A stacked field of 64 players has dwindled down to four at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Most of the top players in the world were ousted early on, but one particular semifinal match presents plenty of intrigue: Justin Thomas vs. Bubba Watson.
Both Thomas and Watson cruised their way into the final four. Each player was pushed to play the 18th hole at Austin Country Club just once. Thomas won his Round of 16 match over Si Woo Kim, 6 & 5. Watson dismantled Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 & 3, in the quarterfinals. Each golfer’s game has been well-rounded this week, setting up for an electric semifinal match Sunday morning.
It’s no secret what both Thomas and Watson do best: drive the ball. Both players are nestled inside the top 10 in driving distance this season. Watson is fourth at 316.2 yards per drive, and Thomas is third at 312.5 yards per tee shot. The gallery at ACC might stop to wonder if they’re watching a match play event or a long-drive competition.
Jason Day, who’s 11th in driving distance at 312 yards per blast, and Dustin Johnson, who’s widely considered as one of the best drivers on TOUR, are the past two champions of this event. Going deep yields a distinct edge at ACC, and it’s a big reason why Thomas and Watson haven’t lost any matches this week.
“(Day and Johnson) are known for hitting the driver well, just like Thomas is doing right now — he’s been hammering it,” Watson said. “Anytime you’re hitting the driver somewhat straight, it’s an advantage.”
Watson compared being able to outdrive his opponents to NBA superstar LeBron James being able to jump higher than his adversaries. Watson’s edge won’t be as evident Sunday with Thomas vying to outdo him every time the two take their headcovers off.
Whoever lights it up and bombs enough fairways to advance will take on either Kevin Kisner or Alex Noren. Neither player cracks the top 40 in driving distance, but both are as steady as they come.
Kisner advanced out of group play by coming out of world No. 1 Dustin Johnson’s group. He made eight birdies in 1-up victory over Matt Kuchar in the Round of 16 before easily destroying Ian Poulter — who is notoriously known for being stellar in match play — 8 & 6. Kisner won six holes on the front nine in that match.
“It’s starting to click now,” Kisner said. “I started seeing some stuff on Tuesday. I played a practice round with Daniel Berger and started seeing stuff that I hadn’t seen in a few weeks. That was starting to build the confidence there. And throughout the week I’ve gained a lot more confidence.”
Noren, meanwhile, knocked out the long-hitting, pure ball-striking Tony Finau to make the Round of 16. Then he beat Patrick Reed, who was fresh off a victory of former Longhorn Jordan Spieth on Friday. Noren clearly and cleanly outplayed Australia’s Cameron Smith in the quarterfinals in a 4 & 2 victory.
Johnson beat Noren in the quarterfinals at this event last year. He said he’ll keep the experience he gained from that loss in mind when trying to advance to the final match time around.
“It obviously helps,” Noren said. “The more times you’re up here, the better.
“It’s going to be a great day. It’s a fun course to play, especially match play.”