MARANA, Ariz. –– This is not how anyone could have drawn it up before the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship got underway. Consider some of the storylines that are in play for Saturday’s four quarter-final matches at The Golf Club at Dove Mountain:
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OPPOSITES MEET: When Graeme McDowell takes on Victor Dubuisson you’ll have the ultimate in polar opposites. “I’ve never been up and he’s never been down,” said McDowell, laughing at the backdrop to this game.
In winning three matches, McDowell has played 58 holes and he’s trailed for 43 of them. The only three times he has led has been the final hole of hsi matches against Gary Woodland, Hideki Matsuyama, and Hunter Mahan.
But Dubuisson, the unheralded Frenchman whose stock has been rising steadily since November? He’s played 49 holes, led for 47 of them, and has not trailed once.
Dubuisson has been 1 up, 2 up, and 2 up after two holes in his matches against Kevin Streelman, Peter Hanson, and Bubba Watson, respectively. McDowell, on the other hand, has been 2 down through two in each of his matches.
“The great thing is, no one can get comfortable when they get up on me at the moment. So I’ve got that going for me,” said McDowell.
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GAME FOR THE AGES: Jordan Spieth was born in the summer of 1993, 11 months before Ernie Els won the first of his four major championships.
Sort of puts an exclamation point on their quarter-final game, eh? Just don’t suggest that Els is playing a kid half his age, because The Big Easy will quickly correct you. “Less than half my age. I’m 44, remember?”
As if the age difference isn’t enough of a highlight factor – Spieth is 20 – there is the way in which these two have advanced. Spieth has been rock-solid in beating Pablo Larrazabal, Thomas Bjorn, and Matt Kuchar; in 49 holes he has trailed for just five of them. Els, on the other hand, has had his back against the wall each day, though he’s played well down the stretch to beat Stephen Gallacher, Justin Rose, and Jason Dufner.
Still, Els has trailed for more holes (19) than he’s led (15) and at a total of 57 holes played, only McDowell (58) has done more.
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YOUNG AND OLD, PART II: As if Els-Spieth isn’t enough, when Jim Furyk, 43, takes on Rickie Fowler, 25, the quarter-finals will have another clash of different eras.
But it’s not like they’re from different circles. Remember the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor? “I was his partner in his first match (foursomes, vs. Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, which ended in a halve). I saw a real fearless guy, not a lot bothers him,” said Furyk. “He was a great partner there and he’ll be a tough match (Saturday).”
At different ends in age, they are also opposites in the way they approach the game. Furyk understands it’s the era of bombers, but so what? He’s not a bomber; he picks a golf course apart, is comfortable to do so, and is hardly fazed by anything he faces. Fowler? He’s as aggressive as anyone out there and will try and overpower a golf course.
If there’s a common denominator, it’s that Fowler, like Furyk, is unflappable, which explains why each of them have overcome adversity already this week. In beating Chris Kirk, Charl Schwartzel, and Harris English, Furyk has trailed for more holes (23) than he’s led (21). Ditto Fowler, who has trailed for 22 of his 53 holes, led for 19, and still had enough in the tank to beat Ian Poulter, Jimmy Walker, and Sergio Garcia.
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OH, YEAH, THEY’RE STILL HERE: With all the hoopla over McDowell’s antics, Dubuisson’s roll, Fowler’s revived game, the ageless exploits of Els and Furyk, and the youthful brilliance of Spieth, it’s been easy to overlook Louis Oosthuizen and Jason Day. But both are polished talents and they’ll square off in the first of the four quarter-final games.
They’ve had contrasting rides thus far, however. Day has had to play 57 holes to brush aside Thorbjorn Olesen, Billy Horschel, and George Coetzee, and he’s trailed in 18 of those holes. Oosthuizen, meanwhile, was 2 down early in his first match with Nick Watney, but he rallied to win that and he’s not trailed over his last 39 holes, including victories over Henrik Stenson and Webb Simpson.
While maybe they’ve slipped into the final eight quietly, either one could be considered a good bet to win it all. Day has embraced this competition, as the indicators prove: He’s made it to the third round three of his four visits, he’s 11-3 overall, and he was a semifinalist a year ago. Oosthuizen might not have the resume in this event (he’s just 5-4), but when it comes to playing the game properly and effectively, the South African when healthy and on form has few peers.