WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Round 3: Looking out for No. 1

Top seeds Westwood, McIlroy stay alive with world's best title on line
2012-02-25T00:00:00Z 2014-09-15T10:26:07Z WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Round 3: Looking out for No. 1Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 25, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Most of golf's bold-faced names have already left the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, their weeks ruined and games in tatters.

Defending champion Luke Donald was bounced in the first round, done in by a dreadful start against an opportunistic opponent. Tiger Woods' putter failed him, Martin Kaymer made too many mistakes and Bubba Watson learned that hitting the ball a country mile carries a strategic disadvantage.

And so the sixth Match Play in Southern Arizona comes down to these eight golfers: Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, three Americans, a Scot, a Swede and a South Korean giant-slayer - Sang-moon Bae - who was agent-less as recently as two months ago.

But take heart: Two top seeds remain, and the world's No. 1 ranking is up for grabs.

"I've said it all week: It gives me a little bit of motivation, a little bit of an extra incentive - not that I really need one," McIlroy said Friday after defeating Miguel Angel Jimenez 3 and 1. "It's a World Golf Championship and there's plenty of ranking points and plenty of money up for grabs. But it's a nice incentive. It's nice to have in the back of your mind."

McIlroy arrived in Southern Arizona as the world's second-ranked player, behind Donald, and the top seed in the Gary Player Bracket; Westwood was third, and the top seed in the Sam Snead Bracket.

McIlroy and Westwood can climb to the top of the World Golf Ranking by winning their final three matches this week. The ranking, which lists players based on a two-year rolling aggregate score, don't mean much in the United States.

But the prestige associated with being best in the world is as welcome to the foreign superstars as Sonoran Desert sunshine.

Westwood has held the honor twice, while McIlroy - the 22-year-old prodigy from Northern Ireland - is looking to inherit the "Next Tiger Woods" mantel that's followed him since he made his United States debut at Match Play three years ago.

Both looked capable of going all the way during their Friday wins.

Westwood continued to dominate the tournament, routing American Nick Watney 3 and 2. He has yet to trail this week.

Not that the half-cheeky, sometimes-superstitious Westwood is taking anything for granted. Watney had eliminated him in each of the last two Match Plays before Westwood got his revenge Friday.

"It was nice to not make that hat trick," he said.

Similarly, Westwood refused to take the bait when asked about a possible Sunday semifinal pairing against McIlroy.

More than anybody, he knows how fickle a single-elimination tournament can be. Friday marked his first-ever trip to the round of 16 in 12 tries.

"I'm just happy to be looking for a different restaurant Friday night - that's where my sights are set," he said. "I don't think you can look that far ahead."

McIlroy, meanwhile, said he "felt like I played my best golf of the week" Friday - not that it's saying much. He trudged to a 2-up win over 16th-seeded George Coetzee on Wednesday and beat Anders Hansen 3 and 2 in the second round while still struggling to find his form. McIlroy was 2 up on Jimenez through seven holes and 3 up through nine holes, but couldn't put it away down the stretch. Jimenez won No. 13 and the two halved the 14th, 15th and 16th before Jimenez conceded on the 17th, giving McIlroy the win. Though he shot just even-par, McIlroy was able to keep the tinkering "Mechanic" at bay.

"Usually in stroke play … you don't get too high, you don't get too low," he said. "Match Play, it's a little bit different. Emotionally, it sort of drains you. It's probably a good thing we don't play match play every week, because I'd only be able to play about 10 events a year."

Simply handicapping the event can be stressful.

Friday's winners included a No. 9 seed (Peter Hanson), two No. 10 seeds (Mark Wilson and Martin Laird) and an 11th-seeded Bae, who continued his improbable run through the tournament. Matt Kuchar upset top-seeded Martin Kaymer as a No. 4 seed, and sixth-seeded Hunter Mahan topped No. 2 Steve Stricker.

Westwood said he "had a little chuckle" watching Golf Channel analysts break down the brackets before Wednesday's first round. He noted that almost all their predictions - including one that had him bounced early - fell well short.

Today will almost certainly bring more upsets.

"It's virtually impossible to guess," he said. "All I can do is keep playing the way I'm playing and not do that against whichever opponent I've got in front of me."

On StarNet: See more photos from Friday's matches at azstarnet.com/gallery

TOday

• What: WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, quarterfinals

• Where: The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain

• Start time: 10:05 a.m.

• TV: Golf Channel at 10 a.m., Channel 4 at noon

• Ticket info: Call 1-800-918-4653 or visit worldgolfchampionships.com

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