Victorian Lucas Herbert looks to have come up agonisingly short of his Masters dream despite taking Rory McIlroy to the 18th hole at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas.
It took a birdie on the final hole for McIlroy to get past Herbert 2 up in the Round of 16 as Jason Day advanced with a 1 up win over Matt Kuchar in a match in which he never trailed.
Three birdies and an eagle in the opening six holes of the quarter-finals gave Day an early 3 up advantage over Scottie Scheffler before the world No.1 fought back with birdies at nine, 12 and 13 to flip the tables and go 2 up, booking his place in the semi-finals with a 2&1 win.
Realistic about his prospects in the Round of 16 should McIlroy arrive with his “A game”, Herbert went 1 down to McIlroy’s birdie at the opening hole but never let the four-time major champion get more than two holes up.
The Victorian birdied five and six to square the match but McIlroy responded with birdies at seven and nine to be 2 up at the turn.
Herbert’s birdie on 10 reduced the deficit to one but McIlroy’s birdie on 12 – as Herbert’s ball came to rest against a wooden sleeper beside the green – again extended his advantage.
Showing tremendous spirit, Herbert fought back with a birdie of his own on 13, McIlroy forced to birdie each of the final three holes to keep Herbert at bay and move on to the quarter-finals.
“I’ve got nothing but just pride for the way I played,” Herbert said following the match. “Pushed him all the way to the end.
“I got beaten by the best player in the world probably playing the best golf of anyone in the world would today.
“I just didn’t feel like there was a hell of a lot more I could have done. I played really, really nicely. Played nicely for four days in a row, so it’s frustrating to finish the tournament here. Just really proud of myself.”
Adding to Herbert’s pain is the projected change to his Official World Golf Ranking.
Coming into the week ranked 56th and needing to move into the top 50 to secure a spot at The Masters, unofficial projections suggest Herbert will be 51st when the rankings are updated and will not receive a late invite to Augusta National.
Although he didn’t progress out of the group stage Min Woo Lee will hold on to his top-50 ranking to play The Masters for the second year running while Day continues his ascension back toward the pointy end of the ranking.
The 35-year-old halved each of the first four holes against Kuchar with pars before taking a 2 up lead with a birdie on five and eagle at six.
A former winner, Kuchar fought back with birdies at nine and 13 to level the match before Day edged clear again with a birdie on 16 for a 1 up win.
Day’s fast start put Scheffler on the back foot, but not for long.
After going 1 up on 13, Day’s bogey on 14 gave Scheffler a 2 up lead, the pair trading birdies on 15 and 16 before the Texas native closed out a 2&1 win with a tee shot to two inches on the par-3 17th.
“The game is looking nice,” said Day, who returns to Augusta National after missing the 2022 tournament.
“There’s still some stuff swing-wise that pops in every now and then, like the wedge shot on 14 that – it’s just in between patterns. I’ve just got to kind of work out those kinks.
“I feel happy with where I’m at.”
Round of 16
Rory McIlroy def Lucas Herbert 2 up
Jason Day def Matt Kuchar 1 up
Scottie Scheffler def Jason Day 2&1