One of the best things about the WGC-Accenture Match Play is its inherent unpredictability. It gives you the same type of bracket-busting fun of the NCAA basketball, but nobody is ever truly safe. In one-on-one golf, at this level, if you make a mistake, your opponent will make you pay and you’ll be on your way home.
The first day at Dove Mountain didn’t have as many upsets as usual, but there were some notable players sent home early. Zach Johnson was the only No. 1 seed defeated on Wednesday, and he’ll be joined on the way out by Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, and Steve Stricker.
However, one of the biggest surprises of the day – other than the fan who got knocked into a cactus by an errant Rory McIlroy shot – had to be Rickie Fowler‘s 2 & 1 victory over Ian Poulter.
Fowler’s had a terrible start to the new PGA Tour season, having notched his only top-25 finish back at October’s CIMB Classic and missing his last three cuts. Coming into the week, he had fallen all the way to 56th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and he was a clear underdog to Poulter, who won this event in 2010 and is generally a very strong match play golfer.
While the technical portion of the match came down to Fowler’s absolute lights-out putting, including a 36-footer for eagle that put him three up with five to go, it was also about the attitude that you have to carry in match play.
When one hole, no matter how terrible, can only lose you one point, you can play extremely aggressive, and Fowler embraced that role. “If I was picking a bracket and I was an outsider looking in, I probably would have picked Poulter,” Fowler told PGA Tour media after the round. “I knew I was the underdog, I knew I had somewhat nothing to lose.”
“I knew Poulter was going to be the same way, I couldn’t give him anything, I was going to have to make him earn it.”
Next up for Fowler? Just the red-hot Jimmy Walker, a three-time winner on Tour who took out Branden Grace with a 5&4 run. One of the sport’s biggest fan favorites against the hottest player in the world. If Fowler can make lightning strike twice in the Arizona desert, perhaps this will be the spark to turn his year around.