The essential problem with Matchplay is that the final match rarely gives you the marquee face-off with the two best players.
18 hole mano a mano matches are quirky affairs because if a player gets hot for a few holes, he can eliminate a far more credentialed rival. A large part of being able to continue through each round also comes down to “lady luck”. A player can be 9-under for their round but be bested by another player who is 10-under. Conversely you can shOot over par yet play against someone not on form and come out a winner.
This years’ WGC-Dell Technologies World Matchplay at Austin Country Club (which was where Harvey Penick spent his career) event was no exception. The majority of the world’s best players were unable to even make it into the weekend’s Round of 16. Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Thomas Pieters, Daniel Berger, Charl Schwartzel and Marc Leishman all failed to make it out of the opening matches. Tiger Woods, Adam, Scott, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka and Henrik Stenson opted not to play which left the weekend cupboard bare of many of the game’s biggest stars.
But it was not without excitement.
The last two remaining players in the top 10 of the World rankings heading into the weekend, were #2 Justin Thomas and #7 Sergio Garcia. If Thomas could get to the finals of the Championship, he would become the world’s #1 player on Sunday afternoon.
After Saturday’s round of 16, matches only Thomas would survive with a resounding 6 & 5 win over South Korean, Si Woo Kim, while Garcia fell to American Kyle Stanley 3 & 1.
The first of the afternoon’s quarter final matches pitted Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat against American star Bubba Watson. Watson would outclass Kiradech Aphibarnrat 5 & 3 and become the first player to advance to the semi-finals.
Thomas was then a winner over Stanley 2 & 1, while Sweden’s Alex Noren prevailed over Australian, Cameron Smith, 4 & 2.
American Kevin Kisner levelled a hapless Ian Poulter 8 & 6 in the final match of the afternoon rounding out the final four. For Englishman Poulter the outcome was the most lopsided loss in his storied Matchplay career (in Ryder Cups and as the 2010 winner of this event). There have only been four other matches in the history of the WGC that ended more quickly.
Thomas’ ascension to the top of the golf world would have to wait for another day as he would lose 3 & 2 to Watson in the first of Sunday’s semi -finals. 39-year old Watson has enjoyed a resurgence this year after two very ordinary years on Tour, earning his 10th career title at the Genesis Open in February.
34-year old Kisner outlasted Noren in the second semi-final winning on the first extra hole to set up an all American final with Watson. A two time Tour winner, Kisner is best known for having been a runner-up four times in the 2015 season, which included losing three times in play-offs.
The final match was over early. Watson won the first five holes to take an unassailable lead before closing out Kisner on the 12th hole for a resounding 7 & 6 win.
This is the second WGC event that Watson has won to go along with his victory in the 2014 WGC-HSBC Champions. Combined with his two Masters (2012 and 2014) triumphs and the 11 total wins virtually assure the savant-like lefty from Bagdad, Florida inclusion into the World Golf Hall of Fame.