As we enter the Sweet 16 at the Dell Match Play, I admit that I'm a bit shocked.
Shocked that I still have two active picks, that is, and that they won their groups 3-0-0.
I'm not terribly surprised that Phil Mickelson made it through; he's been playing well all year. Likewise, Paul Casey has been playing well for a year or more, though I was less sure he'd get past Schwartzel unscathed. And Patrick Reed's elimination was no shock either; he clearly hasn't recovered from the emotional month after the Ryder Cup when he said he was just worn out. (That's why he was my flier. I though match play might revitalize him. I was wrong.)
But when the Woodland withdrawal took out Rory McIlroy -- the one pick I thought was ironclad -- before we even reached the third day, I expected EVERYTHING to go wrong. We lost three players to withdrawals, and you just never know how that will affect the field. (BTW, you'll all be glad to know that Jason Day's mom came through surgery just fine and the doctors say they're optimistic about her recovery, according to ESPN.)
While the purpose of the round robin stage was to guarantee the big names didn't leave after only one day of bad luck, it's clear the "pool" concept hasn't made match play less volatile. I would argue that its main benefit is that more players choose to come, simply because it's not a one-day trip. Even if you get bounced by an unexpected withdrawal (or three), at least you didn't spend more time traveling than playing.
Besides, there's plenty to do in Austin TX, even if you do get bounced.
But now the whole landscape of the event has changed. Bubba, Koepka and Noren have found their games while Soren Kjeldsen, Hideto Tanihara and Will McGirt have opened quite a few eyes. Throw in the dominance of Dustin Justin and Jon Rahm, and this Match Play just got very interesting.
I just hope Phil and Paul can hang on and reach the Final Four. It's been a couple of years since I had a pick make the finals. (I think that was Victor Dubuisson, the year Jason Day won his first Match Play.) I'd like to do it again.