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SAN FRANCISCO – Rory McIlroy ran off three straight birdies to force overtime and outlast an old foe in the Match Play Championship, a performance that could be expected from the No. 1 player in the world.
Everything else at TPC Harding Park provided a wild day even by Match Play standards.
Jordan Spieth looked like he would lose the 15th hole until he chipped in. Lee Westwood looked like he would lose the 16th hole when he chipped in. The match still all square, it was Westwood who delivered the clutch moment with a 6-iron to 12 feet for a birdie that carried him to a 2-up victory and sent the Masters champion home.
Spieth was 15-under par for the 49 holes he played this week, as good as anyone in the field.
It just didn't work at the Match Play Championship.
"I could have shot 10 over and gone 0-3," Spieth said, noting that the outcome would have been the same. He's out.
Jim Furyk played 19 holes to win his match, and then walked another hole as a spectator to see if it meant anything. He became a huge fan of George Coetzee of South Africa, whose victory over Thongchai Jaidee allowed Furyk to win his group and advance to the round of 16.
"Kind of an awkward feeling," Furyk said.
Branden Grace, Tommy Fleetwood and J.B. Holmes all lost their matches on Wednesday. The previous 16 years, they already would be home now. In the round-robin format, they managed to make it to the weekend.
Grace had the wildest finish. By beating Charley Hoffman, and with Zach Johnson winning his match, they all finished 2-1 and headed to the first hole for a sudden-death playoff. Grace won with a birdie on the third extra hole.
And if all that isn't enough, Harding Park turned into the MGM Grand.
Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez were among eight matches that were supposed to be meaningless since both were already eliminated.
It looked anything but that.
They went nose-to-nose during a dispute about a drop Bradley took off the 18th fairway. Jimenez thought Bradley couldn't take another drop unless the ball moved more than two club lengths. He wasn't aware that he still didn't have a full relief from the fence and had to drop again. It was a misunderstanding until Bradley's caddie got involved and the Spaniard told him to shut up.
Bradley got in his face and told him to never tell his caddie to shut up.
That was only a sideshow on a day filled with far more interesting developments.
— Twelve players who won their groups went 3-0.
— Four players who advanced were the lowest seed in their group, with John Senden (No. 60) easily advancing with a perfect record.
— Tommy Fleetwood of England had to play 58 holes to reach the round of 16 in his first Match Play Championship. Hunter Mahan also was 3-0 and still hasn't seen the final three holes in any of his matches. Mahan, a past champion of this event, has played only 41 holes.
— McIlroy, Westwood, Gary Woodland and Louis Oosthuizen all won matches between players who had not lost. Oosthuizen struck a blow by beating Bubba Watson on the first extra hole.
— Rickie Fowler and Senden won their matches, even though they already were set for the round of 16.
McIlroy only had to beat Horschel, whom he hadn't faced in this format since their contentious battles in the Walker Cup in 2007 when both were young and prone to irritate each other with their celebrations. McIlroy had only one birdie until making three straight at the end (one for a halve at the 16th), but none was bigger than his 20-foot putt on the 17th.
"It was either hole it or go home," McIlroy said. "It was obviously the best putt of the whole day."
Horschel missed his birdie putt to win the match. Horschel chipped too strong and missed another birdie putt that would have won the match on the 18th. Horschel squandered yet another birdie opportunity on the par-5 first hole after a perfect tee shot. And then on the par-3 second, he chipped too strong again and missed an 8-foot par putt that gave McIlroy the match.
There were no hard feelings. That Walker Cup was a long time ago and they get along just fine these days. This was a good match with no animosity.
"Not as much as Keegan and Miguel, apparently," McIlroy said.
Now it's back to single-elimination the rest of the way, starting with the eight matches Saturday morning, and the quarterfinals in the afternoon. The PGA Tour wants it on prime time so it will be cutting it close to finish before dark.
And it could be too close for comfort for McIlroy.
He has tickets to the fight — the one in Las Vegas. If he wins Saturday morning, he'll have to play his match, change clothes and head to the airport. And if it's too late?
"I'll probably try and sell my tickets and watch it on a big screen," he said.