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Shane Lowry keeps right on rolling at Match Play

February 23, 2013

MARANA, Ariz. (AP) — Shane Lowry said it would be one of the great days of his career if he were to beat Rory McIlroy in the Match Play Championship.

He just didn’t want that to be the end of his week.

Lowry became a footnote in the 15-year history of this most fickle golf tournament on Friday when he became the first No. 64 seed to make it into the third round. It’s difficult enough to knock off the No. 1 player in the world. The difficult part is to come back to earth and keep playing golf, and the Irishman did that with a game that was as brilliant as the sunshine on Dove Mountain.

He made five birdies in 13 holes, the last one carrying him to a 6-and-5 win over Carl Pettersson.

“I went out for dinner with the lads, my caddie and a few other guys, and I found it quite hard to sleep last night,” Lowry said. “I was on such a high. There was people, lots of phone calls and texts and stuff. But I managed to get to sleep and get a few hours.

“Got up this morning, spoke to my coach for quite a while on the phone and just reminded myself that it was only the first round. The second round is today and just go out and look forward to it and enjoy every minute of it, and that’s what I did.”

Two days after dispatching one Irish friend, Lowry gets another Saturday morning.

Next up is Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, who is in the same management stable as Lowry. McDowell, Lowry and McIlroy had dinner together Tuesday night at a rustic outpost called Lil Abners Steakhouse, and they planned to go back Thursday night — minus McIlroy, who is back in Florida.

And if he were to take down McDowell, Lowry could even do damage to yet another Irishman. Lowry needed to win two matches Saturday to move into the top 50 in the world and qualify for the next World Golf Championship at Doral in two weeks, though that would mean bumping Padraig Harrington out of the top 50.

It’s a lot to digest, even with his appetite.

McDowell was happy just to get to Saturday after watching Alex Noren of Sweden turn in a terrific putting performance, including an 8-foot slider on the 17th hole to take the lead. McDowell answered with a 9-iron into 4 feet for birdie on the 18th, and then he won in 20 holes when Noren couldn’t escape from the desert.

“If Rory didn’t intimidate him, I suppose what chance do I have?” McDowell said. “It’s going to be a great match. He’s a quality player. We practiced together this week. I took the money in practice. Hopefully, I can continue that role tomorrow.”

The Match Play Championship is the most exciting two days in golf, though it slows with each round as half the field is eliminated.

In this case, most of the stars are already gone.

One day after McIlroy and Tiger Woods went home, more top seeds followed Friday when golf’s most unpredictable tournament served up another reminder that the only time the word “upset” should be used is to describe the guys who are no longer playing.

Luke Donald, the No. 3 seed who is regarded among the best in match play, suffered his worst loss in 25 matches at this tournament. Louis Oosthuizen (No. 4) and Justin Rose (No. 5) never even reached the 17th tee when it was time for them to leave.

When another wild day ended at Dove Mountain, Masters champion Bubba Watson was the last man standing among the top 10 seeds.

“This game ... it’s a toss-up,” Watson said after going 22 holes to beat Jim Furyk. “You can’t really judge who’s going to win, or bet who’s going to win. It really means nothing, is what I’m saying.”

At least he’s still playing, even though he made it hard on himself.

Watson missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have won the match. He missed another 5-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole. He had to stand to the side of the green as Furyk stood over a 12-foot putt to win the match. Given new life, Watson finally advanced to the third round.

It was the first time since this World Golf Championship began in 1999 that only one top-10 seed was remaining after two rounds.

“I think we’re beyond surprises, in this event especially,” McDowell said. “Anybody can have a great day and anybody can have a tough day. It’s what makes the game exciting, and it’s what makes this game extremely fickle and extremely frustrating.”

Donald, who birdied his last two holes Thursday to win his opening match, didn’t know what hit him.

Scott Piercy won the first three holes, and if that wasn’t enough, he hit a 4-iron into the cup for eagle on the fifth hole and was on his way to a 7-and-6 win, a margin known as a “dog license” in Britain. Back in the day, it used to cost 7 schillings and six pence.

Robert Garrigus never trailed against Oosthuizen — Garrigus hasn’t trailed at all this week — and sounded as though he had penciled himself into the final.

“I looked at all the guys in my bracket and I was like, ‘I can beat him. I can beat him. And I can beat him.’ If I’m playing well and putting well, I’m going to be hard to beat. And a lot of guys will tell you that, too, because I hit the ball in the fairway. Because these fairways are huge, and if I can keep it out of the bushes, I’ll be all right out here.”

He’ll find out Saturday morning against Jason Day, who overcame a clutch putt on the 18th hole to beat PGA Tour rookie Russell Henley on the 19th.

In other matches:

— Defending champion Hunter Mahan had an easy time with Richard Sterne to win his eighth straight match, and next faces the last player to beat him in this event: Martin Kaymer, who defeated Rafael Cabrera Bello of Spain.

— U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to beat Peter Hanson. He plays Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who easily handled that other giant killer, Charles Howell III, the winner over Woods.

— Steve Stricker came out of retirement and knocked out Nick Watney on the 21st hole. It was the first time Watney has failed to reach the third round in this tournament, though it wasn’t from a lack of effort. He birdied four of the last six holes to force overtime, scrambled for par from a desert bush on the second extra hole and ended his long day with a bogey to lose. Stricker next plays Piercy.

— Ian Poulter built a big lead over Bo Van Pelt and hung on to win on the 17th hole. Poulter is the No. 11 seed and faces Tim Clark of South Africa

“I played the type of golf that’s going to be tough to beat,” said Poulter, the 2010 Match Play champion. “I had seven birdies, no bogeys, and when you play like that, then obviously it’s going to be a tough day for him.”

The tough part for Van Pelt was leaving. He later tweeted that he had to remove golf tees from his bag to meet the 50-pound weight limit for luggage on the flight home.

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