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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Young guns like Watney lead the way at Match Play

Nick Watney hits out of a sand trap on 16 while playing Lee Westwood during the second round of the Match Play Championship golf tournament on Thursday in Marana, Ariz. Watney, a DHS graduate, beat the Westwood, the top-ranked golfer in the world. AP photo

By
February 24, 2011 |

MARANA, Ariz. — It hasn’t been a bad week for the Americans at this World Golf Championship. They have eight players in the round of 16, the most in five years. The surprise is the list of players.

Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk were gone after the first round. Phil Mickelson joined them on Thursday.

Leading the way is a new cast of emerging stars as, eight of the final 16 players left at the Accenture Match Play Championship arr under 30.

That list includes Davis High graduate Nick Watney, who steadied his emotions over the last three holes to knock out top-ranked Lee Westwood — the third straight year the No. 1 seed did not make it out of the second round.

Watney and Westwood halved the last three holes, although it wasn’t that simple.

The turning point came on the par-3 16th, when Watney hit into a bunker, left it in the bunker and blasted out to 5 feet. Westwood had two putts from 20 feet to square the match, but knocked his first putt 3½ feet by the hole. Watney made his putt for bogey, and Westwood’s par putt barely touched the hole.

Then, the former Blue Devil standout had a 5-foot birdie putt to win the match on the 17th and missed, giving life to Westwood. The Englishman had a 15-foot birdie putt to go into overtime, but it wasn’t close.

Watney — who led DHS to a Sac-Joaquin Section title in 1999 — is probably playing the best golf of his career, entering this event after having placed in the top six at each of his last three tournaments. Westwood, who took solace in going 18 holes “considering how badly I putted,” has yet to record a top-10 finish in four starts this year.

The highest seed remaining after two wild days was PGA champion Martin Kaymer, the 25-year-old “Germanator” who had to go 20 holes to beat Justin Rose.

Another rising star, Rickie Fowler, was 8-under par when his match ended on the 13th hole, with a 6-and-5 win that sent Mickelson to his worst loss ever in this fickle tournament.

Fowler was 5 under over the last four holes, which included a chip-in for birdie from behind the 10th green and a pair of eagles, the last one with a 4-iron from 232 yards that landed just beyond a ridge and rolled so close that Mickelson conceded the putt.

But this youth movement isn’t about the Americans. Equally impressive was Italy’s teen sensation, 17-year-old Matteo Manassero, who hit a 6-iron to 4 feet on the 17th hole and closed out Charl Schwartzel of South Africa to advance. Jason Day, a 23-year-old Australian, played like a veteran of match play the way he toyed with Paul Casey in a 4-and-2 victory.

Manassero keeps setting age records wherever he goes — the youngest to win the British Amateur, the youngest to be low amateur at the British Open and the Masters, the youngest to win on the European Tour.

“It’s a big sense of achievement for me,” Manassero said.

He was in control for much of his match against Schwartzel until nearly giving it away. His tee shot on the 16th bounced off the corporate tents and into a cactus, and the Italian felt as though he might have moved the ball while trying to remove a loose branch. So he conceded the hole to Schwartzel, and put it behind him quickly.

His 6-iron on the 17th set up birdie, and Manassero closed it out with a par on the 18th.

One youngster not invited to the party was 21-year-old Rory McIlroy, the No. 7 seed. He ran into Ben Crane, who played perhaps his quickest round ever — the match ended on the 11th hole, an 8-and-7 victory.

Crane has the reputation for slow play, although that wasn’t an issue.

“We played quick out there because he was making birdies,” McIlroy said.

U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell had no trouble with Ross Fisher in a 4-and-2 victory, which assured he will move ahead of Woods in the next world ranking.

“I’m perhaps a better golfer than him in the last 12 months, but he’s definitely the greatest player that’s ever lived, I think,” McDowell said. “Of course, if someone told me at some point in my career I would be No. 3 in the world, I’d be proud of that fact.”

Kaymer, meanwhile, kept alive his chances of going to No. 1 when he held on to beat Rose and Westwood was beaten by Watney. The German will have to reach the championship match to go to No. 1.

With so much emphasis on youth, the oldest player in the field is still alive. That would be Miguel Angel Jimenez, the 47-year-old Spaniard with his love of cigars and red wine. Next up is Crane, who has never made it past the third round in this tournament.

“I don’t think anyone is going, ‘Wow, Ben Crane is really coming through this bracket. Look out! Gosh, sorry you’ve got to play Ben Crane. Boy, tough draw there,’” Crane said. “Rory didn’t have his best day and things were going in my favor.”

Things are going well for J.B. Holmes, too. He wasn’t in the field until Tim Clark withdrew, and he beat Ernie Els on the 18th hole.

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