The sheer lottery of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship was again front and center on Thursday, as top seeds Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose were eliminated in the second round.
Swede Stenson, seeded No. 1 this week, never led before going down four-and-three to South African Louis Oosthuizen, while fourth-seeded Northern Irishman McIlroy lost a see-sawing encounter with the US’ Harris English after 19 holes.
In the final match of the day at Dove Mountain, US Open champion and second seed Rose was pipped by Els after 20 closely contested holes, the big South African sealing victory with a magical birdie at the par-five second.
Former world No. 1 Els somehow struck his third shot from a near-impossible lie in a greenside bunker to within three feet of the flag, before Rose needed two strokes to escape the sand on the way to a losing par five on their 20th hole.
McIlroy, beaten by the US’ Hunter Mahan in the 2012 final, had clawed his way back from two down after 13 holes to edge one-up after 16 on another breezy day of dazzling sunshine in Arizona’s high desert.
However, English leveled the match with a birdie at the par-four 17th and sealed victory after his opponent made a compete hash of the 19th.
English is next to face Jim Furyk, the PGA Tour veteran having beaten former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa three-and-two.
Oosthuizen won three of the first four holes against a sub-par Stenson, the 2007 champion, and maintained control before ending the match with a birdie at the par-four 15th.
Rickie Fowler continued his giant-killing ways with a one-up win over in-form fellow American Jimmy Walker and is next to meet Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who beat good friend Bill Haas of the US three-and-one.
Fowler came from one down with three holes to play, sealing his second win of the week with a birdie on 16 followed by well-executed par saves on 17 and 18.
Garcia, who had battled past Australian Marc Leishman after 22 holes in his opening match, was two down after seven holes, but sparked his fightback with an eagle at the eighth before taking control with three birdies after the turn.
American Jordan Spieth, last year’s PGA Tour rookie of the year, was always in command against Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn before wrapping up a comfortable five-and-four victory.
In yesterday’s third round, Spieth was to take on defending champion Matt Kuchar, who scraped through a tight contest against fellow American Ryan Moore one-up.
Frenchman Victor Dubuisson never trailed on the way to a three-and-one win against Swede Peter Hanson and is next to face former Masters champion Bubba Watson, a two-up winner against Swede Jonas Blixt.
Australian Jason Day battled back from three down after 10 holes to scrape past the US’ Billy Horschel after 22 holes, while Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell rallied from two down after 14 holes to beat Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama one-up.