Moore takes down Watney at WGC Match Play

Ryan Moore celebrates winning his match over Nick Watney on the 19th hole during the third round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

Ryan Moore celebrates winning his match over Nick Watney on the 19th hole during the third round of the Accenture Match Play Championship.

MARANA, Ariz. – Yawners out ahead, routs coming in from behind. Corporate chalets were jammed packed with folks who had plenty to drink and much to eat, but very little competitive golf to watch.

What’s an Accenture Match Play Championship official to do?

Pray for someone to step forth and toss a bit of excitement into an afternoon of third-round blah.

It took until the fourth match for J.B. Holmes and Jason Day to step forth and bring something to the 18th hole (Holmes winning, 1 up), but truth be told, it was the next game that was worth the price of admission.

The fact that it featured two Americans was encouraging, because all we’ve read for months now is that the pro golf world has been taken over by Europeans, that Uncle Sam’s chaps would best be served by taking up lawn bowling. But into such a picture of gloom strode a 28-year-old who wears a tie, Ryan Moore, and a 29-year-old who fires lasers, Nick Watney.

Amid the pile of bogeys, poor play, and beatings – Miguel Angel Jimenez needing just 12 holes to whip Ben Crane; Bubba Watson dismissing Geoff Ogilvy, 6 and 4; and three other matches failing to go past the 16th – Moore and Watney gave people plenty of reason to dodge jumping cholla and roam the desert until late afternoon.

“I’m exhausted. It was one of those matches really nobody should have lost,” Moore said, though it was easy for him to say, because he was the one who didn’t lose.

Though it’s a tiresome cliche in match play, perhaps, in this case Moore was spot on with his assessment. He fell 2 down when Watney birdied each of the first two holes, but when Moore won the third, the tone was set for the day. For the next few hours, it was back-and-forth for the grandest of reasons in match play – that is, someone always took over, no one backed up.

“We didn’t give any holes away, all day long,” Moore said. “If you wanted to win a hole, you had to make a birdie.”

It’s the way you expect things this deep into a tournament that features so many world-class players, but on this day only Moore and Watney provided such theater.

The chaps matched birdies at the par 4 fourth to keep Watney 1 up, then Moore birdied the demanding par 3 sixth to square the match. It stayed that way until the ninth when Moore rolled in a 17-foot birdie to go ahead by one . . . but not for long, because Watney squared things with a brilliant shot from 143 yards to 10 feet that led to another birdie.

Somewhere up in the hills of rock and cacti, Annie was signing “Anything you can do . . .”

Mind you, as good as it was up through 10 holes, it got even better after that, which is a darn good thing because matches were closing out early and folks were being put to sleep.

The boys matched birdies at the par 5 11th, put up two pars at the par 3 12th, then Moore at the par 5 13th went back up by one with a birdie.

Watney countered with a 321-yard drive at the 14th, then a scintillating wedge to 5 feet. The match was again squared and seemingly back in Watney’s control because he ripped a drive just short of the green at the 305-yard 15th and birdie seemed a certainty.

How does one answer that? Moore showed how, as his drive curled splendidly right-to-left, hit hard about 15 yards in front of the green, then jumped up and rolled to within 38 feet. After Watney pitched close, Moore slam-dunked his putt, the only eagle of the day at the short par 4.

The momentum back in his pocket, Moore went dormie by winning the par 3 16th, partly due to his terrific tee shot to 20 feet at the 240-yarder, but helped by Watney’s only hiccup, a sloppy bogey.

But when you’re playing well, like Watney was, and you’re two down with two to play, why not keep the pedal to the metal? He drilled a wedge from 141 yards to 8 feet to birdie the 17th and get within one, then at the 18th Watney showed his stuff by hitting an 8 iron from 181 yards to set up a match-tying 4 foot birdie.

“Obviously, that’s a bad time to lose momentum,” Moore said. “Those holes aren’t easy holes (but) he hit two great shots. That was the story of the whole match.”

Delicious stuff on a day devoid of much excitement, so it was gratifying to see Moore and Watney take it one extra hole.

Again, some magic appeared, because while Watney had the advantage with a fairway-splitting drive against Moore’s pulled shot into light rough, the picture changed with the approaches. Moore from 154 yards lofted a 9 iron a mile into the desert air, let it ride slightly right-to-left, then breathed a sigh of relief when it came to rest just left of the flagstick, perilously close to the edge of a sloping green.

“Wasn’t exactly what I was trying to do, but it worked out,” Moore said.

Watney’s shot didn’t – from 115 yards, his wedge skipped hard into the green and came to rest 33 feet away. For one of the first times all day, Watney wasn’t true with his birdie try; for yet another time, Moore was, and thus did he advance to face Luke Donald in Saturday morning’s quarter-final.

For their 19 holes of exquisite work, Moore and Watney combined to make 15 birdies and an eagle, against just three bogeys. Each shot 7-under on a day when others struggled – like Graeme McDowell, who had as many bogeys (three) as birdies in his loss to Y.E. Yang; or Ben Crane, who bogeyed four straight holes in his ugly loss to Miguel Angel Jimenez; or Hunter Mahan, who squandered a 2-up lead then double-bogeyed the 17th to seal his loss to Martin Kaymer.

Yet brilliant play in defeat is still . . . well, it’s not so brilliant. At least not immediately. Which is why Watney shrugged off he suggestion that he had to at least take pride in the way he stepped up and drilled approaches at 17 and 18 to make birdies and extend the match.

“No, not much right now,” Watney said.

• • •

DIFFERENT FACES: Only one of the eight players still left has made it as far as the quarter-finals, that being the 47-year-old Jimenez. When he got to the quarters in 2000, the second year this championship was held, Jimenez lost to Davis Love, 3 and 2. ... Of the other seven, Watson is making his Accenture debut, Luke Donald had never made it out of the third round; Kaymer, Yang, and Matt Kuchar had never gone past the second round; and both Holmes and Moore had never made it past the opening round.

• • •

DOVE MOUNTAIN VETERAN: By going 14 holes in his third-round loss to Watson, Geoff Ogilvy has now played 198 holes at the Ritz Carlton Golf Club during each of the last three Accentures. That gives him quite a feel for the place, though he still can’t match Paul Casey. Though the Englishman played just two matches this year and played 34 holes, he’s toured the place for a whopping 261 holes in three championships, having gone to the final in 2009 and 2010.

• • •

A LITTLE RED, WHITE AND BLUE: One year after having just one American in the final eight, four have charged that far this time around. No, it doesn’t match the jackpot of 2002 when seven Americans made the final eight, but it might slow a bit of that European euphoria that’s been sweeping the pro golf world. ... Three Europeans are still alive, however, and there’s still the chance for a second straight all-Europe championship match.

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