A dramatic finish and loads of birdies: Rory-Xander II was as good as it gets
Rory McIlroy had 3-feet-7-inches for par on 17. Xander Schauffele also had 3-feet-7-inches for par on 17.
Then they both looked at each other.
Their Quarterfinal match of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was already one for the books. Both had already made seven birdies against just one bogey. Schauffele led at one point 2 Up, but that lasted just one hole. Each was making clutch putt after clutch putt.
“It was a great match,” Schauffele said afterward. “I felt like I definitely had the better of him. I had looks where he didn’t and he made putts when I was just kind of waiting around.”
After both players birdied the previous two holes, McIlroy flew the green on the par-3 17th. Schauffele stepped up and hit his approach off a slope on the right side of the green to 10 feet.
When his putt slid by on the left side of the cup, he had the same distance as McIlroy for par after the latter’s putt from off the green.
Even in the heat of a tied match, they went “good-good.”
The pair of the game’s titans decided the match was not going to be lost by a missed three-footer. They were both playing too well.
But ultimately the outcome was decided by luck.
McIlroy hit first on the finishing hole, the same place he drove his ball to three feet on Friday and made an easy birdie to close out his match in the morning Saturday. His tee ball this time was left, but it skipped off a spectator, leaving it left of the green, but with a doable up-and-down.
Schauffele’s tee ball also went left and bounced off a spectator, but instead of continuing forward down the hill like McIlroy’s, it bounced backward. Schauffele was left with 74 yards, partially blocked by a tree. McIlroy had just 36 yards.
When the two walked up, McIlroy admitted he was surprised when he found out it was his ball that got the better break.
“I expected my ball to be Xander’s ball on 18 behind that tree,” he said. “I got fortunate that mine trundled down the hill and obviously made the chip shot a lot easier.
“You need a little bit of fortune in these things, and that was a bit of luck for me today.”
He made a 12-footer to advance to the semifinals for the first time in seven years at this event.
“[18 has been] sort of been friendly to me all week,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully if I can play a little bit better, I don’t need to play 18 tomorrow. But we shall see.”
In five matches, he’s had to play the final hole three times but birdied it each try, including both times on Saturday. Those two were part of his 16 Saturday at Austin Country Club. He led the remaining golfers in putting during the quarters and was fourth in the Round of 16.
“Both ends of the bag are working pretty well, and the stuff in the middle is not too bad, either,” said McIlroy, who faces Cam Young in the semis Sunday morning. “Yeah, I putted well all day. I felt yesterday against Keegan [Bradley] I found something or I got a feel, and then putted really good this morning against Lucas [Herbert], and then continued that this afternoon.”
Despite nine birdies in the morning, Herbert still took him the distance. His reward for shooting 62? A rematch from the 2021 Ryder Cup against one of the only other two top 10 golfers left in the event. Of course, Schauffele would take him the distance too, despite shooting 64 this time.
“I think winning the Match Play is always a massive accomplishment because of what you have to go through,” McIlroy said. “It’s seven rounds and, especially this week, I feel like a lot of my matches have been really, really close, so to be able to pull them out when I’ve needed to has been very gratifying.”