Three-time tournament winner Tiger Woods rallied to defeat Patrick Cantlay 4&2 on Friday, advancing to an electrifying Saturday knockout match against Rory McIlroy at the WGC-Match Play Championship.
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The 14-time major champion holed out from 82 yards for eagle at the par-4 13th in his fightback to book his duel with McIlroy, who beat England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick 4&2 to finish an unbeaten group run.
“It’s exciting for the tournament. I’m sure it’s going to be exciting for us,” McIlroy said. “I feel good about my game. I’m going to stick with my game plan and not look at him until I have to near the end.”
A showdown of the world’s 64 top-ranked golfers at Austin (Texas) Country Club featured three days of group matches to decide 16 players for weekend knockout matches that will determine a champion.
Woods, seeded 13th, will meet fourth-seeded McIlroy of Northern Ireland in the round of 16 on Saturday morning. They have never met in match play.
“I’ll be ready,” Woods said.
Four-time major winner McIlroy, who could complete a Career Grand Slam at the Masters in two weeks, has never trailed in any match and dropped only three holes this week.
“I got up early and played some good golf on the front nine,” McIlroy said. “I got scrappy toward the end but I’m through and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
– Tiger gets Wise help –
Former world number one Woods, a 14-time major champion, split his first two matches and needed a victory plus a loss by Brandt Snedeker to reach the weekend from his all-American group.
Aaron Wise led after every hole in routing Snedeker 6&4 and Woods took care of the rest with an impressive fightback, showing the form that helped him win WGC Match Play titles in 2003, 2004 and 2008.
Woods made bogeys at the par-5 sixth and par-4 eighth to fall 2-down to Cantlay, who gave one back with a bogey at nine before Woods reeled off three birdies and an eagle to win the next four holes — sinking a 21-foot birdie putt at the par-3 11th and a six-footer at the par-5 12th, then holing out at 13 before making a 20-footer at 14.
“Patrick got a bad break at nine. I got a free hole there,” Woods said. “I tried to carry the momentum to the back nine. I made a big putt at 11 and got it rolling from there.”
At 13, he bounced his approach onto the green and saw the crowd erupt as the ball rolled into the cup.
“I was just trying to get it up close and next thing you know it falls in,” Woods said. “I’ll take it.”
McIlroy, the 2015 Match Play winner, gave a nod to his final-round duel with Woods at last year’s US PGA Tour Championship, where Woods captured his 80th career US PGA victory — and first triumph in five years — while McIlroy struggled.
“I just hope I put up a better fight than I did in Atlanta last year,” McIlroy said.
The highest seed advancing was world number two Justin Rose of England, who edged US 22nd seed Gary Woodland 1-up to win his group. He next plays US 57th seed Kevin Na, the lowest seed in the last 16.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, seeded 37th, won three of the first four holes and never trailed in beating US 52nd seed Jim Furyk, advancing to face Danish 50th seed Lucas Bjerregaard in the round of 16.
– Li, Grace, Leishman advance –
China’s Li Haotong missed a seven-foot birdie putt at 18 and halved with England’s 60th-seeded Tom Lewis, but put his approach to two feet on the first playoff hole to beat Sweden’s Alex Noren for a knockout berth.
“The whole day was like a roller coaster,” Li said. “On the last hole I was a little bit nervous and didn’t get enough break (on the putt) but I just played good on the next hole.”
Alongside McIlroy and Stenson at 3-0 were Australia’s 17th-seeded Marc Leishman, who booked a last-16 date with South African 19th seed Louis Oosthuizen, and South African 40th seed Branden Grace, who will play Spanish 26th seed Sergio Garcia.
Italian seventh seed Francesco Molinari beat US 21st seed Webb Simpson 2&1 to finish 3-0 and will play English 10th seed Paul Casey for a quarter-final berth.