Match Play: McIlroy in fight with Casey until darkness gets in the way
Those weren’t boxing gloves Rory McIlroy was wearing, they were thick hand-warmers. In the Pacific chill and approaching darkness, the world’s No. 1 player had every reason to feel like he was in a fight of his own Saturday in the Match Play Championship against Paul Casey.
It was a no-decision.
McIlroy missed from 12 feet on the 18th hole. Casey had a chance to win on the second extra hole when his 18-foot putt stopped one turn short. McIlroy, moving in for the knockout, missed from 6 feet on the third extra hole.
Barely able to see, McIlroy and Casey were forced to return Sunday morning at TPC Harding Park to see who made it to the semifinals.
They were to resume at 6:45 a.m. Sunday on the par-5 opening hole for the right to play Jim Furyk, the No. 5 seed who reached his first semifinal with a 4-and-2 victory over Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.
Gary Woodland got up big early against John Senden and coasted to a 5-and-3 victory, fueled by memories of a bad loss last year that the powerful Kansan is determined to not let happen again. He will face Danny Willett of England, who beat his third straight countryman with a 4-and-3 win over Tommy Fleetwood.
The quarterfinals began late so that it could end in prime time on the East Coast, a move that backfired when McIlroy and Casey went overtime. But it was a great match, perhaps not in quality of shots or clutch moments, but certainly in how tense it became on the back nine.
McIlroy has gone 17 holes without the lead. Casey twice lost a 1-up lead by making bogey.
"I had a couple of opportunities to close it out and couldn’t quite convert," McIlroy said. "Come back in the morning and try again."
Casey said they weren’t sure they could even play the final hole, but they gave it a try. Casey blew his tee shot well to the right on the reachable 16th, leaving a flop shot to a tight pin that was impossible to get close. He was saved by McIlroy’s miss.
"I dodged a couple of bullets," Casey said. "But I gave him one two. I’m glad we’re teeing off tomorrow. Standing on this green, I thought I was done for the day, done for the week. The beautiful thing is we hit the reset button."
McIlroy never had a chance to get to the big fight in Las Vegas.
It would have been close even if he had won his match quickly, as he did Saturday morning in a 6-and-5 victory over Hideki Matsuyama.
Instead of being at the MGM Grand, he went to the interview room, the best place he could find to watch the fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. on TV.
McIlroy must have felt the fatigue from his own bout.
Casey moved ahead with a birdie on the par-5 fifth hole, went 2 up with a birdie on the par-5 seventh and never trailed. McIlroy cut into the lead with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 10th and hole and they pulled even when Casey bogeyed the 13th.
Furyk and Willett have played the fewest holes (84) in their five matches.
Woodland has had the easiest time.
He was 1 down to Jimmy Walker through 15 holes in his opening match Wednesday, and that was the last time Woodland has trailed this week. He got off to his best start yet against Senden by starting with five birdies in seven holes to go 5 up and the Australian couldn’t catch up.
"It’s nice to be up early. It’s nice have some par 5s early," Woodland said. "There are a lot of long holes early, and that’s to my advantage when I’m driving it well."
Woodland also is fueled by memories of last year when he was 3 up on Graeme McDowell with three holes to play and wound up losing in the opening round. Woodland brought a different attitude this year.
"I’m pedal to the metal every round up here, every hole," he said. "Never giving anybody any hope is the key. And fortunately, I’ve done that."
Next up is Willett, the 27-year-old from England who had to get through three of his countrymen to reach the semifinals in his Match Play debut. Willett beat Andy Sullivan to win his group Friday, and then had little trouble with Lee Westwood in the round of 16 on Saturday morning.
The last hurdle was Fleetwood, and while Willett never trailed, he was 1 up through 10 when he won three of the next four holes. The only downside for Willett was that he had a ticket to the fight in Las Vegas. That went to Westwood.
"If all would have gone terribly wrong today, I would have been going," Willett said. "A shame to miss it. But for me, it’s obviously good being here."
No one was helped by the new round-robin format than Furyk, the only semifinalist with a loss this week.
Furyk could only watch as Thongchai Jaidee, who had beaten him earlier in the week, had an 8-foot par putt in extra holes that would have knocked him out. Thongchai missed, Furyk advanced and he’s two matches away from a shot at his first World Golf Championship.
All that was left was figuring out who he played next.