The final four of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was set on Saturday afternoon, with a pair of dominating performances by two of golf’s hottest players, an unlikely steady performer advancing over a legend and a potential breakout start putting his way to the semifinals.
Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm easily moved on to the Sunday morning semifinals, continuing their unbeaten streak to five matches.
Rahm dispatched of Soren Kjeldsen by a 7-and-5 count, marking a second dominating performance on the day, following a 6-and-4 drubbing of Charles Howell III in the morning Round of 16 session. The Spaniard, who can get into the world top 10 in just 21 professional starts by capturing the win on Sunday, played just 27 of a possible 36 holes in the two combined matches — three fewer than Johnson, who has dominated opponents all week.
The world No. 1 Johnson defeated Alex Noren in the quarterfinal round by a 3-and-2 margin, a seemingly comfortable win devoid of drama. And, for the first nine holes, it was a carbon copy of Johnson’s prior four matches through the week. Johnson won the first hole, as he has in all five of his matches this week, and he took a 3-up lead into the back nine. The Swede Noren, however, won three consecutive holes to start the final half of the match and pulled even, marking the first time all week that Johnson was not ahead in a match. From there, Johnson won three of the final four holes to set up a spot in the semifinals.
If Rahm and Johnson are to meet and deliver the kind of fitting final this championship deserves, they’ll each have to get past opponents that they underestimate at their own peril.
Going into the week, few people gave Hideto Tanihara a chance to even get out of the group he shared with Jordan Spieth, who went to the University of Texas near host Austin Country Club. However, Tanihara did that and then managed to use his impressive putting ability to beat a pair of Englishmen — first in Paul Casey, second in Ross Fisher. With the win over Fisher, Tanihara assured himself a spot in the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 after Sunday, which comes with a spot in the Masters. While Fisher had to be upset for his week to end, he also landed a spot in the Masters via the top 50 when he beat Bubba Watson in the Round of 16.
Tanihara’s reward for getting this far? Dustin Johnson on Sunday morning.
Then there’s Rahm’s opponent, Bill Haas, who advanced to the semifinal by beating Phil Mickelson by a 2-and-1 count. Haas jumped out to a 3-up edge through six holes, but Mickelson, who hadn’t seen the final three holes of the course all week until Saturday afternoon, battled back. Mickelson cut the margin to one hole but was unable for two consecutive holes to pull all square. In his first time there all week, Mickelson halved 16 with Haas and lost the 17th to end the match and his deepest run in the WGC-Match Play since 2004.
In the third year of the group-play twist to the WGC-Match Play, Johnson and Rahm could continue the trend of champions going 7-0-0 through the week.