Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood remain on track for a semi-final showdown and a chance at the world No. 1 ranking after comfortable wins in the third round of the World Golf Championship (WGC) Match Play Championship.
On a day when only one of the eight round of 16 matches made it to the 18th hole, England’s Westwood pumped American Nick Watney 3 and 2 and Northern Ireland’s McIlroy managed to take down Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez 3 and 1.
Should either player win the tournament, they will usurp Luke Donald as world No. 1, although currently they are on a collision course for a semi-final clash at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club.
First, Westwood must account for Scotsman Martin Laird, who won an all-Scottish battle over Paul Lawrie 3 and 1 to advance. McIlroy meets South Korean Bae Sang-moon, who continued his charge with a 1-up win over Australian John Senden in the only match to make it to the final hole.
Westwood, who had never advanced past the second round before this year, refused to look toward a potential dogfight with McIlroy, saying most people who had done so had been made to look like fools up to this point.
“I had a little chuckle watching The Golf Channel on Wednesday morning and listening to them make all their predictions,” he said. “I don’t think they got many right. It’s virtually impossible. All I can do is keep playing the way I’m playing and do that against whichever opponent I’ve got in front of me. You can’t control what your opponent does, if he comes out and shoots 62, I’m going home.”
For his part, McIlroy was not looking too far ahead either.
“It [the semi-final showdown] will be good. Obviously Lee is playing well at the minute, but we both have to win our matches tomorrow,” he said. “And I’m going to have a very difficult opponent in Sang-moon Bae. I played with him in the last round of the Korean Open in 2009 and I might actually have been tied for the lead going into the last day with him. He ended up winning. I was really impressed with him.”
Westwood spent 22 weeks at world No. 1 over two stints in 2010 and last year and while he said returning to the top of the mountain would be a treat, he was more focused on notching up a maiden WGC win.
“It’s a World Golf Championship and I haven’t won one, so it’s very important you try and set yourself goals that you haven’t achieved in the past,” he said. “Obviously I’d like to be No. 1 in the world, but it’s not really a priority. It’s not really a goal I’ve set. To win a major championship, to win these World Golf Championships, to win in the states and do that more regularly, those are goals. If I do that, then the No. 1 just comes along as a product of that. But obviously I’d be lying if I didn’t say every guy playing this week wants to be No. 1 in the world.”
It was a day full of routs with four matches finishing on the 15th hole. Germany’s world No. 4 Martin Kaymer was handed a 4 and 3 spanking by American Matt Kuchar, who set up a quarter-final with countryman Hunter Mahan.
Mahan also won big in the round of 16, hammering Steve Stricker by the same margin.
It became a popular winning score when under-rated American Mark Wilson upset big-hitting Dustin Johnson, once again to the tune of 4 and 3.
Wilson will meet Swede Peter Hanson in the next round after Hanson dusted American Brandt Snedeker, also by the 15th hole with a 5 and 3 belting.
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