Only the US Ryder Cup captain stands between Ross Fisher and a return to the Masters after a five-year absence. If the Englishman beats Jim Furyk here at the WGC Dell Matchplay tomorrow then he is all but guaranteed to rise into the world’s top 50 and so earn one of the remaining spots at Augusta.
As carrots go, this is golden for the 36-year-old from Ascot. His 2 & 1 victory over world No 4 Hideki Matsuyama was yet further evidence of a re-emerging talent, following his fourth place at the WGC Mexico Championship three weeks ago.
Granted the Japanese, one of the form players of 2017 thus far, was nowhere near his best, but the way Fisher closed out the match – with a 10-footer for a half on the 16th and a 12-footer for the match on the 17th – was indicative of a player who revels in this format.
Fisher won the Volvo World Matchplay in southern Spain in 2009 and the next year showed up well on his Ryder Cup debut, winning two points in Europe’s memorable triumph. One of his victims at Celtic Manor happened to be Furyk, as Fisher and Padraig Harrington accounted for the man they call “Blue Collar Jim” and future world No 1 Dustin Johnson in the foursomes.
Nice to get a win @DellMatchPlay Lucky Hideki wasn't at his best but played nicely Another tough match tomorrow with Furyk All to play for— Ross Fisher (@RossFisher) March 23, 2017
Fisher also beat Furyk in the 2009 version of this event, when progressing to the quarter-finals. So he clearly has nothing to fear in challenging the 45-year-old, although he will obviously not be taking lightly this renowned grinder and maintains that he will not be distracted by the Masters prospect and his chance to make it a record English representation of 11 players in the season’s .
“It will be tough – Jim is a gritty competitor,” Fisher said. “We have very different styles in how we play the game. Jim is going to be down the middle, on the green. If I want to win, I have to play really, really well and try to put some pressure on him. As regards the Masters, I knew at the start of the week what I needed to – get through my group stage and hopefully that would be good enough. But I’ll have to put it to the back of my mind. I’ll have enough to think about with Jim.”
In all likelihood, Fisher only needs to finish second in his four-man group to secure the necessary ranking points to button down his Augusta berth and would be assured of at least the runners-up spot with a win. Yet only the winners of the 16 groups qualify for the weekend’s knockout stages. Fisher wiould go through if he prevails and Louis Oosthuizen, his conqueror on the first day, loses to Matsuyama. But if Oosthuizen is successful then he and Fisher would contest a sudden death play-off. There is bound to be a few of those nail-biters today.
The exciting scenario might be complicated by the weather, as thunderstorms are forecasted. With that in mind, the organisers have brought forward the tee-times by two hours. Danny Willett is first off at 7.30 in his match against Scotland’s Russell Knox and will undoubtedly be grateful for the early start as he surely cannot wait to get out of town.
This is Willett’s final event before defending his Masters title and, after a dreadful run, his hopes of a rousing result going into Augusta were extinguished with defeats in his opening two matches. Willett’s 6 & 5 humbling at the hands of the American Bill Haas screamed of golfer who is as down on his confidence as he is on his form. Willett was four-over par when he shook hands on the 13th green and the look on his face said it all.