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Match Play

More surprises at World Match Play as Rory sets unwelcome record

It was contrasting fortunes for Rory and G-Mac at Dove Mountain.

THERE ARE BAD days at the office and then there’s this.

Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was humiliated in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, beaten 8&7 by Ben Crane.

The American has the reputation for slow play, although that wasn’t an issue. “We played quick out there because he was making birdies,” McIlroy said. “I bet you didn’t expect to see me this soon?”

His pal, the US Open champion Graeme McDowell had no trouble with Ross Fisher in a 4-and-2 victory, which assured he will move ahead of Woods in the next world ranking.

“I’m perhaps a better golfer than him in the last 12 months, but he’s definitely the greatest player that’s ever lived, I think,” McDowell said. “Of course, if someone told me at some point in my career I would be No. 3 in the world, I’d be proud of that fact.”

Geoff Ogilvy was not sure what to make of the 16 players left at the Match Play Championship. A two-time champion, he knows not to expect anything at the most unpredictable tournament of the year.

Even so, it was a peculiar mix of guys who advanced into the third round at Dove Mountain. There was 47-year-old Miguel Angel Jimenez and 17-year-old Matteo Manassero. PGA champion Martin Kaymer was still around, just barely, after going 20 holes to be the highest seed remaining at No. 2. Lee Westwood was not, the third straight year the No. 1 seed failed to get out of the second round.

“You get used to seeing guys winning,” Ogilvy said, referring to two-time finalist Paul Casey and Stewart Cink, who had reached at least the quarterfinals the last three years. Both of them were beaten.

It just proves how uncomfortable this tournament is.

This Accenture Match Play Championship suddenly has a flavor of youth and inexperience, which isn’t necessarily the same thing. Ogilvy and Jimenez are the only players who have reached the quarterfinals. Four players in the round of 16 are making their Match Play debut — Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Manassero and Jason Day.

The strangest of all is the American contingent. For the first time in five years, eight Americans have reached the third round, although it’s not the usual suspects. Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk were eliminated in the first round, and Phil Mickelson joined them on Thursday.

It was Mickelson’s loss that highlighted the second day — not only how he lost, but who beat him.

Fowler is a 22-year-old with game to go with his flair, dressed in matching pink shoes and shirts, attacking the course with joy. Despite a bogey on the third hole — the only one he lost — Fowler was 8-under par through 13 holes when the match ended, including a chip-in for birdie and two eagles over his last four holes.

He won 6 and 5, the worst loss ever for Mickelson in this World Golf Championship.

“He doesn’t really have a weakness,” Mickelson said. “He really is a complete player, and he put it together today. I just couldn’t keep pace. I think he’s going to do a lot for American golf.”

Fowler advanced to play Matt Kuchar, a Ryder Cup teammate who made it to the third round for the first time.

The surprise was Manassero, the Italian teen sensation, who usually makes his mark for his age. He was youngest to win the British Amateur, the youngest to win on the European Tour when he captured the Castello Masters in Spain last fall.

All he has done in two days is dispatch of Stricker and Charl Schwartzel, the latter taking some dramatics. Manassero was 1 up when his tee shot on the par-3 16th went over the grandstands and into a cactus, so he conceded the hole.

With nothing to lose and even less to fear, he smoked a 6-iron into 4 feet for birdie on the 17th hole and held off the South African to get into the third round against Luke Donald.

“It’s a big sense of achievement for me,” Manassero said.

Then there was 23-year-old Jason Day of Australia, in his first Match Play, already playing like a veteran. He got under the skin of Casey by making him putt when others might have conceded them. Casey missed his share, and made his earliest exit in Arizona.

Race to the top

Kaymer, meanwhile, kept alive his chances of going to No. 1 when he held on to beat Rose and Westwood was beaten. The German will have to reach the championship match to go to No. 1.

Watney and Westwood halved the last three holes, although it wasn’t that simple.

The turning point came on the par-3 16th, when Watney hit into a bunker, left it in the bunker and blasted out to 5 feet. Westwood had two putts from 20 feet to square the match, but knocked his first putt 3½ feet by the hole. Watney made his putt for bogey, and Westwood’s par putt barely touched the hole.

Then, Watney had a 5-foot birdie putt to win the match on the 17th and missed, giving life to Westwood. The Englishman had a 15-foot birdie putt to go into overtime, but it wasn’t close.

Westwood took solace in going 18 holes “considering how badly I putted.”

It was the second straight year Watney has beaten Westwood in the second round, although it was slightly different this time. Westwood had a bigger target as the No. 1 player in the world.

“It’s very satisfying,” Watney said. “Is it more so than last year? Yeah, maybe it is.”