For the most part, the stars have come to play at the 2023 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Defending champion and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler continued his stellar run at Austin Country Club, steamrolling through his group with a perfect 3-0-0 record. As a result, the former Texas Longhorn improved his career record in this championship to 13-2-2 and will face J.T. Poston in the Round of 16.
"The simplicity of it [match play] is what I like," said Scheffler. "Even if the guy is playing great golf, I know what I need to do. Sometimes you're under the buzz saw, which happens. I ran into a few buzz saws at the Presidents Cup last year, and that happens. Overall, I feel like if I'm playing my best, then I should win the match. That's what I'm focused on doing: Trying to go out and play my best and go from there."
Scheffler is not the only big name to remain perfect in the Lone Star State. Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, Xander Schauffele, Sam Burns, Cameron Young and Jason Day all garnered 3-0-0 records in the group stage. However, it was not all sunshine and rainbows for the top players as world. World No. 2 Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau and Tyrrell Hatton were all sent packing early.
Despite a bevy of elite players in the mix heading into the knockout stage, the marathon weekend will not be without its fair share of Cinderella stories. Along with Poston, J.J. Spaun, Lucas Herbert and Andrew Putnam were lower seeds to go 3-0-0 the first three days. They aim to join the likes of Billy Horschel and Kevin Kisner as surprise winners of this event in Austin.
Let's take a look at how Day 3 played out at Austin Country Club.
Player of the group stage
The first three days belonged to Young and new caddie Paul Tesori. Perhaps still in their honeymoon phase, the pair absolutely dominated the competition in the group stage. After carding nine consecutive threes on his front nine on Wednesday en route to victory, Young battled Corey Conners to a 1 UP win on Thursday. The reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year was at it again on Friday, when he began his round with seven birdies in his first 12 holes for a dominating triumph over Sepp Straka.
Cam Young dialed in @DellMatchPlay 🎯 pic.twitter.com/b0v3m1lBEy— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 24, 2023
Day, a two-time WGC Match Play winner, was in need of a tie or better against two-time major champion Morikawa to advance. The two exchanged blow after blow on the front nine before Day took control around the turn. In total, the former world No. 1 carded six birdies in 15 holes and cleaned up Morikawa in a relatively stress-free fashion. The Australian hasn't won since the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship, but he is just four matches away from reentering the winner's circle and tying Tiger Woods for the most WGC Match Play titles.
"It's just so hard to put an exact date on when I'm going to break through," said Day. "Every day I wake up just trying to improve and learn and get better as a player. Whether it comes early or later down the road, it doesn't matter. I'm just trying to improve my game."
58 feet to tie the hole ...— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 24, 2023
Not a problem for @JDayGolf 😏 pic.twitter.com/1qwTkGAu8y
Tiger's record in jeopardy
Matt Kuchar joined elusive company with his 7 & 6 beatdown of Si Woo Kim. Winning his 36th career match in the WGC Match Play, Kuchar sits alongside Woods for the most victories in championship history. He will have his chance to surpass the 15-time major champion should he defeat Day in the Round of 16.
"[The record] crossed my mind last night after I missed that 6-footer to win the match. It's something -- coming in here, I had no idea. I had to be told. Certainly very cool. The point of this tournament is to keep winning matches, and I wanted to win this match to be able to move on to the 16s. So that was the main focus," said Kuchar. "Certainly getting a chance to tie any record of Tiger's is an amazing thing. That's something I still find it hard to comprehend that I'm saying that, that I tied one of his records. So I'm hugely proud, pleased. There's 300 more records, I'm sure, to go, but it's a fun one to be able to say."
Match of the day
In a winner-take-all showdown, Cantlay exacted revenge from a season ago over Brian Harman. The two met in the 2022 championship when Harman defeated Cantlay and then took the top spot in the group in a playoff. There were no extra holes needed this time around as the world No. 4 played his way into the knockout stage for the first time in his career. After falling 1 DOWN on the fourth hole, Cantlay clawed his way back and slammed the door shut with three birdies in his final five holes to claim a 2 & 1 victory.
"I've been playing really well for the last month or so," said Cantlay. "I'm excited about all the big tournament golf we have coming up. I've never made it to the weekend in this event before, so I'm excited to get into that match tomorrow against Sam [Burns]."
After winning his initial match against Mackenzie Hughes, Jordan Spieth fell on back-to-back days to Taylor Montgomery and Shane Lowry, failing to advance from the group stage. This disappointing culmination to his week in Austin marks his third since the onset of March. Coming up short down the stretch at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Valspar Championship and now WGC Match Play, Spieth sets his eyes on Augusta National for the 2023 Masters. He is striking his irons precisely, but the big miss off the tee continues to persist and got him into trouble more times than not at Austin CC.
Spieth seems like a big fan of the "90 percent air" theory pic.twitter.com/nqtmxWjfaP— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) March 24, 2023
Schauffele needed just a tie to advance out of his group, but it looked late as if he would come up short. Heading into the par-3 17th trailing Tom Hoge 1 DOWN, Schauffele's tee shot was destined for the penalty area. Hitting off the rocks, Schauffele's ball catapulted up into the air and came to rest in play. Ultimately winning the 17th, Schauffele would go onto win the match 1 UP with a birdie on the closing hole.
Talk about a lucky bounce for @XSchauffele 😲 pic.twitter.com/yXKxGyKZaQ— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 24, 2023
Temporary immovable object (TIO) relief has been a hot topic to begin 2023. On Friday, TIO fought back when Tom Kim attempted to drive the green on the short par-4 13th. Kim's ball ricocheted off the grandstands and found the pond protecting the front of the green. He would go onto to make par after taking relief on the putting surface and tied Scheffler on the hole.
The TIO revolution has finally arrived. You’re either with us or against us #RESIST pic.twitter.com/KFrdnlkqz7— Patrick McDonald (@AmateurStatus) March 24, 2023
2023 WGC-Dell Match Play Round of 16 matchups
1. Scottie Scheffler (1) vs. J.T. Poston (43)
2. Jason Day (32) vs. Matt Kuchar (59)
3. Max Homa (5) vs. Mackenzie Hughes (50)
4. Sam Burns (13) vs. Patrick Cantlay (4)
5. Billy Horschel (22) vs. Cameron Young (15)
6. Kurt Kitayama (19) vs. Andrew Putnam (56)
7. Xander Schauffele (6) vs. J.J. Spaun (61)
8. Rory McIlroy (3) vs. Lucas Herbert (46)
Winners of matches 1 and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, 7 and 8 will play each other in the quarterfinals Saturday afternoon.