Italian teen Matteo Manassero led a dynamic charge of the next generation in the Accenture Match Play Championship, joining Rickie Fowler among the 16 players who advanced to the third round on Thursday.
The 17-year-old Manassero withstood a late rally by Charl Schwartzel of South Africa with a 6-iron into 4 feet on the 17th hole that carried him to a 1-up victory. Fowler, a 22-year-old who wears a matching pink shirt and shoes, hit a pair of 4-irons into the par 5s for eagle on the back nine to hand Phil Mickelson his worst loss ever in this tournament.
Joining them in the third round was 29-year-old Nick Watney, who steadied his emotions over the last three holes to knock out top-ranked Lee Westwood — the third straight year the No. 1 seed did not make it out of the second round.
The highest seed remaining after two wild days was No. 2 Martin Kaymer, the 25-year-old PGA champion from Germany who had to go 20 holes to beat Justin Rose.
Of the 16 players remaining, eight are under the age of 30.
Manassero keeps setting age records wherever he goes — the youngest to win the British Amateur, the youngest to be low amateur at the British Open and the Masters, the youngest to win on the European Tour.
“It’s a big sense of achievement for me,” Manassero said.
He was in control for much of his match against Schwartzel until nearly giving it away. His tee shot on the 16th bounced off the corporate tents and into a cactus, and the Italian felt as though he might have moved the ball while trying to remove a loose branch. So he conceded the hole to Schwartzel, and put it behind him quickly.
His 6-iron on the 17th set up birdie, and Manassero closed it out with a par on the 18th.
Mickelson didn’t play his best, and it might not have mattered.
Fowler seized control with a tough pitch to close range on the eighth, chipped in from off the green on the 10th, then made two eagles. He ended the match with a 4-iron from 232 yards that rolled so close to the flag that Mickelson conceded the eagle.
Also winning on Thursday was Jason Day, a 23-year-old from Australia, who beat last year’s finalist, Paul Casey, in 16 holes.
This was Day’s debut in the Match Play Championship, and he is already showing some guile. He irritated Casey by making him putt from short distance, and Casey missed his share. Day never trailed in winning their match, 4 and 2.
One youngster who did not advance was 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, the No. 7 seed from Northern Ireland. He ran into Ben Crane, who played perhaps his quickest round ever — the match ended on the 11th hole, an 8-and-7 victory.
US Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland had no trouble with Ross Fisher in a 4-and-2 victory, which assured he will move ahead of Tiger Woods to No. 3 in the next world rankings.
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 make it to the championship match to reach the top ranking.
Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk were eliminated in the first round on Wednesday.