AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The odds were not in Kevin Kisner’s favor.
For starters, no one had ever won in the Dell Technologies Match Play when 3 down with four holes to play at Austin Country Club.
The shot he faced on the par-5 16th was not looking much better. He was in a bunker 50 feet away from the hole, having to clear another bunker and go over a ridge protecting the pin in the back right shelf of the green.
“It was pretty much make it or go home,” he said.
Kisner never seems to be in a big hurry to leave. Coming off a clutch wedge to 5 feet for birdie on the 15th, he holed the bunker shot for eagle on his way to winning the last four holes to beat Adam Scott. An hour later, he worked his match-play magic in a rout over Will Zalatoris to work his way into the semifinals.
Kisner became the first player to reach Sunday three times since the group format began in 2015, advancing to face Corey Conners of Canada in his bid to win this World Golf Championship for the second time.
It’s only going to get harder. On the other side of the bracket are Scottie Scheffler, who has won two of his last four PGA Tour starts and reached the championship match last year; and Dustin Johnson, who each match looks closer to the form that made him No. 1 in the world for longer than any player since Tiger Woods.
Scheffler got a tiny measure of revenge when he went 18 holes to outlast Billy Horschel, who beat him a year ago in the final. Scheffler advanced in the afternoon by beating Seamus Power of Ireland, 3 and 2.
Johnson eliminated 49-year-old Richard Bland in the fourth round Saturday morning in a scrappy match, and then he slugged out with Brooks Koepka in the quarterfinals, rallying from 2 down and seizing control with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 15th and improbable halve from a nasty lie on the 16th. Johnson secured the win by driving the green on the par-4 18th.
“If you’re hitting good shots, then you can shoot some good scores,” Johnson said, keeping this fickle format as simple as possible. “I like the way I’m hitting the ball right now. I feel like I’m controlling the golf ball pretty well. I’m hitting a lot of quality golf shots and giving myself a lot of looks. That’s what you’ve got to do in match play.”
Scheffler also keeps it simple, even if he’s grinding on the inside. He didn’t take the lead against Horschel until the par-5 12th hole. He never trailed against Power, ending the match on the 16th hole when he chipped in for eagle.
A year ago, Scheffler had to beat match-play specialists Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm and Matt Kuchar to reach the championship match. Now he has Johnson, who won this tournament in 2017.
“I haven’t really studied anybody that I’ve played,” Scheffler said. “I’m not going to do any research on DJ. I’ve been watching him play for years now and he’s pretty good at golf. So it should be a fun battle with him tomorrow.”
For Scheffler, more is at stake than his third PGA Tour win in his last five starts. Rahm, the world’s No. 1 player, lost to Koepka in 19 holes in the morning. That means Scheffler can go to the top of the world ranking if he were to win the Match Play.
That’s a little too far ahead for a guy who rarely thinks about anything than his next shot.
Kisner will try to become only the third player to reach the championship match at least three times since this World Golf Championship began in 1999, joining Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy.
How he even made it out of the fourth round is a wonder.
After going birdie-eagle to cut the deficit to one hole, Scott helped by missing a 10-foot par putt on the par-3 17th, and then Kisner went ahead for the first time all match by making a 7-foot birdie putt at the end.
“I don’t ever give up,” Kisner said. “I knew I needed to make some birdies. I knew I needed him to start thinking about it. That’s what I’m always trying to do is get the opponent to think about what I’m doing instead of what they’re doing, and I was able to do that when I holed that bunker shot on 16.”
Zalatoris lost a big lead to Kevin Na in the fourth round before making a birdie on the 18th hole to force overtime, and he outlasted him in 22 holes. And then he had to go back out and face Kisner, who now has a 21-6-1 record at Austin Country Club.
Conners has a dangerous game in match play. He keeps it in play and rarely gives away holes. He has trailed only five holes in five matches and his quarterfinal match against Abraham Ancer was the first time he played the 18th hole in competition this year. In fact, he never reached the 18th in three losing matches a year ago.
“I was looking in my yardage book, keeping notes of what I’ve done the previous days,” Conners said. “And the notes were dwindling on those last few holes.”
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