crucial, for when Holmes beat Watson on the 18th hole, that meant Kizzire only had to beat Emiliano Grillo to advance.
He went eagle-birdie-birdie for a 2-up win.
"I've been feeling like I've won those matches," Kizzire said. "Today was huge."
He now faces Ryan Moore in a round of 16 loaded with familiar faces for Kizzire, a PGA Tour rookie. The 11 Americans who reached the round of 16 are the most since 12 in 2002 at La Costa. Then again, the names of the players or the flags under which they play are becoming irrelevant.
"It only gets harder from here," Reed said. "The guys who make it to the weekend are the guys playing the best right now."
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