Notes: Crane sailing under Match Play radar

Ben Crane during the second round of the WGC Match Play Championship.

Ben Crane during the second round of the WGC Match Play Championship.

MARANA, Ariz. – Perhaps now the myth of Ben Crane’s tortoise-like pace of play can be put to rest. Just ask his opponent in Thursday’s second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

“He’s not that slow. It was quick out there,” Rory McIlroy said. “He was making birdies and I was picking up. That speeds things up.”

In less than three hours, Crane was done with his day’s work. That’s what happens when you make five birdies in 11 holes and watch your opponent make just enough mistakes to open a door wide enough to drive through an 8-and-7 victory.

That’s right, 8 and 7, and only once in the history of this championship has there been a bigger beating – Tiger Woods’ famous 9-and-8 win over Stephen Ames.

On a day when bigger names resonated – Rickie Fowler whipping Phil Mickelson, for instance – Crane did what he does so well: Performed with precision beneath the radar. He won the first hole with a par, went 2 up when McIlroy chopped up the par 3 third, then birdied the fourth and sixth to go 4 up.

There was no looking back, either, and though he was the 39th ranked player in the world when this tournament field was set, Crane has breezed into the third round for a second straight year.

You’re surprised? Crane understands.

“I’m just under the radar, period. I don’t think that anyone is going, ‘Wow, Ben Crane is really coming through this bracket. Gosh, sorry you have to play Ben Crane. Boy, tough draw there.’ ”

Having taken down a pair of high-profile names, Adam Scott and McIlroy, Crane will take on another under-the-radar foe in Friday’s third round, Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez.

• • •

McIlroy was just one part of a disappointing day for Chubby Chandler, the Englishman who steers one of golf’s most successful stable of clients.

Lee Westwood, Ernie Els, and Charl Schwartzel were the other International Sports Management clients who fell victim.

The Els loss (1 up to J.B. Holmes) and Schwartzel defeat (1 up to Matteo Manassero) were more heartache piled on top of McIlroy’s whipping, but the Westwood match was especially stunning to the boys. He came in as the world’s top-ranked player and was determined to find success in this event for the first time; instead, Westwood got bounced in the second round for a second straight year by Watney.

While Westwood has failed to make it past the second round in all 11 appearances here, this one might stick with him the most. He appeared poised to square the match at the par 3 16th, Watney having made bogey, only to hiccup and miss a 3 footer for par.

“I didn’t putt particularly well,” said the world’s No. 1. “Certainly not well enough. Sixteen was poor.”

Said Watney: “That’s a one in 20, maybe one in 30 for that to happen.”

But match play being match play, Watney didn’t exactly cash in on the charity; at the 17th, he had a 4 foot putt to close out Westwood, only he missed.

• • •

In Round 1, Mark Wilson drew Dustin Johnson. That victory earned him the right to play Bubba Watson in the second round. Gee, who was he going to play in Round 3, Jamie Sadlowski, the world’s longest hitter?

“I know. How about that?” said Wilson, who ranks 128th in driving distance, well behind Nos. 1 and 2, Watson and Johnson. “I stood there for two days, watching in awe. But I had to just play my game.”

Unfortunately for Wilson, he won’t get a chance to take on a third big hitter, because he never got anything going against Watson. He three-putted to lose the first hole and failed to make a birdie in a 6-and-5 defeat. Watson, meanwhile, played bogey-free and sprinkled in three birdies to advance to face two-time champion Geoff Ogilvy.

• • •

Whereas Day 1 featured the upset of Tiger Woods, Day 2 produced far more surprises. Top seeds in two of the brackets – Westwood and Phil Mickelson – were dispatched, as was Paul Casey, a runner-up each of the last two years.

Thus, after two days we have lost seven of the top 10 seeds, with only Nos. 2 (Martin Kaymer), 5 (Graeme McDowell), and 9 (Luke Donald) surviving.

There are only six players from the top 20 still alive – Kaymer, McDowell, Donald, Matt Kuchar (13th), Hunter Mahan (18th), and Watson (19th).

• • •

There was an All-England final a year ago here (Ian Poulter beating Casey) and a huge splash has been dedicated in the press about the exploits of the Englishmen. For good reason, too, only that momentum has come to a screaming halt here.

Of the six from England to tee it up this year, only Donald is still alive.

As for the American-Europe thing that seems to resonate and get competitive juices flowing, there’s an edge for the red, white, and blue. Eight Americans are still in the field, only five Europeans. That’s a huge swing from a year ago when only four Americans made it through two rounds – and that included zero on one side of the bracket.

Four matches in Round 2 featured an American vs. an European, with Crane, Watney, and Mahan (over Robert Karlsson) winning; in the other, Ryan Palmer lost to Jimenez.

While there still exists a chance to have four non-Americans in the semifinals for a second straight year, there are two Americans in each of the four brackets, so an all-U.S. semifinal for the first time since 2002 is also a possibility.

• • •

Eight of the 16 players still alive are under the age of 30, led by the feel-good story of this week, Manassero. Two months shy of his 18th birthday, Manassero for a second straight day overcame an early deficit to win. He was 2 down after making his second bogey in three holes, but from the fourth hole on, the Italian played beautifully. One down through eight, Manassero won the ninth and 10th with pars, went 2 up with a birdie at 12, then lost the par 4 15th despite making another birdie. Schwartzel’s 45-foot eagle putt gave the South African hope, then he won the par 3 16th to pull even.

But Manassero followed a 300 yard drive with a 188-yard laser approach to 5 feet to birdie 17, then he matched par at 18 to win, 1 up.

Manassero’s next challenge will be a stiff one – Donald, the ball-striking Englishman who has played 30 holes thus far and been in the lead 26 of them. He has never trailed, yet the Italian is riding high.

“I’m really confident because I’m driving the ball well,” he said. “If I manage to make maybe a few more putts, it’s going to be absolutely perfect.”

• • •

Defeated, 4 and 3, by Y.E. Yang, Stewart Cink failed to make it past the second round for the first time since 2006 . ... Four of those who are still alive are making their debut in this championship – Fowler, Manassero, Watson, and Jason Day, who whipped Casey, 4 and 2. In his two wins, Day has played 16 holes each time, making 11 birdies and an eagle, and he’s trailed for just three holes . ... Ogilvy has never trailed in 33 holes, yet he had his hands full with Thomas Bjorn. Never did Ogilvy, a two-time winner here, lead by more than a hole, and when he made a sloppy bogey at the 17th he found himself all square. Then, Bjorn returned the favor, missing a short putt for par at the 18th that would have forced extra holes. “He wasn’t going to go away easy,” Ogilvy said, acknowledging that he was very aware of Bjorn’s victory Wednesday over Tiger Woods.

“Beating Tiger, I knew he’d come out comfortable, probably feeling he was unbeatable,” Ogilvy said.

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