Sunday, February 25, 2024

2023 WGC-Dell Match Play leaderboard, scores: Semifinals set as Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler advance

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A day that began with 16 competitors ends with just four as Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Sam Burns and Cameron Young are the last men standing at the 2023 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Four of the top 20 players in the world will face off Sunday at Austin Country Club in semifinal matches before the two eventual winners meet in the championship.

World No. 1 Scheffler will be tasked with defeating his good friend Sam Burns. Often hanging out away from the golf course and traveling from tournament to tournament with each other, the two will put their friendship aside for 18 holes. It will not be the first instance the pair will meet in a winner-takes-all showdown; Burns got the better of Scheffler in a playoff at the 2022 Charles Schwab Challenge.

“We want to beat each other as bad as anybody, if not more,” said Burns. “Obviously, when we tee it up, it’ll be business, and after we’ll give a hug to each other and congratulate whoever wins.”

The other semifinal match will feature two of the best drivers in McIlroy and Young. McIlroy skirted past Xander Schauffele in the quarterfinals, never once leading the match until the final putt dropped, and now will face arguably the hottest player in the championship in Young. McIlroy tallied a total of 17 birdies on Saturday, and will need a similar effort if he is to rise above this American contingent.

Let’s take a look at how Day 4 played out at Austin Country Club.

Player of the week (thus far)

It could easily be Scheffler or McIlroy, but Young has been nothing short of stellar in his debut. The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is 32 under in 81 holes in his first stroll around Austin CC. He has seen the 18th hole just twice and looks to be a man possessed with new bagman, Paul Tesori, alongside him. Of all the players, he has certainly experienced the least amount of stress — whether that is a good or bad thing will be determined on Sunday.

Match of the afternoon

In a battle of top 10 players in the world, McIlroy got the better of Schauffele 1 UP. Doubling down from a 3 & 2 victory at the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, McIlroy fell down early when Schauffele converted four birdies in his opening seven holes to go 2 UP. A pair of birdies sandwiched around the turn from McIlroy tied the match as players went into the meat of the golf course.

A back-and-forth exchange occurred on Nos. 12-13 and set up the finish of the day. Birdies on 15 and 16 from both players led them to the 17th tee tied. After McIlroy airmailed the green with his tee shot, Schauffele hit his inside 10 feet but was unable to convert. McIlroy saw the crack and busted the door open with a clinching birdie of his own on the 18th. The world No. 3 never led in this match until the final putt dropped, and he tallied a total of 17 birdies in 36 holes between his two matches.

Match of the morning

Herbert said Friday evening that if McIlroy had his A game, there is likely nothing he could do. Herbert got just that from McIlroy Saturday morning. The two combined for a best ball 12-under 59 with McIlroy totaling an even split of nine birdies and nine pars. Herbert wasn’t far behind with seven birdies of his own, including a clutch one on the 17th hole to extend the match before ultimately falling 2 DOWN.

“I got beaten by the best player in the world probably playing the best golf of anyone in the world today,” said Herbert. “You know, I’ve got nothing but just pride for the way I played. Pushed him [McIlroy] all the way to the end. I just didn’t feel like there was a hell of a lot more I could have done. I played really, really nicely. Played nicely for four days in a row, so it’s frustrating to finish the tournament here. Just really proud of myself.”

Performance of the day

Jason Day loves the par-5 6th. Making eagle on the hole during the morning session against Matt Kuchar, Day extended his lead to 2 UP over the former champion. Five hours later, Day played the hole in almost the exact same fashion versus Scheffler. It proved to be a critical moment in the match as Day extended his lead to 3 UP over Scheffler — his largest deficit of the week. Unfortunately for Day, that was as good as it would get as he fell to the world No. 1 2 & 1.

Odd decisions down the stretch

To pull off an upset, a number of bounces need to go your way. Both J.T. Poston and Herbert had their opponents — Scheffler and McIlroy — on the ropes in the Round of 16 heading into the closing holes before some poor decision making. Poston was tied with Scheffler, and after the defending champion pulled iron off the tee, Poston decided to follow suit. He would ultimately make bogey and lose his match 1 DOWN. 

Meanwhile, Herbert arrived to the 18th 1 DOWN and had the honors off the tee. He, too, decided to lay back, and once McIlroy hit his ensuing drive up next to the green, the match was all but over. It’s a shame two fantastic efforts came up short and spoil otherwise competitive matches, but the data doesn’t lie.

Scottie looks for another successful defense

Scheffler was able to defend his WM Phoenix Open victory, nearly did at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and is now in prime position to do so again in Austin. He would become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2007 — when he did four times — to successfully defend multiple titles in a season. Scheffler will be unable to match Woods’ total from 2007, but will be able to inch closer should he win on Sunday and add a third at Augusta National in two weeks.

Scheffler is now 10-0-0 in his last 10 matches in the WGC Match Play and will look to stretch his win streak to 12 on Sunday. He will claim the second-longest win streak in WGC Match Play history should he pull that off, falling one short to Woods and without a chance to catch him as this event comes to an end.

2023 WGC-Dell Match Play semifinal matches

  • Scottie Scheffler (1) vs. Sam Burns (13)
  • Rory McIlroy (3) vs. Cameron Young (15)

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