Mother Nature won this one. The people running the WGC-Cadillac match play tried to beat the setting of the sun, and in the end neither Rory McIlroy nor Paul Casey could — or beat each other.
The quarter-final between McIlroy and Casey at Harding Park was suspended after 20 holes Saturday, three of them extra, because of darkness, with the match all square at 8:03 p.m. — or two minutes after sunset.
They were the final group off the tee an absurd 4 o’clock, because of television, as in The Golf Channel and NBC, wanted as large a prime time audience as it could get, and also because the golf followed the Kentucky Derby on NBC.
So, McIlroy, No. 1 in the world rankings, and Casey, the Englishman who played at Arizona State, must come back this morning, at 6:45 a.m., to continue a match Casey led two up after seven holes and one up after 16.
The winner plays Jim Furyk, who beat Louis Oosthuizen, 4 and 2. In the other semi, Danny Willett, an Englishman, meets Gary Woodland, whose dream was to play basketball for Kansas. Willett beat countryman Tommy Fleetwood, 4 and 3, while Woodland was a 5 and 3 winner over Australian John Senden.
Everyone wondered if McIlroy could make good on his plan to catch a private jet after the quarters, zip to Las Vegas and make it ringside the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight. Heck, McIlroy never had a chance to get to the airport. It was guaranteed, as soon as he came up with the idea, he would be stuck in a match that wouldn’t end.
Not that both McIlroy, who turns 26 Monday, and Casey didn’t try. Their birdie putt attempts the last couple of extra holes came within inches. McIlroy, the Northern Irishman who won the British Open and PGA last year, was a match play finalist in 2012, Casey a finalist in both 2009 and 2010.
“I dodged a couple of bullets,” Casey said about McIlroy’s putts on the extra holes. “But the beautiful thing is we get to hit the reset button (today).”
McIlroy said it was getting so difficult to see he couldn’t read the greens.
“It was questionable even playing this (20th) hole,” said McIlroy. “But we wanted to try and get finished. I thought the match was pretty good.”
It would have been even better if it started an hour earlier.
The weather out by the Pacific was gray and cold. In other words, very predictable for the coast in May. The golf was unpredictable, not unusual for match play.
Eight of the top 10 players in the world — and 11 of the top 16 — did not make it through the three-day round robin and advance to Saturday’s fourth round. That group included last year’s champ, Jason Day.
“I don’t think there’s any other sport in the world where you get the top 64 guys,” said McIlroy, “and margins are so fine, are so small.”
Yes, Friday, McIlroy, two down with two to play to Billy Horschel, rallied to win on the 20th hole, and Lee Westwood, who’s 42, beat 21-year-old Jordan Spieth 2 up after they were level at the 17th tee.
But Saturday morning, only one of the eight matches, Louis Oosthuizen defeating Rickie Fowler, 1 up, went to the 18th hole. Otherwise, it went this way:
McIlroy defeated Hideki Matsuyama, 6 and 5; Casey defeated Charl Schwartzel, 3 and 1; Furyk defeated J.B. Holmes, 5 and 3; Willett defeated Westwood, 3 and 2; Fleetwood defeated Branden Grace, 2 and 1; Senden defeated Hunter Mahan, 2 and 1; and Woodland defeated Marc Leishman 2 and 1.
And unlike Friday, when Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez — and Bradley’s caddy Steven “Pepsi” Hale — got into a loud debate over whether Bradley had a proper drop off a cart path at the 18th hole, no one got mad this time. Except at his own game. Neither of those two made it to Saturday. The great Bobby Jones would have understood the confrontation.
Golf looks gentle, Jones said, “but it is nevertheless a game of considerable passion, either of the explosive type or that which burns inwardly and sears the soul.”
Bradley and Jimenez had their souls seared. They weren’t alone.
Art Spander has covered Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.