MARANA, Ariz. – J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson are in the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship, and it’s not hard to figure out how they got there.
In fact, you could say it’s elementary.
Holmes has five of the longest drives this week at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, including a 400-yard shot in the opening round. He wasn’t always straight, but he was long enough to keep himself in the game and win the last two holes against Jason Day on Friday.
Watson didn’t win his match against Geoff Ogilvy on the par-5 11th hole, but it sure felt that way. Already 2 up in his match, Watson was 290 from the hole when he ripped a 3-iron with a tight draw that bounded onto the green and settled about 15 feet away.
“I knew if I hit a bullet 3-iron, it could roll up close,” Watson said. “We were just thinking about getting it on the green. We were thinking about missing it left, so we’d have an easy chip up on the slope. I knew it was good. I saw where it was running and it worked out in my favor again. I swung as hard as I could at a low, bullet 3-iron.”
Three holes later, the match was over, 6 and 4.
“It’s never fun to lose,” said Ogilvy, a two-time champion of this fickle event. “But it’s the first time I’ve played OK and lost. He played well. He hit great shots. I didn’t play that bad. I didn’t play ‘6-and-4’ bad.”
That set up more fireworks for Saturday morning – Holmes vs. Watson, two of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, head-to-head on a course nearly 7,800 yards long in the high desert with wind expected to top 20 mph.
“It should be fun,” Holmes said. “Me and Bubba move it out there pretty good.”
Their explosive play shifted the focus from youth to power in the third round, as the kids got sent home – 17-year-old Matteo Manassero, 22-year-old Rickie Fowler and the 23-year-old Day all lost their matches.
The youngest player still around also is the best – Martin Kaymer, the highest seed left at No. 2. The “Germanator” can move up to No. 1 in the world if he wins two matches on Saturday to reach the championship match.
“If I can get up one more spot in the world rankings, of course I wouldn’t mind it,” Kaymer said. “But I think I’ll have a chance the next few weeks, months, as well.”
Getting to Saturday wasn’t easy, of course. Kaymer trailed by two holes until winning the 13th and 14th, then surged ahead on the par-3 16th when he hit a 3-iron into a stiff breeze to 12 feet for birdie.
Even so, it was the end that was painful to watch as it stirred Ryder Cup memories of Mahan.
Kaymer was 1 up and went long and left with his approach. Mahan did the same, and needed to at least escape with par to have any chance. Instead, he muffed yet another chip that barely got up the hill, well short of the green. He chipped long and made double bogey.
Mahan also flubbed a chip at the Ryder Cup on the 17th hole, although he was a long shot to win his match against Graeme McDowell. Still, it was an image that sticks among the key moments from Wales, and his finish against Kaymer won’t help erase that memory.
Kaymer advances to play Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, at 47 the oldest player in the field, who gave Ben Crane another short day at the office. Crane, whose 8-and-7 win on Thursday was the second-largest margin in tournament history, didn’t make a birdie until the 11th hole against Jimenez and lost, 7 and 6.
With cold weather due on the final day, the schedule was changed to avoid frost delays. The quarterfinals will be Saturday morning, followed by the semifinals. The 18-hole final match will be Sunday afternoon.
In other matches:
• Matt Kuchar won three straight holes to start the back nine as Fowler ventured into the desert, and while the kid tried to rally, Kuchar closed him out on the 17th hole.
• Luke Donald never trailed in beating Manassero, although the Italian teen pushed him to the 16th hole.
• Ryan Moore holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 19th hole to defeat Nick Watney, who had birdied the last two holes to extend the match. In a cruel example of match play, Watney had nine birdies in 19 holes and lost, while Kuchar made only three birdies in 17 holes to beat Fowler. Moore is the lowest seed still alive at No. 48.
• Y.E. Yang continued his surprising run by beating McDowell, winning the last three holes with birdies, including a chip-in from behind the 16th green for a 3-and-2 victory.
Watson’s performance has been so dominant that he has led every hole he has played for three days. He has won the opening hole all three rounds and closed out matches on the 16th hole, 13th hole and 14th hole.
“Hit a lot of good putts, a lot of good iron shots. Haven’t missed that many fairways, probably no more than five all three days,” Watson said. “So it’s been good so far. And I’ve won every time, so it works out.”
No one feels more grateful than Holmes, who didn’t even get into the 64-man field until Tuesday when Tim Clark withdrew. He took over the No. 22 seed in the bracket, but technically could be considered No. 65. The lowest seed to win was Kevin Sutherland at No. 62 in 2002.
Holmes only saw this course for the first time Wednesday when he beat Camilo Villegas. He is not driving it straight, but it is going long. That power figures to be on full display against Watson on Saturday.
And if this format were not already unpredictable, watch out for the wind.
“If that puts more people in the desert, that will give me an advantage,” Holmes said. “I’ve been practicing out of there.”