MARANA, Ariz. – Safest bet on a warm day here in the desert: No matter how the final match of the day went, the field of 16 in the Accenture Match Play Championship was going to include three South Africans.
Could’ve put the mortgage on it.
Because Match No. 48 featured Ernie Els vs. Retief Goosen, those major-winning lads from South Africa. Already in the day, countrymen Tim Clark (3 and 2 over Martin Kaymer) and Charl Schwartzel (3 and 2 over Jim Furyk) had already made it through the second round.
Who would complete the trio of South Africans?
By the way he played, it probably should have been Els, who made three birdies in eight holes, only to see the putter go cold. He missed a 5-footer at the par-5 11th, a 9-footer at the par-3 12th, an 18-footer at the par-4 13th and a 6-footer at the par-5 14th.
Yes, it was tough to watch – even tougher for Els to stomach.
“In all due respect,” he said with a nod toward his longtime friend, “I had plenty of chances.”
None of which he cashed in on, because Goosen drilled a 5-iron from 220 yards to 4 feet for a conceded eagle at the 20th hole (the par-5 second) to squeeze past his compatriot.
“Tee to green, he probably played better,” Goosen said, “but I putted better than him.”
Els’ only highlight on the greens came at the 18th when he converted a 10-foot birdie to square the match and force overtime.
It was the only match that went extra holes on a day when top-seeded players took a whipping. Those seeded second (Lee Westwood), third (Jim Furyk), fourth (Martin Kaymer), fifth (Rory McIlroy) and 10th (defending champ Geoff Ogilvy) all bowed out, which leaves No. 9 Ian Poulter as the only top 10 guy alive.
Not that Poulter will be lonely, because three other Englishmen – Paul Casey, Luke Donald, and Oliver Wilson – moved on, too.
In fact, there are as many from England in the round of 16 as Americans (Nick Watney, Ben Crane, Stewart Cink, Brian Gay), but when you consider that all four of those U.S. names are on the right side of the draw, we know we won’t have an all-American final.
What we could very well have, instead, is true international flavor, because besides four Englishmen and three South Africans, we also have Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand, Jeev Milkha Singh of Indian, Camilo Villegas of Colombia and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan.
Hey, just having Ishikawa here guarantees 1,500 in his gallery – even if they are from the Japanese press.