Patrick Cantlay goes low at the WGC Dell Match Play – and needs to do so to stay undefeated

The American has been involved in two of the finest matches at Austin Country Club and he’ll need a repeat on Friday to make the bracket stage.

In theory, it doesn't matter how you win a match play contest - you just need to win more holes than your opponent.

In reality, however, almost every golfer would prefer to win shooting a hatful of birdies rather than lurching home in slightly better fashion than a struggling opponent.

Meet Patrick Cantlay.

At this week's WGC Dell Match Play the 29-year-old Californian has defeated both Brian Harman and Carlos Ortiz 1-up and the match play purists would prefer that you delve no deeper into the numbers.

They'd keep it simple: he's played two, won two, he leads Group 10, and he needs only a half in his final match against Hideki Matsuyama to complete the job and qualify for the bracket stages.

But it's been difficult this week to overlook the equally simple truth that he's been playing exceptionally well this week.

He played 18 holes in roughly 8-under-par on Wednesday and then added a 6-under on Thursday.

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Stunning golf - and it has needed to be. Pity his opponents who have thrashed the course and emerged with nothing.

In theory (again), it should be easier for Cantlay on Friday: Matsuyama is 2-over-par through his 33 holes this week, the Japanese star has won just four of his 14 matches at Austin CC, and the two have met before on the course when the American thrashed him 4&3.

Cantlay looks to have an ideal opportunity to win the group and progress to the last 16 where he might meet Patrick Reed.

But those match play purists need heeding because however good those omens are, none of them matter.

Cantlay's 14-under tally through 36 holes, his better course and tournament form, Matsuyama's rotten record book - none of it carries forward to their match however compelling it feels.

Cantlay is 4/6 with Paddy Power to prevail against Matsuyama and 10/1 to win the tournament outright (each way four places).

And, as his comments below reveal, he's feeling confident.

On the high quality nature of his first two matches

"Both guys have played excellent, I just played just the one shot better. You've got to expect it every time you tee it up in match play, that the other guy could be hot. When guys are so many under par it's just really, really hard. I think Brian was 6-under yesterday with a double bogey and Carlos was 5- or 6-under today. It's going to be hard to beat those guys.

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"But I think I shot maybe 5-under on the back nine both days or maybe 6-under yesterday, so that's really good playing. I'm happy I'm playing really well right now. Hopefully tomorrow will be easier but I don't expect it to be."

On the high stakes feel of match play

"Every day feels like the last round of a tournament. It's so decisively different out there. Stroke play has a natural rhythm where it builds every week. Match play it's just right on it from the first hole. Every day you feel like it's sudden death almost. My mind frame won't change, I'll just take a bunch of confidence knowing I'm playing really well."

On enjoying extreme competition

"When I grew up thinking about playing, I liked the idea of playing when it's intense. I think the more positive experiences you have when it's intense and you do need to make putts and hit good shots, the more times you can pull that out. I'll definitely be one of the most battle-tested by the time tomorrow rolls around."

On putting brilliantly this week

"My stretch through 13, 14, 15, 16 - I think I made like a 10-footer, and then an 8-footer, and then two 6-foot putts, all when I needed them. That feels really good. And then that last putt on the last hole - making those putts in match play that's what it's all about. It's really satisfying, gives me a lot of confidence."

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On his potential last 16 opponent Patrick Reed

"I've played a lot with Pat and I respect the hell out of him. He's a fierce competitor and he wins a lot of golf tournaments. When he's playing well, he gets on a roll and we saw that earlier this year when he won. We played that New Orleans tournament together a few times and so I know he's dangerous when he plays really well."

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