Planet Golf — 27 March 2021 by GW staff and news services
One birdie in finale enough for Horschel

AUSTIN, Tex.— Billy Horschel didn’t find much to admire about his golf Sunday except that he was the last man standing in the Dell Technologies Match Play.

And that was a thing of beauty.

Horschel won six out of his seven matches over 122 holes in the longest week in golf, and he had just enough left in the tank in strong wind to hold off Scottie Scheffler, 2 and 1, in a sloppy championship match at Austin Country Club.

His only birdie was a chip-in from 40 feet below the fifth green, yet Horschel didn’t lose another hole.

Scheffler lost his putting touch that carried him to so many big moments this week, yet he managed to stay in the match. He twice had to take penalty drops — with Horschel in the fairway — and he still didn’t lose the hole.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Horschel said. “I feel sorry for the fans watching the coverage because they didn’t see any great golf shots, or very few of them at that. They saw a lot of sloppiness. They saw a lot of pars win holes.

“It was just one of those days where you knew you just had to keep grinding it out, trying to give yourself the best opportunity to make easy pars and hopefully that was going to get the job done,” he said. “I didn’t have my great stuff.”

Neither did Scheffler, the 24-year-old Texas graduate who reached the final by taking down three former Match Play champions and two players from the top 10 in the world. His only birdie in the final match was a 35-footer that Horschel conceded after driving into the ravine on the second hole.

“I just wasn’t able to make any birdies this afternoon,” Scheffler said. “I couldn’t really get that spark that I needed, and I gave myself some opportunities. Just wasn’t able to make the putts.”

He had the support of the Austin crowd that shouted, “Hook ’em,” and Scheffler too often obliged.

He went left on the par-5 sixth and had to take a penalty drop. He pulled is approach into the water on the par-5 12th. He hooked another drive off the roof of a two-story hospitality tent left of the 15th fairway.

Through it all, he managed to make Horschel sweat it out until the 17th hole. Scheffler, who missed two putts inside 10 feet on the back nine that would have won holes, missed from 10 feet for birdie on the par-3 17th to end it.

Horschel, the No. 32 seed, won for the sixth time on the PGA Tour. It was his first individual title in nearly four years. A former Walker Cup player, he had failed to make it to the weekend in his previous four appearances in the Match Play.

“You just never know when you’re going to win,” Horschel said. “You just never know when it’s going to be your time.”

Horschel took his first lead when Scheffler’s chip left of the seventh green was too strong and rolled 12 feet by, and he took a 2-up lead to the back nine when the Texan missed a 5-foot par putt on No. 9.

Horschel didn’t make it easy on himself. He was poised to take control on the par-5 12th when Scheffler’s approach went into the water. Horschel had a wedge to the green and sent it over the flag into a bunker, leaving him a shot he couldn’t get any closer than about 18 feet. He wound up with a bogey, and Scheffler had a 10-footer for par to win the hole.

He missed.

Two holes later, Scheffler stuff his approach into 5 feet on No. 14 with a chance to get to 1 down.

He missed again.

The match looked as though it would end on the par-5 16th when Scheffler went so far to the right up the hill that his only play was back to the fairway, and he did well to get on the green some 35 feet away. Horschel smartly laid up, but his wedge to a back pin went into the bunker. He managed to save par this time to stay 2 up, and it ended a hole later.

So many times this week, Scheffler was able to make all the big putts at all the right moments. That included his 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole Sunday morning that led to a 1-up victory over Matt Kuchar.

“I think I did that pretty much every time this week until the last match,” Scheffler said. “I mean, that’s golf. That’s what happens.”

Kuchar won the consolation match over Victor Perez of France.

Kuchar, trying to tie Tiger Woods’ record with a fourth appearance in the championship match, didn’t make a putt longer than 3 feet, 6 inches in his semifinal loss to Scheffler.

Perez wasn’t much better in his semifinal match. The Frenchman lost three holes on the back nine to Horschel by making bogey or worse, including a three-putt on the 14th hole.


AUSTIN, Texas – Scottie Scheffler couldn’t get the picture out of his head. Sitting on the couch watching Ryder Cup’s with his father and seeing European Ian Poulter bury putt after putt to sink the Americans.

