Top-ranked Jon Rahm and four-time Major winner Brooks Koepka advanced to a Saturday showdown at the WGC Match Play Championship, while 49-year-old Englishman Richard Bland extended his fairytale run.
All three won their groups on Friday at Austin Country Club to book berths in four rounds of weekend knockout matches to decide a champion, as a field of 64 in round-robin play was cut to the last 16.
The Saturday morning contests also feature a rematch of last year’s championship match, pitting defending champion American Billy Horschel against compatriot Scottie Scheffler.
Top seed Rahm lost 3&2 to American Patrick Reed but the Spaniard advanced with a 2-1 record, while 16th seed American Koepka edged Ireland’s Shane Lowry 1-up to finish 3-0 and book his date with Rahm.
Reigning US Open champion Rahm plans no changes from knockout to group matches.
“Still trying to win. It’s the same thing. Nothing changes,” Rahm said. “It doesn’t make it any different in my mind. You’ve just got to go and win it. It’s not easier or harder.”
Bland edged countryman Lee Westwood 2&1 to capture his group with two wins and a tie, making him the oldest player to escape the group stage since it was created in 2015.
If Bland can defeat two-time Major winner Dustin Johnson, who beat fellow American Max Homa 1-up to win his group at 3-0 and reach the last 16, the Englishman would set himself for a jump into the top 50 in world rankings on Monday and claim a berth in his first Masters.
“It’s kind of weird you are playing such a tournament like this with another agenda as well,” Bland said. “I’ve tried to kind of put that to the back of my mind as much as I can, but when you’re in your hotel room at night, it’s difficult not to let your mind wander on what could be.”
Horschel tied Belgian Tom Pieters to take his group undefeated, while Scheffler was one of four players who had to win a group playoff to advance.
Scheffler birdied the par-five 6th to dismiss England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, matching the longest playoff in event history.
American Will Zalatoris birdied the par-four 2nd to eliminate Norway’s third-seeded Viktor Hovland in a playoff, while Japan’s Takumi Kanaya parred the first playoff hole to defeat Australian Lucas Herbert and advance.
Kanaya was the lowest seed to advance at 56th. He meets Canada’s Corey Conners, seeded 36th, in the round of 16. Conners beat Swede Alex Noren 3&2 to finish 3-0 in his group.
“I really love matchplay,” Conners said. “I was excited for this week. I feel like I’m playing well. I’m not giving any shots away and that’s what you’ve got to do.”
World No 2 Collin Morikawa drove the 18th green and made birdie to beat fellow American Jason Kokrak 1-up and win his group, booking a date with Mexican 15th seed Abraham Ancer.
“I’ve just been giving away too many shots to try and contend. Out here, you can’t do that,” Morikawa said. “It has been getting a little better and hopefully it will continue to be like that.”
England’s Tyrrell Hatton beat American Daniel Berger 2-up to sweep his group at 3-0 and book a last-16 date with Ireland’s Seamus Power, who advanced despite a 2&1 loss to American Keith Mitchell.
In the only group to feature four Major winners, Australia’s Adam Scott beat Jordan Spieth 3&2 to finish with two wins and a tie to advance.
In the knockout stage, he’s in a quarter of the bracket with three Americans – Kevin Na, Zalatoris and Scott’s first knockout foe, past winner Kevin Kisner.
Saturday’s knockout matches (seed):
Abraham Ancer (MEX 15) vs Collin Morikawa (USA 2)
Takumi Kanaya (JPN 56) vs Corey Conners (CAN 36)
Adam Scott (AUS 32) vs Kevin Kisner (USA 29)
Will Zalatoris (USA 24) vs Kevin Na (USA 25)
Tyrrell Hatton (ENG 13) vs Seamus Power (IRL 42)
Scottie Scheffler (USA 5) vs Billy Horschel (USA 12)
Richard Bland (ENG 54) vs Dustin Johnson (USA 8)
Jon Rahm (ESP 1) vs Brooks Koepka (USA 16)
© Agence France-Presse