If virtually the entire golf world is looking ahead to Sunday, it might be tough for Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy to focus on Saturday.
Headlines and talk shows are dwelling on a possible matchup between these two at the WGC-Accunture Match Play Tournament at the Dove Mountain course in Tucson. It’s not often that the results of one tournament can determine the best player in the world from among three contenders. They are on a unique collision course – conditionally.
Entering the tournament, England’s Luke Donald was the No. 1 ranked player in the world. He lost in the first round, opening for door for Northern Ireland’s McIIroy, ranked No. 2, and England’s Westwood, ranked No. 3.
This week’s champion will receive 76 world golf ranking points, the highest total for any tournament this year. That would be enough for either McIlroy (pictured) or Westwood to displace Donald. – only with the tournament victory. Yet both still have to win their matches today. They would face each other in the Sunday morning semifinals. The winner of that then would have to win the 18-hole championship match Sunday afternoon.
There’s still some work ahead before the cornation to the throne.
“It’s a nice incentive,” McIlroy told the media before he beat Miguel Angel Jimenez 3-and-1 in the third round Friday. “It’s nice to have in the back of your mind. And if you’re struggling in a match and find it hard to get yourself up, or get any sort of momentum, if you think about that and you think if you can really dig deep, you still have a chance to become No. 1.”
In Saturday’s quarterfinals, McIIroy faces South Korea’s Sang Moon Bae, who squeezed out a 1-up victory over Australia’s John Senden.
Westwood, No. 1 twice briefly in his career, disposed of Nick Watney 3-and-2 and will play Scotland’s Martin Laird Saturday.
That McIlroy-Westwood match has golf fans anticipating but both have their hands full Saturday afternoon.
The other quarterfinal is a near all-American bracket. American Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan go at it in one match while underrated American Mark Wilson plays Sweden’s Peter Hanson.
Here’s a look at the quarters:
McIlroy vs. Bae: The two were paired up once before, at the 2009 Korea Open. Bae shot a final-round 67 to win. McIlroy shot 72…Bae won three times on the Japan Tour last year and is ranked 44th in the world…Either Bae, at 25, or McIlroy, at 23, would be the youngest ever, beating Tiger Woods, who was 27 in the first of his three titles…McIlroy’s girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, lost in a semifinal match in Dubai Friday, denying her a shot at the No. 1 rank in women’s tennis…McIlroy has not trailed by more than 1-down in his three matches…Bae, who qualified for the PGA Tour out of Q-School last fall, is the last of 11 first-timers at the event…Henrik Stenson, Darren Clarke and Kevin Sutherland are the only players to record their first PGA win at the Accenture.
Westwood vs. Laird: Westwood halved the first hole of this competition then has led his next 48 straight holes…this is the first time in 12 tries he has advanced past the second round…he beat Watney for the first time in three matchups. Watney had knocked him out the past two years…Laird, who is from Scotland, is actually a hometown boy. He now lives in nearby Scottsdale…Laird has three wins and 16 top 10 finishes in his 108 PGA events. He is ranked No. 40 in the world…this is his sixth WGC appearance.
Kuchar vs. Mahan: It would be hard to find a closer matchup. Kuchar, ranked 14th in the world, has three PGA wins, 40 top 10s in his career with $17 million in career earnings. Mahan is 22nd in the world, has three career wins, 37 top 10 finishes and $18 million in career earnings…Kuchar is a former U.S. Amateur champion so he thrives in the match-play format…this is his second straight year in the quarters, finishing third last year…one of Mahan’s PGA wins was at the 2010 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational…even through Mahan has played together with Kuchar on Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams they have never been paired together…with two Americans playing, this guarantees an American in the semifinals for the first time since 2009.
Wilson vs. Hanson: At 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, Wilson is not among the longest hitters on the Tour yet he beat long-ball bomber Dustin Johnson Friday. He does his damage with the putter…Wilson has been dubbed ‘Mr. January’ because all five of his PGA wins have come in the early stages of the season, none after March 4. This is his time…he is ranked 42nd in the world…Hanson has not trailed in any of his three matches. He efficiently dominated Brandt Snedeker Friday, 5-and-3, the widest victory margin of the day…he plays mostly on the European tours as he has appeared in only 34 PGA events since 2005. He is ranked 47th in the world.
- Martin Kaymer’s girlfriend Allison Micheletti followed him around Friday. She is a former collegiate golfer at Furman and will be part of the cast for the next Golf Channel Big Break event in May.
- The highest-ranked player to survive the third round: McIlroy (No. 2).
- The lowest-ranked player to survive the third round: Bae (No. 44)
- Matt Kuchar has a 9-2 record in the event, McIlroy is 8-3 while Lee Westwood is 10-11.
- Six of the eight players are making their first appearance in the quarterfinals, Mahan, Westwood, Laird, Wilson, Hanson and Bae.