Rory McIlroy suffered the beating of his young life here at the Accenture Match Play Championship yesterday as the head-to-head format once again displayed its penchant for the unexpected. Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson both joined the young Ulsterman in this big-name exodus on a day of shocks.
It is safe to say, McIlroy has never been on the wrong end of an 8&7 scoreline before. It also safe to say that very few here believed the American Ben Crane was capable of delivering such a thrashing. "That's match play," said McIlroy, pointing to Crane's scorecard which featured seven birdies in the 11 holes. "I've done it to people before but that's one of the first times it happened to me."
McIlroy took it well as portrayed by his response to an abusive tweet which told him, "You got your arce kicked today." "It's actually ARSE," replied McIlroy. "But yes, I did." He could also console himself with the good company he kept. Westwood still hasn't progressed past the second round after losing to Nick Watney on the last. A three-stab on the 16th was the low point in a round characterised by poor putting. Westwood must now wait to see if Martin Kaymer – who beat Justin Rose on the second extra hole – can make the final. If he does, the German will become the new No 1.
Earlier, Paul Casey, the two-time finalist, exited stage left courtesy of a 4&2 loss to the hands of another unheralded American in Jason Day. That was bad news for England, who lost their defending champion in Ian Poulter in the first round. Still, at least Luke Donald is through, after beating Edoardo Molinari 2&1. He will face another Italian today in Matteo Manassero.
The remarkable 17-year-old beat Charl Schwartzel on the 18th to continue his boy's own story. Manassero, already a winner on the European Tour, is the youngest player to have qualified for this event and now seems destined to be the youngest professional to qualify for the Masters. The ranking points he has already earned here will take him into the world's top 50, although judged by these first two days that should be the very least of his ambition. Manassero is rewriting what is and isn't possible for a teenager. But then, at the other end of the spectrum, Miguel Angel Jimenez is still standing at 47 after accounting for Ryan Palmer 4&2.
Meanwhile, there was another glimpse of the future as Mickelson befell a grisly fate when falling to his Ryder Cup partner Rickie Fowler 6&5. The 22-year-old is the American equivalent of McIlroy and with Woods and Lefty departed will command the home focus today. Decked in bright pink yesterday, Fowler thankfully matches his sartorial flamboyance with his golfing flamboyance. He had two eagles in three holes and his second on the 13th – featuring a three-iron to three feet – was the day's highlight.
"He's a class guy, a great player and you can't help but fall for him," said Mickelson. "He's going to do a lot for American golf."
Perhaps even this weekend, although Graeme McDowell should be standing in his path if Fowler accounts for Matt Kuchar. The US Open champion faces YE Yang in the last 16 and, even though his form was sketchy in dispatching England's Ross Fisher 4&2, as just one of the three members of the world's top 10 still standing – Kaymer and Donald being the others – he will be confident of reaching the quarters.
As it is, his progress thus far ensures he will move above Tiger Woods in the rankings. "Wow," said McDowell. Wow, indeed.