AUSTIN, TEXAS | Still on the mend from having his wisdom teeth extracted and battling an apparent case of strep throat, Justin Thomas put his chances of starting the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship at 50-50 on Monday afternoon.
Now Thomas is one match victory away from becoming No. 1 in the world.
Thomas will face Bubba Watson in one semifinal Sunday morning while Alex Norén and Kevin Kisner will battle on the other side of the bracket to determine who will play for the championship in the afternoon.
If Thomas can beat Watson, he will end Dustin Johnson’s 57-week reign as the top-ranked player in the game.
“I don’t care when it happens, I just hope it happens and it happens for a while,” Thomas said after his 2-and-1 victory against Kyle Stanley advanced him to the semifinals. “I don’t know what’s going to come with it. But I just hope it happens tomorrow.”
Earlier in the week, Thomas wasn’t sure he would start the 64-player event.
“I had a pretty serious conversation with my dad on Monday if I was going to play,” he said. “I never want to play in a tournament, first off if it’s going to hurt my health. If I was sick or really sick, me trying to play this week wasn’t going to do me any good. But also if I feel like I don’t have a chance to win, I don’t understand the point of playing, if I don’t feel like I can.
“So I luckily immediately got on antibiotics and felt better on Tuesday – probably roughly 75, 80 percent – and then every day got so much better every day. I don’t think I had strep throat, but the doctor that I saw said I had it … but I don’t think that is cured that fast. But whatever it was, it wasn’t very fun. And I’m just really happy to make it this far, for sure.”
Meanwhile, the player who could prevent Thomas becoming No. 1 didn’t plan on being at Austin Country Club on Sunday morning.
Watson had a family vacation out of the country booked to start Sunday with a 9 a.m. flight.
“Kindergarten spring break,” said Watson, who eliminated Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 5 and 3, in the quarterfinals.
Instead, the vacation will begin Monday.
“I’m going to have to tell (my wife) that we ain’t making it,” Watson said. “So it would be happy from the golf standpoint, but from the other side it will not be happy.”
The biggest surprise of the afternoon was Kisner’s 8-and-6 rout of Ian Poulter. Kisner needed a birdie on the 18th hole of his morning match to move past Matt Kuchar, then he steamrolled Poulter, whose game suddenly went flat.
“Probably didn’t see that one coming,” said Kisner, who will face Norén after he eliminated Cam Smith, 4 and 2.
Poulter needed to beat Kisner to earn a spot in the Masters by moving into the top 50 in the world. After his morning win against Louis Oosthuizen, Poulter was told he was assured a spot in the top 50 regardless of his match against Kisner, only to learn moments later that he still needed one more victory.
“I guess I should never listen to other people,” Poulter said. “When you finish a round of golf and the press and everybody telling you you’re in the Masters, and then you get a text message 10 minutes before you tee off to correct everybody, to say, ‘Oh, we’ve made a mistake, actually, no, that was wrong, you’re not in. You need to go and win.’ Not that that’s an excuse or any form or factor, it’s a little disappointing.
“I asked three times, four times, ‘Are you sure, are you sure, are you sure?’ “Yeah, you’re definitely in.’ ‘No, I’m not definitely in.’ So next time I won’t listen to other people. I’ll do my bit and focus better.”