After a first round with the fewest upsets in WGC-Accenture Match Play history, some big names were sent packing on Thursday, including the three remaining No. 1 seeds.
The overall No. 1 seed Henrik Stenson said on Wednesday that this Dove Mountain course had never suited his eye, and he had not made it out of the first round in several years. He escaped Kiradech Aphibarnrat's upset bid on Wednesday, but former No. 1 seed Louis Oosthuizen took care of the Swede in the second round. The overall No. 1 seed has not made it past the second round for six straight years now, reiterating how little seeding actually means when the top 64 players in the world play an 18-hole match.
Joining Stenson as another No. 1 seed heading home is Rory McIlroy. As many predicted last night, Rory's match with Harris English was the best of the day -- an up-and-down battle that featured no halved holes on the back nine until the 18th. English knocked off Rory on the 19th hole when McIlroy went wild off the tee and then hit it all over the yard trying to get back to the green.
Aside from the No. 1 seeds all going home, the theme of Thursday was American success. While the Team USA women's hockey team suffered a crushing loss, at least Americans can take solace (or probably not) in the fact that nine U.S. golfers have advanced to the sweet 16, the most in 10 years, per AP's Doug Ferguson,
Here's a review of what happened, the biggest upsets, and the best sweet 16 matches in each of the four sub-brackets.
Bobby Jones bracket
Stenson is now gone, and he was the class of an already thin bracket. Oosthuizen was once one of the top five players in the world, but injuries have derailed his path to a second major championship. The quiet South African had what many considered the sweetest swing in the world, and perhaps his two wins at the Match Play are the start of a rebound year. That swing can do damage at all the biggest events on Tour, but can he stay healthy?
It's difficult characterizing upsets in the first round given the small margin between all these world-class players, and that gets even harder as we move deeper into the week. Given Stenson's underwhelming play during the Euro Tour's Middle East stretch, and his self-admitted distaste for how this course suits him, it wasn't really an upset for Oosthuizen.
For that reason, I think it's most surprising to see another South African, George Coetzee, emerge from the very bottom of the bracket. It wasn't a surprise that he knocked off Steve Stricker, who's barely played this year and committed last minute following his brother's successful liver transplant, but beating the winner of the Patrick Reed-Graham DeLaet match was unexpected. Maybe it's just my American tour bias, but Reed and DeLaet are two of the hottest and most consistent players on Tour, and I thought for sure the winner of that match would get, at the very least, to the sweet 16. But Coetzee hung in there with Reed on Friday, edging the two-time PGA Tour winner after 21 holes. It doesn't get any easier with Jason Day up next.
Best 3rd round match
Neither match jumps out, but I suppose Coetzee is the weakest link left in the bracket, so I'll take the one at the top -- Oosthuizen vs. Webb Simpson. Both have major championships to their name and both could use a WGC title to propel their season and target a second major title. Jason Day, however, is still the clear favorite to come out of this quadrant.
Here's where things stand in the Jones bracket heading into day 3:
Ben Hogan Bracket
The Hogan bracket was disproportionately loaded, so much so that it left the other three brackets light on big names. There were major champions, former No. 1 players in the world, Ryder Cup vets, and match play aces. There was almost no way we wouldn't get a solid final four in this corner, and we did end up with four big names, even if they're not the ones we expected.
Sergio Garcia is the highest remaining seed thanks to Rory's ouster. There's a lot of talk that Garcia is back on the right track and is set up to finally break through with his first major. He a got win at the end of last year in Thailand, and then backed that up with a victory at the Qatar Masters to get back inside the world top 10. His game and head are even in a good enough place for the precocious Spaniard to return to Twitter, reactivating his account last week. Garcia needed extra holes in the first round, but took care of Bill Haas on the 17th green for a 3 and 1 victory on Thursday. We've been down this road so many times with Sergio that he's now under the radar when he plays well, but it's time to start paying close attention to his actual game on the course again.
The same man who pulled off the biggest upset on day 1 repeated that again day 2 in the Hogan bracket. Has Rickie Fowler found some form with the changes made by new swing coach Butch Harmon? Fowler beat the best match play golfer in the world and Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter on Wednesday, and turned around and beat the hottest player in the world on Thursday. Jimmy Walker already has three wins this season for a dominant perch atop the FedExCup standings. A spot on the USA Ryder Cup team is all but assured.
Fowler, on the other hand, had missed three straight cuts coming into this week and seemed a bit lost as he transitions with Harmon. Rickie found himself down a hole on the 16th tee, but won two straight and then held on for the halve at No. 18 to edge Walker, 1-up. It's already a successful week for him but he gets another heavyweight and streaking player on Friday in Sergio.