Then there was the time in 2012 that he played the Junior Ryder Cup at Olympia Fields in Chicago while the big boys were at battle at nearby Medinah. But Scheffler was on his way home to Texas on Sunday and in the airport watching as Europe mounted an epic fightback. Poulter was again leading the way.

Those visions sat there for Scheffler Saturday morning as a carrot while he prepared to play the wily veteran. I can beat this guy he thought – and he did it in style with seven birdies helping him to a 5 and 4 rout.

Before he could catch his breath he was back out on Austin Country Club – a place not unfamiliar for the former University of Texas Longhorn – to play against the new breed of European superstar in Jon Rahm.

This is a Ryder Cup year and there is no doubt U.S. captain Steve Stricker would have taken notice of his 3 and 1 dismantling of Rahm. It wasn’t just the fact he won – it was how he won. Scheffler posted up eight birdies and when Rahm came after him with birdies of his own down the stretch the Texan just matched them.

“I played some really good golf. I think I kept things bogey-free, and I got some early leads and made sure that I kept the pressure on those guys and made them feel like they had to do something special to beat me, which they weren’t able to do,” Scheffler said.

Scheffler won the Arnold Palmer Award as the PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year last season. He famously shot 59 during the FedExCup Playoffs and while he’s yet to win on TOUR, plenty of people have long suggested that’s just a matter of time for the 24-year-old.

He made a choice not to be intimidated by any situation on Saturday and he plans to do the same when he comes up against another veteran in Matt Kuchar in Sunday’s semi-final. There is no doubt he has the lion share of the crowd support and is riding the energy as far as he can.

“This is the position I want to be in at the end of the week,” Scheffler added. “I didn’t want to lose any matches and I have another great opponent in the morning. I’m looking forward to getting on the course with him.”

Kuchar showed grit and guile to come from behind to beat Jordan Spieth on the 18th hole in the round of 16 and then held off a tenacious finish from Brian Harman in the quarters. The 2013 champion was also runner up the last time the tournament was held in 2019 and sits behind only Tiger Woods for total wins.

The 42-year-old knows all the tricks of the match play trade and will prove a formidable roadblock for Scheffler’s dreams. A former U.S. Amateur winner and a veteran of Ryder and Presidents Cup teams, Kuchar seeks to join Woods, Ogilvy and Jason Day as multiple winners. And he would become the oldest winner should he get through to the trophy but says his legs aren’t dead yet.

“I can’t tell you how good I feel right now. I feel like I’m still floating,” Kuchar said. “There’s a high level of intensity and to come out on top, to make a 10-footer on the last to win the match, I feel incredible. Certainly a little easier tonight being done kind of 5 o’clock than it was last night being done after 7. So get a full night’s rest and hopefully a couple good matches tomorrow.”

On the other side of the draw Billy Horschel will meet Frenchman Victor Perez. Horschel came back from the dead to beat Tommy Fleetwood in a playoff when the Englishman sent a tee shot out-of-bounds. Now the former FedExCup champion has the chance to add another huge title to his resume.

As a five-time TOUR winner he’s no stranger to victories – but the last came in 2018. And while he does have a FedExCup title under his belt he is yet to win a WGC event. Recently he had the chance to win at WGC – Workday Championship at The Concession before finishing runner up to Collin Morikawa.

“Nothing changes. I know what tomorrow means. I know it’s no different than the final round,” Horschel said. “I’m not going to stress about it anymore, and I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to go play some golf and see where my game is and hopefully it’s good enough and I play well enough then I can move on and maybe hold a trophy tomorrow.”

As for Perez – he’s the wildcard who brings back memories of another French Victor. In 2014 Jason Day had to outlast Victor Dubuisson in the final in Tucson over extra holes when he kept making ridiculous par saves from the desert. Perez was a student in the desert himself in those days – as part of the golf team at the University of New Mexico.

He got all the way to the top-15 in the world and played in the Ryder Cup and obviously did great things in World Match Play and bigger tournaments. It gave us the belief that it was possible back then and obviously I’m very pleased to be where I am today,” Perez says of his countryman.

