Queenslander Cameron Smith has toppled world No. 6 Hideki Matsuyama in the World Golf Championship Dell Matchplay in Texas with a result that will likely have huge implications for him.
Smith, 24, beat Japan’s Matsuyama 1-up in the second round at Austin Country Club today, seizing the lead with a holed-out lob wedge from behind the green for an eagle at the par-five 16th hole, and holding out the fifth-seed to the end.
It was a titanic match in which both players at different stages appeared to be dominant, finally clinched when Smith hit his birdie putt at the 18th close after Matsuyama had missed his opportunity from long range.
Smith is now 2-0 in the three-match round-robin series, meaning that with a match against the low-seeded Japanese player Yusaku Miyazoto tomorrow, he is in with a great chance of topping his group and progressing to the 16-player knockout phase of the $10 million event.
Ranked 50th in the world, Smith came into the week knowing that he needed to perform strongly to hold his top-50 ranking so that he secures a place in the Masters tournament at Augusta National in a fortnight, with the cut-off being next week.
The two wins he has clinched this week seem certain to ensure that takes place, although the rankings points will remain unclear until the completion of the matchplay tournament.
If he loses tomorrow and Matsuyama wins, they would be tied on two points, forcing a playoff.
The two other Australians in the field — Jason Day and Marc Leishman — lost their matches today, with Leishman already out of the running for the next phase.
Day lost 3 and 1 to America’s Jason Dufner despite seeming to be in control of their match earlier, while Leishman was beaten by the red hot Bubba Watson, 3 and 2.
Day was two up through four holes after he holed a bomb for birdie at the fourth, and still leading the match through 12 holes against Dufner.
But the Australian closed badly, dropping shots at four of the last six holes so that the American caught him and then raced ahead. Day’s effort came to a murky end at the 18th when one-down, he found the greenside bunker and barely extracted the ball from the sand.
He is 1-1 overall and needs to beat South African Louis Oosthuizen tomorrow to have a chance of proceeding to the knockout stage. None of the players in that group have an unbeaten record.
Leishman’s match against Watson was tight through the front nine, but the Aussie made a mess of the 12th and 13th holes and never recovered. At the 16th he went bunker to bunker for a bogey and it was over.
Day (1-1) plays Oosthuizen tomorrow, while Leishman (0-2) meets Branden Grace of South Africa in his final round-robin match. Leishman’s two defeats – he lost to American Julian Suri on the first day – means that he is already heading home to get himself ready for the Masters.
It was a day when a few of the higher seeds lost at Austin Country Club today.
The biggest surprise was world No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson losing to Canada’s Adam Hadwin. At 0-2, Johnson is already out of the running and only playing for pride tomorrow. Spain’s Jon Rahm and Matsuyama were the other big names to be taken out.