MARANA, Ariz. – Russell Henley made it to match play only once at the U.S. Amateur and failed to advance out of local qualifying four consecutive years in Atlanta. But don’t let that middling record confuse you.
He was 5-0 in match play when he played for Georgia.
He played on a combined three Walker and Palmer Cup teams.
“I definitely pull a lot of confidence from it,” Henley said of his match-play resume. “It may not look as good as it felt.”
Imagine how he felt Thursday.
OK, so maybe not as good as his stirring performance at the Sony Open, where he became the first rookie in 12 years to win in his PGA Tour debut.
But his 1-up takedown of Charl Schwartzel – one of the hottest players in the world – on Thursday at Dove Mountain was impressive nonetheless.
With top-5 finishes in his last seven worldwide starts, including two victories, Schwartzel was one of the favorites to advance to at least the semifinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play.
Not so fast.
Henley is now an early candidate for Bracket Buster of the Year.
The 23-year-old never trailed during the match and closed it out with a tidy up-and-down from short of the 18th green.
On Wednesday, he squandered a 2-up lead when the weather began to turn for the worst. When play was called for the day, he was back to all square through 11 holes.
Then he waited.
“Yesterday was pretty boring in the afternoon,” he said. “Just kind of walked around the hotel and called everybody on my phone. … Spent a lot of time in my hotel room watching movies.”
But when play resumed at 1 p.m. local time, Henley won Nos. 12 and 13 and kept the pressure on Schwartzel by hitting all but one green in regulation Thursday. It was the South African’s first opening-round loss at the Match Play.
“I knew Charl was going to be tough,” said Henley, a 14th seed who will face Jason Day in the Round of 32. “I was mentally prepared for that right when I saw I was paired with him. I just tried to hang in, just give it everything I had and just hang tough and play until the end.”