An event already minus Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelslon sent several of the world’s best to an early exit.
Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy – seeded second through fifth entering the tournament – were among the day’s losers. Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy was beaten by Colombian Camilo Villegas 2 and 1. Top-seeded Steve Stricker lost in Wednesday’s first round.
The highest remaining seed was England’s Paul Casey at No. 6. Casey, the runner-up a year ago who won the World Match Play Championship in England in 2006, swiftly dispatched Canadian Mike Weir, 5 and 4.
The field was narrowed to 16 for Thursday’s third round on the sun-drenched desert course near Tucson. Woods, obviously, skipped the event because of his personal woes, and Mickelson begged off to go on vacation with his family.
If that didn’t take enough luster off the event, news that Woods would make his first public statement on his sex scandal on Friday certainly did.
But despite the lower profile, the Match Play is proving to be a wide-open competition.
“Like you saw, Steve Stricker won two weeks ago and lost yesterday. So it’s a crazy format,” said American Nick Watney, who beat Westwood 2 and 1.
The final 16 features five players from the United States, three each from England and South Africa and one apiece from Colombia, Spain, Japan, India and Thailand.
“We had nine Englishmen in the field, which was impressive,” Casey said. “I mean, obviously it was because of Tiger and Phil not being here. But I think that puts a little extra sort of emphasis. You kind of want to be the last Englishman here.”
Westwood, an Englishman, came back from two down to pull even after 13 holes. Watney, in his first Match Play appearance, regrouped to win the par-4 14th and 15th with birdies to win 2 and 1.
Furyk and Kaymer both lost to South Africans.
A 13-time winner on the PGA Tour, Furyk was beaten by Charl Schwartzel 3 and 2. Germany’s Kaymer also went down 3 and 2, to Tim Clark.
The closest two matches of the day went 20 holes, England’s Oliver Wilson beating McIlroy, and South African Retief Goosen defeating Ernie Els.
Among the survivors was Spain’s Sergio Garcia, a 2-and-1 winner over Swede Peter Hanson.
“It’s a funny tournament, this match play,” Garcia said, “because some years you come here you feel like you’re playing unbelievable, and you get beaten in the first or second round. And some years you come here, and you don’t feel quite as great and you manage to somehow get around it.”
After becoming the second No. 64 seed in the event’s 12-year history to beat a No. 1 seed with his win over Stricker, England’s Ross McGowan lost to Ryo Ishikawa of Japan 1-up. McGowan said his “intensity wasn’t quite there as much.”
“It’s a fantastic event,” McGowan said, “and just looking down the leaderboard and looking at the guys that are going out first and second round, and lots have won majors.”
Ogilvy was 1-up through 14 holes, but Villegas had birdies on the next two, then clinched it by matching the defending champ’s par on No. 17.
“Geoff is a great player and obviously he has a great record in this tournament,” Villegas said. “And he beat me last year. Funny enough, as players, we don’t forget those things.”
But they are friendly rivals. Ogilvy and Villegas had breakfast together before their match. Someone asked if they talked about Woods.
“Who?” Villegas said to laughter in the interview room. “You know what, there’s enough talk about him. We don’t need to be talking about him. Let the other people do it.”