Ross Fisher earned his return ticket to the Masters in glorious style here at the WGC Dell Match Play on Saturday as he knocked out Bubba Watson with a stunning closing stretch.
Fisher, the 36-year-old from Ascot, is far too talented to have been absent from Augusta for five years, as he proved in accounting for the two-time Masters champion 4&3 to advance to the quarter-finals.
One-up at the turn, Fisher reeled off four birdies in five holes to eliminate Watson. Remarkably, the run featured only four putts – and two of those came in his par on the 13th.
He holed from off the green on the par-three 11th with his putter, converted a 15-footer on the 12th, a 20-footer on the 14th and then to finish it off, splashed out of a bunker and into the hole on the 15th. It fully warranted Fisher’s punch into the air.
Understandably, Fisher refused to acknowledge that he had qualified for Augusta. All week, the statiticians had been moving the goalposts, initially forecasting that he might only need to come second in his four-man group. Fisher duly won his group and then the mathematicians reported that, because of the vagaries of the ranking system, he would, in fact, need to beat Watson as well.
So Fisher was believing nobody as he prepared to venture out in his afternoon quarter-final against Hideto Tanihara, the Japanese who beat England’s Paul Casey 2&1.
“I’ve tried to put Augusta to the back of mind all week and will carry on doing so,” he said. “When I beat Louis [Oosthuizen in the sudden-death play-off to win his group], people were saying on Twitter, ‘congratulations on getting into the Masters, Fish’. And then I read others saying there weren’t too sure. I still don’t know if it’s good enough, to be honest. I’ll just concentrate on trying to get through to the semi-finals, like I did in this event in 2009.”
As a former Volvo World Match Play champion, Fisher had every reason to aim high. In truth, this redoubtable ball-striker has been down with the also-rans for far too long. In 2009, when he beat the American Anthony Kim in the Volvo final in Southern Spain, he reached 17th in the world rankings. But after showing up well at the 2010 Ryder Cup, Fisher decided to try to crack America, having fallen out of the world’s top 100.
Since focusing solely on the European Tour in 2014, the progress has been steady rather than startling. He won that season in South Africa, but it has been the last six months in which he has began to reveal his old form. Fisher tied for third at the WGC Mexico Championship three weeks ago after two runner-up placings late last season and here at Austin Country Club, he has continued the resurgence.
As well as some strenuous range time with coach, Denis Pugh, Fisher credits the upturn to a change of putters. The mallet is working its wonder. “Dustin Johnson switched to it and he's not exactly done that badly, is he?” Fisher said.
Indeed, he hasn’t and the world No 1 seemed in ominous shape as he advanced to his quarter-final against the Swede Alex Noren with a 5&4 dismantling of his Ryder Cup team-mate Zach Johnson. Phil Mickelson was playing another America in Bill Haas, with Spain’s Jon Rahm versus Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen completing the last eight line-up.