The WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship did its very best to ensure the marquee players would advance in the 2015 edition. Most of those top-notch players just didn’t get the memo.
The tournament tweaked its format to include round-robin group play in the first three days instead of single-elimination matches, but eight of the top 10 players in the world and 11 of the top 16 didn’t make it to Saturday’s round of 16, including Masters Tournament champion Jordan Spieth.
The result was a list of potential upset candidates who took the course Saturday during the round of 16 and quarterfinals, although Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk were still alive at the start of the day.
Saturday kicked off with eight single-elimination matches in the round of 16 and then finished with the four quarterfinals matchups. Here is a look at the full results.
Round of 16
Furyk was one of the notable names still in the tournament, but he fell behind early to J.B. Holmes and needed three birdies in four holes down the stretch to seize control. The highlight of his round-of-16 win over Holmes came on the 13th hole when he drilled a 26-foot putt to take a commanding four-hole lead and essentially put the match away.
Elsewhere in the round of 16, McIlroy looked like his typical dominant self against Hideki Matsuyama and won with five holes remaining. McIlroy birdied the second hole to take the initial lead and never looked back.
He also showed off a bit with a bunker chip-in on No. 10 that ended any realistic chance at a Matsuyama comeback. The PGA Tour shared a highlight of the moment:
McIlroy commented on his dominant performance, per PGATour.com (via WorldGolfChampionships.com): “I was able to take advantage of some of the good shots I hit today. I putted a lot better. Really happy with how this morning went, and we need more of the same this afternoon.”
The round-of-16 showdown between Danny Willett and Lee Westwood was somewhat closer, although Willett didn’t lose a single hole outside of the first one. It pushed Willett’s surprising record to 4-0 on the week and knocked out Westwood a day after Westwood upset Spieth.
Gary Woodland followed a similar formula as Willett and birdied the first hole to take the lead and then never trailed. Marc Leishman made it interesting by battling back from a three-hole deficit to tie it on the 12th hole, but Woodland pulled away down the stretch.
Elsewhere, Tommy Fleetwood beat Branden Grace with an eagle and two birdies during the first six holes and eight straight pars in the back nine, and Paul Casey knocked off Charl Schwartzel to move to 4-0 on the week.
The two most dramatic round-of-16 showdowns came in the match between John Senden and Hunter Mahan and the match between Louis Oosthuizen and Fowler.
Senden knocked off Mahan even though Mahan led for the first 11 holes. Senden tallied four birdies to grab the win, but Mahan finished with two bogeys in the final four holes and ultimately choked. As for Oosthuizen, he drilled a dramatic eagle putt on the 18th to beat Fowler on the last hole.
The PGA Tour passed along the highlight:
The round of 16 underscored what an incredible tournament of upsets the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship has been thus far, as Justin Ray of the Golf Channel noted:
The most unexpected matchup of the quarterfinals came when Willett and Fleetwood squared off, and Willett took advantage. He grabbed the early lead and then watched Fleetwood collapse down the stretch.
Kelly Tilghman commented on the incredible run for Willett:
Willett faces Woodland in the semifinals after Woodland knocked off Senden in the quarterfinals, 5 and 3. Woodland is a perfect 5-0 during the tournament and took command early and never looked back. In fact, Woodland held a five-hole lead after the first seven holes, and the result was never in doubt. Ray put the impending semifinals showdown into context:
Furyk knocked off Oosthuizen on the other side of the bracket even though Oosthuizen held a lead after the first nine holes. Furyk responded in championship form and birdied four holes in the back nine, walking away with the 4-and-2 victory. Ray pointed out that Furyk is playing some of the best golf of his career, which is a problem for the rest of the field:
The marquee showdown in the quarterfinals was the clash between McIlroy and Casey. Ray set the stage:
Naturally, the showdown went beyond the set 18 holes. McIlroy was one down with two to play, but he tied it up and had a chance to win on No. 18 with a birdie putt but left it just short. It opened the door for Casey to stun the biggest name remaining in a tournament defined by upsets, but neither capitalized on the extra holes.
The officials called the match for darkness after three playoff holes, and it will resume Sunday morning.
Attention now turns to the end of the Casey and McIlroy match and then the impending semifinals. If McIlroy eventually shows why he is No. 1 on Tour and beats Casey, it will set up a showdown between the two underdog stories on one side of the bracket and two of the big names on the other in the semis.
Based on that alone, it is only natural to expect the eventual champion to emerge from the clash between Furyk and McIlroy (or even Casey if Casey wins), but Woodland and Willett have plenty of momentum on their side after an impressive tournament.
Still, Furyk is fresh off a tournament victory before the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, and McIlroy is the top-ranked player in the world and finished in the top five at the Masters. The underdog story for the winner of the Woodland and Willett match will end in the finals.
Either one probably would have taken that if given the option before round-robin play began.