SAN FRANCISCO – Normalcy, or at least familiarity, returned to the WGC-Cadillac Match Play on Saturday with the arrival of the knockout rounds.
After three days of round-robin group play, the Sweet 16 reverted to its one-and-done roots with a predictable level of intrigue and instantaneous feedback.
“Definitely the best I've played scoring-wise,” said McIlroy, who was 6 under par through 13 holes when he closed out Matsuyama. “I feel like tee to green it's been pretty similar. I was able to take advantage of some of the good shots I was hitting today. I putted a lot better.”
The good news for McIlroy was an afternoon tee time in the quarterfinals against Paul Casey. The bad news is that afternoon tee time may keep him from attending Saturday night's Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas.
“I’ll have to play even better this afternoon to have a chance,” smiled McIlroy, who estimated he rounded Harding Park in his morning match in 2 ½ hours. “Obviously, [the Match Play] takes priority over everything else.”
McIlroy added a measure of star power to an event that was quickly loosing its cachet. The world No. 1 and No. 5 (Jim Furyk) are the only two players to advance to the Elite 8 who are ranked inside the top 30.
Furyk – who beat J.B. Holmes, 5 and 3 – and Tommy Fleetwood – a 2-and-1 winner over Branden Grace – continued to close in on WGC-Match Play history. Both advanced and could become the first to win the event without a perfect record; each started the week 2-1 in group play.
“I knew Hunter was playing very well. He showed that in the first three rounds, he’s been playing fantastic golf for a number of years now,” said Senden of Mahan, who had not trailed a hole through the first three rounds.