AUSTIN, Texas — Needing to win the final hole to advance, Robert MacIntrye drilled a driver to 3 feet of the cup on he 371-yard 18th hole. Moments later, Sergio Garcia ended one of the record eight sudden-death playoffs with a hole-in-one.
Already the most fickle event in golf, the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play on Friday was an endless frenzy.
Kevin Na discussed with Dustin Johnson about waiting for a putt to be conceded — 6 inches — and then birdied the last two holes to oust the No. 1 player in the world. Patrick Cantlay, practically flawless with 14 birdies and an eagle over two days, managed only two birdies and lost a playoff with a three-putt.
When it finally ended, Jon Rahm at No. 3 was the only player from the top 20 seeds who made it to the knockout stage of the weekend at Austin Country Club.
“You just never know what can happen out there,” Billy Horschel said after beating Max Homa on the third playoff hole.
Just about everything did.
Garcia beat Lee Westwood in the longest of the eight playoffs with a 9-iron from 161 yards to a front pin on the par-3 fourth hole that landed just beyond the pin and trickled back into the cup.
Equally stunning was the drive of MacIntyre, the 24-year-old from Scotland with plenty of spunk and loads of fight. He was 1 down against Adam Long, who was poised to advance with Johnson in the group ahead about to lose to Na.
Johnson backed away from his 6-foot par putt — Na only had 4 feet for birdie — and his caddie, brother Austin, stepped in a few feet from the cup to help read the putt. Out of nowhere, a ball shot up the left side of the bank around the green and rolled in front of the caddie’s feet.
Dustin had to mark MacIntyre’s ball so he could putt. MacIntyre was oblivious to what happened except he knew he hit the shot of his life.
“Probably one of the best and one of the luckiest golf shots I’ve hit in my life,” MacIntyre said. “You’ve just got to keep fighting until the end, and it just shows anything can happen in this game.”
His only chance was a low bullet, and it caught the downward slope for extra run toward the left side of the green, which MacIntyre couldn’t see. He heard it was on the green.
“I didn’t have a clue how close,” MacIntyre said. I’m thinking it’s going to be just on the green below the slope. Going to have hopefully two putts maybe to win the hole. But when I seen where they put the ball back down I was like, `No way!’
“And that’s what you play the game for, these moments.”
Given how three days of group play has gone, there is no telling what to expect on the win-or-go-home weekend. It will include a trio of Texas Longhorns, including Jordan Spieth for the first time since 2016. He won three straight holes around the turn and, unlike Thursday when he let Matthew Wolff off the hook, Spieth managed to close out Corey Conners.
Scottie Scheffler halved his match when Xander Schauffele made an 8-foot birdie putt on the last hole, and then Scheffler returned the favor with a 12-foot birdie on the second extra hole. The other Longhorn is Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, who became the first No. 64 seed in Match Play history to make it to the weekend.
Frittelli had company.
Two other players seeded at No. 60 or lower made it to the knockout stage. Ian Poulter won his third straight match as the No. 60 seed, while Erik van Rooyen (62) advanced by beating Daniel Berger with a par on the second playoff hole.
Poulter and Matt Kuchar are the only players to have won all three matches. Kuchar knocked out defending champion Kevin Kisner with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
The 64-man field based on the world ranking was divided into groups of 16 based, with the final 16 assigned to the “D” group. Eight of those players are still in the game. Rahm was the only player from the “A” group of top 16 seeds.
Brian Harman felt a small measure of redemption. He shot the equivalent of a 64 in the opening round and still lost to Cantlay, who had seven birdies and an eagle. But when Cantlay fell flat and lost to Hideki Matsuyama, that sent Cantlay and Harman back out for a sudden-death playoff that Harman won when Cantlay’s 4-foot par putt lipped out.
Garcia was amazed by his ace, but he was quick to point out that he had to make a 10-footer and an 8-footer for par on the previous two holes just to stay in the match during the playoff.
The eight playoffs to decide group winners broke the previous mark of five in 2017 since group play began six yeas ago.
“The two putts I made … massive to keep myself going,” Garcia said. “And then obviously the shot on 4, it’s a great shot, but then you get lucky that first of all it doesn’t hit the flag because it must have been very close to hitting the flag, and then it rolls back in. Obviously, very happy about that.”