Rahm, Morikawa lead the group of 16 into Match Play weekend

Mar 25, 2022, 5:39 AM | Updated: 5:45 pm
Will Zalatoris reacts after sinking a putt on the 18th green during the third round of the Dell Tec...

Will Zalatoris reacts after sinking a putt on the 18th green during the third round of the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament, Friday, March 25, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Jon Rahm lost his match and still made it to the weekend. Scottie Scheffler needed only 14 holes to win his match against Matt Fitzpatrick, and then six more to beat him in a playoff.

The third full day of endless action in the Dell Technologies Match Play finally ended Friday when Collin Morikawa drove the green on a par 4, this one not nearly dramatic as his shot that won the PGA Championship but still effective in getting him through group play.

Sixteen players remain for the knockout stage that begins Saturday morning, all of them knowing that three days of tense matches mean nothing going forward.

“Now it’s real,” Abraham Ancer said after squeezing by Webb Simpson. “Now you’re for sure not advancing if you don’t win.”

Rahm had that luxury by winning his opening two matches. He was sloppy on the back nine in losing to Patrick Reed, who played his best golf after already being eliminated. But the world’s No. 1 player avoided a playoff in his group when Cameron Young also lost.

Seamus Power also lost his match, but by then he was already assured of winning his group. The Irishman got another reward: By reaching the fourth round, Power is assured of staying in the top 50 and getting into the Masters.

Four of the groups were decided in extra holes.

There are no tiebreakers, and three players who won their match had to return to the first tee for sudden death against the player they just beat.

Scheffler had the toughest time. Takumi Kanaya felt the most fortunate.

Scheffler had to beat Fitzpatrick to have any chance, and that was the easy part in a 5-and-4 victory. They had to wait more than two hours for all the matches to go off before their playoff began. They matched birdies on No. 1, pars on the next three holes and birdies on the fifth. Scheffler finally won on the par-5 sixth when he holed a 6-foot putt after Fitzpatrick missed from about 15 feet.

“I knew the rules,” Scheffler said of going extra holes after beating Fitzpatrick in the match.

“I didn’t know we had to wait so long to come back for the playoff. I was a bit surprised with that. I would have loved to have just kept going the way I was playing in the beginning, and Matt did a really good job of regrouping, and he came out and played some really nice golf in the playoff.”

His reward is a fourth-round match against Billy Horschel, who beat Scheffler in the championship match last year.

Rahm faces Brooks Koepka, who narrowly avoided a playoff. Koepka was tied with Shane Lowry on the 18th when he hit a 45-yard pitch off packed dirt well left of the 18th green to 8 feet and made the birdie putt for a 1-up victory.

Kanaya was in the same predicament as Scheffler. He had to beat Lucas Herbert of Australia, and he ended the match in 14 holes.

On the first hole in the playoff, Kanaya found a fairway bunker and could only advance to some 90 yards short of the hole — Herbert with a good drive was just outside that with his second shot. Kanaya used the slope expertly for a shot to 2 feet, and Herbert three-putted from 18 feet above the hole to lose the match.

Kanaya is No. 56, the lowest seed still playing, but not my much. And considering his going to the Masters in two weeks, he isn’t the biggest surprise.

That would be Richard Bland of England, at 49 the oldest player in the field and the No. 54 seed this week. Bland started his Match Play debut by halving his match with Bryson DeChambeau. On Friday, he beat Lee Westwood to win the group.

Bland last year became the oldest first-time winner in European tour history. With one more match victory, he might be headed to his first Masters.

“It’s just my time. That’s all I can put it down to,” Bland said. “But I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts.”

Will Zalatoris, known for his iron game, knocked out Viktor Hovland with his putter. Zalatoris made putts of 12 feet on the 16th and 18th holes, the last one giving him a 1-up victory to tie the Norwegian in group play.

In the playoff, Zalatoris made a 10-foot birdie on No. 1 — Hovland made his from 6 feet — and another 10-footer on No. 2 to advance.

Dustin Johnson, Kevin Kisner and Tyrrell Hatton were among five players who won all their matches. Kisner, who has won and been runner-up at the Match Play, looked tougher than ever in taking down Justin Thomas. Kisner was 6 under through six holes and shot 28 on the front nine to build a 5-up lead. He closed him out on the 15th hole.

“It had to be a 10,” Kisner said when asked to rate his performance.

He moved on to face Adam Scott, who had no trouble beating Jordan Spieth to advance to the weekend for the first time since 2005. His record isn’t as bad as that would suggest.

“It’s hard to get there when I don’t play in the event,” Scott said with a smile. He hasn’t been to the Match Play since 2016. He liked it better at La Costa, especially in 2003 when he went 19 holes before losing to Tiger Woods.

___

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