AUSTIN — Something clicked when Sergio Garcia made the turn.
The Spaniard and defending Masters champion was 2-down with eight holes left but rallied to win five of the next six holes to beat Xander Schauffele 3-and-1 and advance to the Round of 16 at the WGC-Dell Match Play on Friday afternoon.
“I just kept giving myself chances,” Garcia said. “I felt like he gave me a couple of openings and I hit some good shots. I made four birdies coming in on the back nine and that’s kind of what changed the match.”
Garcia moves on to the Round of 16 for the first time since the tournament adopted the group play format and will face off with Kyle Stanley, who beat Paul Casey in a two-hole playoff to advance.
He and his wife, Angela, recently celebrated the birth of his daughter Azalea. The family resides in Austin and he said his adopted hometown has helped him focus when he was trailing against Schauffele.
“When things are not going great I try and think of (Azalea) and it brings a smile to my face,” Garcia said. “I definitely think that it helps me. We have so many friends here now. To be able to make it to the weekend so they can watch us play, it’s fun.”
Australian Cameron Smith halved his match with Yusaku Miyazato and will move on to face Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, who beat Charlie Hoffman 3-and-2, in the Round of 16 on Saturday morning.
Ian Poulter moved on after American Kevin Chappell conceded the match due to a bad back at the turn. The win was Poulter’s 26th match play win, moving him into sole possession of second place on the matches won list, trailing only Tiger Woods.
A win in the Round of 16 will boost the Englishman into the top 50 in the world and save him a spot at the Masters in two weeks.
Justin Thomas birdied four of his first eight holes and had a 6 up lead through 10 holes en route to a dominating 7-and-5 win against Francesco Molinari.
I feel great,” Thomas said. “My game is feeling better each day. I’m playing better each day. That would bode well for my performance in the tournament. But that’s the thing about golf in general, let alone match play, is you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
Thomas had just one blemish on his card when his second shot on the par-4 third found the water and he went on to make bogey, while Molinari parred the hole to pick up his only advantage of the day.
Before winning three matches in group play, Thomas had won just one of the six matches he played in. But he’s not letting his past record affect his future outcome.
“I would like to think and hope that I’m a good match play player,” Thomas said. “The thing is, I think a lot of people just look at my record here, but I’ve played well in a lot of (other match play tournaments). I feel like I’m getting there this week.”