Rude: Upsets continue to claim big names in Arizona

Nicolas Colsaerts

Nicolas Colsaerts

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Hilton Head, SC - Harbour Town Golf Links

12:00:01 AM ET. 04/18/2014




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MARANA, Ariz. – First snow and cold disrupted play the first two days of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Then No. 1 seeds Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods lost when their first-round matches ended in darkness Thursday, a day later than scheduled. Finally, a series of so-called upsets in the second round Friday left just one player ranked in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking and just five in the top 20 entering the weekend.

Welcome to 18-hole match play, where anything can happen and often does, not always to the tastes of everyone involved.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say we had the top (16) players in the world left,” said Gary Beckner, managing director of global events for Accenture. “But we know the quirks of match play, and our people here (750 Accenture employees and clients) understand. I can’t say ‘Who cares?’ because we’d love to have No. 1 against No. 2 in the finals. But we have great television around the globe, and whoever ends up there will have been worthy.”

Of the 16 players left, the only one ranked in the world top 10 is No. 10 Bubba Watson. The other survivors ranked in the top 20 are Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter (13), part-time player Steve Stricker (16), U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson (17) and 2010 U.S. Open winner Graeme McDowell (19).

In an 18-hole format in which upsets aren’t really the kind of upsets seen in other sports, seven players seeded ninth or worse remain. They are Robert Garrigus (9), Scott Piercy (9), Nicolas Colsaerts (10), Jason Day (11), Fredrik Jacobson (12), Tim Clark (15) and Shane Lowry (16). A No. 8 seed, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain, also remains in contention for the $1.5 million first prize after routing Charles Howell III, 6 and 5, a day after Howell eliminated Woods.

The good news Friday came in the form of excitement. Four of the 16 matches went to extra holes – three of them decided by birdies – and another went to the 18th.

In those extra-hole matches, Watson defeated Furyk with a par on the 22nd hole, Stricker defeated Nick Watney with a conceded 6-foot birdie putt on the 21st, McDowell handled Alexander Noren with a birdie on the 20th and Jason Day birdied the 19th in besting rookie Russell Henley.

The Sweet 16 also features four so-called bombers in Colsaerts, Garrigus, Watson and Piercy. The Golf Club at Dove Mountain is said to favor long hitters, even more so this week in soft conditions. Fairways in effect become wider because balls tend to stick where they’re sent.

“There’s a couple of corners, a couple of carries I can take on, and if it works out I have much shorter irons into greens than some other guys,” said Colsaerts, ranked 39th in the world and the first PGA Tour member from Belgium. “So if I’m on, I’m going to give myself a lot of birdie tries.”

Such has been the case so far for the so-called Belgian Bomber. Having developed a growing reputation as a dangerous match-play opponent, he took down world No. 6 Justin Rose on Friday, a day after beating Bill Haas, 5 and 4, in his first WGC-Accenture Match Play round.

Colsaerts also beat Rose, 4 and 3, in Round 3 last May en route to winning the Volvo Match Play Championship in Spain. Then, paired with Lee Westwood, he made eight birdies and an eagle in almost single-handedly beating Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, 1 up, in a Ryder Cup Friday four-ball last September.

Colsaerts faces Matt Kuchar in the next round. Other Saturday morning matches feature Garrigus-Jacobson, Lowry-McDowell, Watson-Day, Stricker-Piercy, Clark-Poulter, Kaymer-Mahan and Fernandez-Castano against Simpson.

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