Scheffler, McIlroy at their best to reach Match Play semis
Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, clinches his fist after making a putt to win his match over Xander Schauffele in a quarterfinal round at the Dell Technologies Match Play Championship golf tournament in Austin, Texas, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Doug Ferguson, The Associated Press
Published Saturday, March 25, 2023 7:28PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, March 25, 2023 7:29PM EDT
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Defending champion Scottie Scheffler twice had to rally from deficits to win both matches and reach the semifinals of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play for the third straight year. Rory McIlroy joined him by making 17 birdies in two matches that went the distance.
The final version of the Match Play lived up to its edge-of-the-seat reputation Saturday, with wild turns of momentum until four players remained.
Sam Burns advanced by beating Patrick Cantlay in 17 holes and then overcoming an early deficit to beat Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, 3 and 2.
Burns advances to meet Scheffler, his best friend on tour with whom he often shares a house when they’re on the road. Their last encounter was at Colonial last year, when Burns made a 45-foot birdie putt to beat Scheffler in a playoff.
Cameron Young looked as if he had an easy time, until it wasn't. He was 3 up at the turn, missed a chance to go 4 up on the 12th and then had to go to the 18th hole before he could dispatch of Bay Hill winner Kurt Kitayama.
Scheffler, who lost in the final in his Match Play debut in 2021, now has won 10 straight matches. He was 2 down against J.T. Poston in the morning with five holes left when he birdied the 17th to square the match and won the 18th with a par.
He was 3 down against former Match Play champion Jason Day through seven holes when he battled back, taking his first lead with a birdie on the 13th and then pulling away. He closed it out with a wedge to 2 inches on the 17th.
Scheffler said he and caddie Ted Scott had a chat when Day went birdie-birdie-eagle on the front nine to go 3 up. The eagle came on a 5-wood from 282 yards to 5 feet on the par-5 sixth hole at Austin Country Club.
“Just ride out the heater,” Scheffler said. “I had to stay patient.”
Day began to struggle with allergies on the eighth hole, and then Scheffler had a heater of his own by making six birdies over their final nine holes.
McIlroy, who beat Lucas Herbert of Australia in the fourth round, never led against Xander Schauffele in the quarterfinals until the final hole. They were all square going to the 18th, and McIlroy gave a weary fist pump when he made his 12-foot birdie.
He made nine birdies against Herbert. He made eight birdies against Schauffele, who made seven birdies.
“I needed to dig deep,” McIlroy said. “He's one of the best players in the world. I knew I was going to need to produce something similar to this morning. I was 16 under for two rounds of golf. That shows the caliber you need to play out there.”
Next up for McIlroy is Young, who finished ahead of him at St. Andrews last year with a 31 on the back nine. Young has made 31 birdies and two eagles in his five matches this week. He won his group on Friday with a 5-and-3 win. He made it through Saturday morning with a 5-and-4 rout of Billy Horschel. He was on his way to another romp against Kitayama.
But he missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 12th that would have put him 4 up. Kitayama won the next two holes with birdies. Young missed from 10 feet for birdie, 15 feet for eagle and 10 feet for birdie on the next three, all three putts burning the edge.
Ultimately, he only needed two putts from 15 feet on the 18th for the win. That was about the only easy part of his final two hours.
“I don't think I made a bogey today and I was biting my nails trying to win my match,” Young said. “I think it just shows you the quality of golf that’s played out here and how hard it is to get through even just one day like today, never mind that today was our fifth match.”
Day earlier on Saturday birdied the 16th for a 1-up lead and then held on to beat Matt Kuchar, denying the 44-year-old American a chance to set the tournament record for most matches won. He leaves sharing the mark of 36 wins with Tiger Woods.
Day had his own chance to match Woods by winning Match Play for the third time. That ended against Scheffler.
At stake for the world's No. 1 player on Sunday is a chance to join Woods as the only players to win Match Play back-to-back.
One day remains, and it feels like a long way to go.