Best 3rd round match
This bracket was too good to have a disappointing sweet 16 match. Losing McIlroy is not ideal, especially with Tiger, Phil, and Adam absent, but Harris English could be a later developing American version of Rory -- he's that talented. English will get Jim Furyk, a match play veteran who's trying to wedge his way back into further team USA competitions. English will be at the top of the list for captain Tom Watson, so this is a chance for Furyk to prove he's still one of America's best options, even on the other side of 40. It's an intriguing clash of old and new, and two reserved guys compared to the flash on the bottom half with Rickie vs. Sergio.
Here's your Hogan bracket heading into Friday:
Gary Player Bracket
The Hogan bracket may have been the most loaded at the start, but after two rounds, this probably has the four bigger names in the sweet 16. Jason Dufner and Ernie Els advanced playing ugly golf for two straight days, and the bottom half is the creme of the entire tournament. The Spieth-Kuchar match could decide the eventual winner of the whole thing based on how the first two days in Tucson have gone.
Saying that Els looked shaky with the putter on Wednesday would be an understatement. It was certainly a grind, but the Big Easy managed to get by Stephen Gallacher in extra holes in the last match on the course. He repeated that on Thursday, only this time the competition was the much tougher No. 1 seed Justin Rose. Els knocked off Rose on the 20th hole with a remarkably (and unintended) delicate chip to get up-and-down, sending the last No. 1 seed home. Els admitted it was an ugly win, and Rose was rusty and untested this year. But it's still a boost for the longtime veteran and given the way he was putting, it's surprising to see him still here.
Best 3rd round match
The best match in this quadrant and the best match of the entire remaining field is Matt Kuchar vs. Jordan Spieth. Kuchar is the defending champ and has rolled through the first two days. Spieth is the hottest young player in the world, settling as a three seed when just a year ago this time he didn't even have a PGA Tour card. Both players will almost certainly be teammates in the Ryder Cup and Friday should be a delicious match. Kuchar has the edge, but it's really hard to go against the 20-year-old Spieth in anything these days, as evidenced by his hole-out halve from the bunker against Thomas Bjorn:
Spieth crushed Bjorn, 23 years his senior, for a 5 and 4 win. His next game against Kuchar is the match of the tournament so far.
Here's where things stand in the Player bracket:
Sam Snead Bracket
This bracket had the biggest shake-up at the top on Wednesday, but a nice final four emerged after the second round. There's starpower talent in Bubba, Hunter Mahan, and Graeme McDowell with hot hand and unknown Victor Dubuisson rounding it out.
Bubba escaped his first-round match against Mikko Ilonen, turning things around over the final five holes. He nearly gave it away to Jonas Blixt in much the same fashion on Thursday, but held on when the Swede sent his ball into the desert junk and had to take an unplayable on the 18th hole. At least it gave us this interesting shot of Blixt scouring the desert floor for his ball:
Jonas Blixt, Position A. pic.twitter.com/V8ssHzJBjh— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) February 20, 2014
That led to a match concession to Bubba before Blixt ever got up to the 18th green. The two players on the top half of the bracket are tested match play aces, but given Bubba's form and the win last week, the bomber, capable of overpowering this course, is the favorite in the Snead bracket.
There were no real upsets on Thursday, but Dubuisson's presence in the sweet 16 is a surprise. He got by fellow Euro Tour member Peter Hanson with a 3 and 1 win. There's not a lot of world class French players, but the way Dubuisson has played since the end of last year, he's making a strong case to be a part of this fall's Euro Ryder Cup team. Knocking off Bubba would only add to his argument and give him some confidence to do more damage in stateside events.
Best 3rd round match
Photo via Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The McDowell vs. Mahan match is a great one, with two vets who have owned the match play format. Aside from Poulter, Mahan is the annual favorite here, regardless of his seed, and it didn't hurt that he was playing well coming into the week. The winner two years ago and runner-up last year, Mahan had the lowest pre-tournament odds in this bracket, even as the No. 8 seed.
McDowell, however, has stared down Mahan in this format under much more tense circumstances. It was McDowell who clinched the 2010 Ryder Cup with his singles win over Mahan in Wales four years ago, a loss that had the American in tears at the press conference afterwards. A lot has happened since then, and Mahan's success on this course makes him the favorite against the Northern Irishman. It's probably the second-best match on Friday.
And finally, your Snead bracket heading into the third round: