MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Graeme McDowell figured his luck had run out Friday at the Match Play Championship.
After two remarkable rallies to even reach the third round, McDowell missed a pair of 8-foot putts to fall 2 down with two holes to play against Hunter Mahan, who had lost only four times in 18 matches at the Golf Club of Dove Mountain.
“My head went down as I walked off the 16th green. I really thought I blew it,” McDowell said after yet another improbable comeback. “I genuinely thought I was done this time. I really didn’t think there was any way back from that.”
Even he couldn’t believe what followed.
McDowell won the next two holes to extend the match. He made a 20-foot par putt on the 20th hole to stay alive, and then won the next hole with a 15-foot birdie putt.
“Nine lives have been used up — and then some,” McDowell said.
Ernie Els is 5-over par in 57 holes over three matches and he reached the quarterfinals. Jim Furyk has been at least 2 down in every match and he advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in 14 appearances. Rickie Fowler won a match that featured an 18-foot par putt conceded to him by Sergio Garcia, who felt bad because of a ruling that had taken too much time on the previous hole.
The Accenture Match Play Championship always has its share of wild tales.
McDowell tops them all.
How else to explain how a guy can play 58 holes over three matches without ever hitting a tee shot with the lead?
Most players are relieved with every match they win. McDowell felt a tinge of guilt.
“Embarrassed is the wrong word. I’m not embarrassed,” he said. “But I just feel like I’m robbing these guys.”
Perhaps it’s only fitting that his quarterfinal match is against Victor Dubuisson of France, who took out Bubba Watson. Dubuisson has never trailed at any point this week. He plays the guy who has never led a single hole while the match was going on.
In other matches:
— Furyk, getting plenty of support from his college days at Arizona, rallied from an early deficit to beat Harris English on the 18th hole. He next plays Fowler, who made birdie on the 18th for a 1-up win over Garcia.
— Jason Day, who played 40 holes over the opening two rounds, had a relatively easy time in beating George Coetzee, 3 and 1. Day will play the quarterfinals against Louis Oosthuizen, who was stellar in a 5-and-4 win over Webb Simpson.
— Els beat a reigning major champion for the second straight day — U.S. Open champion Justin Rose on Thursday, PGA champion Jason Dufner on Friday. Even though he was scrappy again, the Big Easy birdied the 18th for a 1-up victory over Dufner. Now it’s time to play 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who had 10 birdies on his card to take out defending champion Matt Kuchar. Els has made only nine birdies all week.
The only player who had a more unlikely run to the quarterfinals in the 16-year history of this Accenture Match Play Championship was Geoff Ogilvy at La Costa in 2006. In his opening four matches, he watched 10 times as his opponent had a putt to win the match. Ogilvy went extra holes in every match until the semifinals, and he went on to win the tournament. McDowell can only hope he gets the same outcomes.
“I’m playing with house money,” he said.
McDowell was 3 down to Gary Woodland with three holes to play when he won the next three holes, and then beat him with a birdie on the 19th hole in the opening round. He was 2 down with four holes to play against Hideki Matsuyama when he won two holes, made a 10-foot par to halve another, and won the 18th with a par.
It bordered on ridiculous against Mahan, who had a 16-4 record on this golf course.
Unlike the opening two days, McDowell actually had a chance to take the lead with birdie chances on the eighth, ninth and 10th holes. Mahan went ahead with a birdie on the 11th, prompting McDowell to say, “I’m allergic to 1 up.”
He’s used to being down, especially late in the match.
Mahan pitched to 3 feet for birdie on the 15th, and he won the 16th when McDowell three-putted for bogey. Both players drove into the rough on the 17th, both came up short in the bunker. McDowell had 10 feet for par, Mahan was inside of that by a few feet.
McDowell’s par putt just curled into the left side of the cup, and he slammed his putter into the bag. “Where has that been all day?” he said. His cap was removed when Mahan’s putt slid by, and off they went to the 18th. McDowell’s approach caught the ridge, and he made the 6-foot birdie for overtime.
Surely, his luck figured to run out on the 20th hole, the par-4 ninth, when his 3-wood caught a deep bunker and left him no shot at the green. McDowell hit 9-iron to get over the lip and barely cleared the desert, and his third shot settled 20 feet away. He made that for par and kept going until the next hole.
It was the second time McDowell has beaten Mahan in match play. The other was far more important — the decisive match at the Ryder Cup in Wales.
“I didn’t really know what to say to him,” McDowell said. “I said everything but ‘sorry,’ you know? I didn’t say, ‘Sorry.’ But I felt sorry for him. I didn’t feel sorry for him, I felt sorry for what had happened.”