The field of 64 has been whittled down to 16 at the WGC-Accenture Match Play championship, and among those sent packing were all four No. 1 seeds. Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, and Rory McIlroy all bowed out on Thursday to join Zach Johnson, who fell victim to the all-too-common 16 over 1 upset on Wednesday.
Unlike the NCAA Tournament, the seeding for the WGC Match Play is not necessarily indicative of the best players, or the favorites, at the time. There's still a lot of firepower left and some big matchups throughout Friday's second round.
The marquee match, without a doubt, is the all-American meeting between No. 2 Matt Kuchar and No. 3 Jordan Spieth in the Gary Player bracket. Spieth is the up-and-comer, hailed as the next great American star. And he's quickly gone to work, winning a tournament at 19, contending at majors, playing on team USA for a Presidents Cup, and now jumping all the way to a three seed when he didn't even have Tour card this time last year. It's been a rapid ascent and he's carried over that impressive form this season, popping up on the first page of the leaderboard on almost a weekly basis.
But after rolling through Thomas Bjorn and Pablo Larrazabal, he now meets the defending champ here and his likely Ryder Cup teammate this fall. Kuchar has been just as impressive through the first two rounds, never really getting a challenge from Bernd Wiesberger or Ryan Moore, who had his own history of match play success. Tiger Woods is the only player to go back-to-back at this event, and given the fickle nature of match play, a run to the final four would be impressive enough for Kuchar. This should be a fun one to watch and it anchors the day at 2:19 p.m. ET.
In addition to the final match, there's some strength at the top of the tee sheet, particularly in the first three matches. Harris English is right there with Spieth as one of America's next great stars, and it's been compelling watching him transition his recent form onto a larger WGC stage, most notably with the back-and-forth win over McIlroy. He gets match play vet Jim Furyk in another contrast between young and old.
Following that match is a loud and colorful battle between Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler. He may be under the radar because we've see it before, but Garcia is lighting it up right now with wins at the end of 2013 and start of 2014. The sometimes fragile Spaniard is even in a good enough place to reactivate his Twitter account, so he might be mentally ready for a huge season. Fowler's two wins were totally unexpected. After missing three straight cuts while working through swing changes with Butch Harmon, he beat Ian Poulter, the best match play golfer in the world, and Jimmy Walker, currently the hottest player on the PGA Tour. It's an encouraging sign for Fowler, who has tons of profile and endorsement deals, but just one PGA Tour win in his career.
The third match at the top is a rematch of the clinching 2010 Ryder Cup point, when Graeme McDowell edge Hunter Mahan in Wales to bring the cup back to Europe. His putt to end is one of those classic highlights constantly replayed, and it capped a career year for McDowell. Mahan was left in tears at the team press conference, but he's gone on to multiple wins, including at this event. After winning two years ago, he rocketed right back to the finals in 2013 before falling to Kuchar. Given that success here, he's probably the favorite but this is another good one to watch.
With just 16 players left, the Tour obviously enjoys lots of flexibility when it comes to scheduling. They'll start the tee times just before 11 a.m. local in Tucson, and 1 p.m. EST. Golf Channel's broadcast comes on the air an hour later at 2 p.m. so all eight matches should get plenty of coverage.
Here's the tee sheet for Friday's sweet 16 round:
|12:55 p.m.||Harris English||Jim Furyk|
|1:07 p.m.||Sergio Garcia||Rickie Fowler|
|1:19 p.m.||Hunter Mahan||Graeme McDowell|
|1:31 p.m.||Victor Dubuisson||Bubba Watson|
|1:43 p.m.||Louis Oosthuizen||Webb Simpson|
|1:55 p.m.||Jason Day||George Coetzee|
|2:07 p.m.||Ernie Els||Jason Dufner|
|2:19 p.m.||Matt Kuchar||Jordan Spieth|