There aren’t as many cacti around Austin Country Club, but this does represent a chance for the 28-year-old to emulate Dubuisson and leverage this tournament into a Ryder Cup berth. Having already won the Dunhill Links on the European Tour last year, Perez will move inside the top 20 players in the world if he wins in Austin.

“I’m a big believer in trying to get better at what you’re already good at and my trainer has this funny line he says, ‘Just kind of sharpening your sword. Don’t try to change your sword, just try to keep doing what you’re doing and do it a little bit better.’ That’s what I’ve been very disciplined on doing.”

All four know one thing. A career-changing moment awaits.


AUSTIN, Texas — Brian Harman appeared headed for an early loss when he fell 4 down to Bubba Watson through five holes. Eight straight birdies later, Harman turned out a 2-and-1 victory to reach the quarterfinals of the Dell Technologies Match Play.

Jordan Spieth won’t be joining him.

Advancing to the weekend for the first time in five years at Austin Country Club, Spieth never trailed until Matt Kuchar beat him in what amounted to a short-game contest on the 18th hole for a 1-up victory.

That was the only match to reach the 18th hole in the fourth round Saturday morning.

Tommy Fleetwood had a hole-in-one on the par-3 fourth hole. Unlike the ace on Friday by Sergio Garcia that ended his playoff, this was just another hole he won in having no trouble dispatching Dylan Frittelli, 4 and 3.

Scottie Scheffler never gave Ian Poulter a chance, making seven birdies in 14 holes. Not only did the former Texas Longhorn never trail, Poulter never won a hole.

“I played some good golf and kept the pressure on him the whole day and ended up with a win,” Scheffler said. “You could tell by the look in his eye that he wasn’t giving in at all. He was just waiting for a spark.”

Scheffler advanced to play Jon Rahm, a finalist four years ago in Match Play, who knocked out Erik van Rooyen.

Victor Perez didn’t give Robert MacIntyre a chance for more heroics. He led from the opening hole in a 5-and-4 victory, sending the 24-year-old home off to prepare for the Masters. Reaching the weekend assured the Scot of staying in the top 50 to qualify for Augusta National.

Perez next faced Garcia, who beat Mackenzie Hughes, 2 and 1.

Billy Horschel, one of eight players who had to win a playoff to get to the weekend, beat Kevin Streelman on the 17th hole.

It was the second time in the Match Play that Watson and Harman, who both went to Georgia, squared off in the round of 16. Watson beat him on the 17th hole three years ago on his way to winning the tournament.

It was the same score this time, but entirely different.

Watson was 4 up through five holes, with Harman contributing one bogey, and they both made short birdie putts on the par-5 sixth hole. The rest of the way, it was mostly all Harman and there was nothing Watson could do about it.

It started with a tee shot into 6 feet of a tough pin — bunker right, deep ridge to the left — for birdie. Harman holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the next hole, and then did well to get out of a round fairway bunker on the ninth to just over 30 feet. He made that one, too.

Two more short birdie putts followed, and he won his sixth straight hole with his best shot: a flop shop from behind a bunker right of the green to a back-right pin position. It went straight up and landed softly to 3 feet.

Watson tried to make it interesting by winning the 15th and 16th holes with key shots for birdie to get within a hole. But on the par-3 17th, Watson’s tee shot was short and spun off into the hazard.

“He is a hard guy to beat in match play and he knocked me out of this tournament last time, so it’s nice to get the best of him today,” Harman said.

He moved on to play Kuchar, who knocked out Spieth with some key putts and a big break down the stretch.

Spieth and Kuchar went from winning holes with birdies to winning with pars. Spieth was 2 up twice, the last occasion after a short birdie on No. 10. That turned out to be the last hole he won.

Kuchar birdied the 11th and made birdies from the 18-foot range on the next two holes to tie the match. Spieth appeared certain to take the lead on the par-5 16th when Kuchar sprayed his shot into the trees. The ball was so buried he needed help finding it, but was able to get a drop because a scoreboard was in his way. He scrambled for par, and Spieth missed a 6-foot birdie putt.

It ended on the 18th when both players came up short of the green. Spieth caught too much ball and went 30 feet long. Kuchar hit a floater to 4 feet and made the birdie to advance.

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