Ben Coley has been in profit in each of the last three days of the WGC-Match Play, and is hoping it ends with more courtesy of Rory McIlroy.
Scottie Scheffler v Sam Burns (1505 BST)
The world’s best player faces a new kind of challenge in the semi-finals of the WGC-Match Play – taking on one of his closest friends on the PGA Tour.
Scheffler has answered just about every other question posed over the last year or so, but facing Burns may not be easy for him. Those on board at pre-tournament prices of 8/1 would presumably rather he were facing Mackenzie Hughes for a place in the final.
These two play a lot of golf together and have been close for a long time. They were paired together in the Presidents Cup thanks in part to their friendship, and it adds an interesting dynamic to the first of today’s semi-finals.
Burns arrived out of sorts and there are still question marks over his long-game. I felt Patrick Cantlay let him off the hook on Saturday morning, missing a golden opportunity to turn two-up, and off the tee there are definite concerns despite his progress to this stage.
Scheffler should boss matters in that department having been the best driver so far and it could be difficult for Burns to play first and win, although it must be said that Scheffler had to fight hard to get the better of JT Poston and then Jason Day on what was a thrilling Saturday.
Scheffler ultimately enhanced his record to 15-2-2 and that, combined with his superior form coming in, makes him hard to oppose. Given the way he’s played the 17th hole so far this week, perhaps that’s where he’ll finally see off the challenge of his friend and rival, but don’t be surprised if he again has to come from behind to do it.
Verdict: Scheffler 3&1
Rory McIlroy v Cameron Young (1520)
This is the stronger semi-final in terms of form so far. In fact, the best player over the first four days of the event was Young, and the second best was McIlroy. Both have appreciated a rain-softened Austin Country Club and this has the makings of a cracker.
For Young it’s all new, not just his relationship with caddie Paul Tesori. He was no kind of factor in the event last year and still searches for his PGA Tour breakthrough, while his decent but unspectacular Presidents Cup debut ended in a singles defeat.
Nevertheless, he’s played the best golf of his career so far this week, better even than when second in the Open, where McIlroy finished third. To give you some context, he’s been the best putter among this quartet, the best around the green, and the best with his approaches by quite some way. He’s third off the tee, which is ordinarily his area of strength.
That’s a fearsome blend and if he keeps it up, McIlroy may need to match the outrageously good golf he played to beat Lucas Herbert yesterday morning in arguably the game of the week. I’m hopeful he’ll find whatever answers he needs having put him up at 10/1 after the first round of matches, but he will have to beat the best player in the field so far and then possibly the best player in the world.
If there is a bet here, it’s probably around Young making the better start, and 15/8 that he leads at the turn strikes me as the best option. That said it’s not big enough and I’ll be sitting back and hoping McIlroy comes through without needing to play the 18th, although I do suspect this match will go the distance.
On that note, just one of the 14 semi-finals in this format has finished before the 16th. I don’t expect that figure to have moved come this afternoon.
Verdict: McIlroy 2up
Posted at 0925 BST on 26/03/23
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