Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy remained on course for a dream all-Ulster final thanks to comfortable first round wins in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.
McDowell confessed that the pressure is off after he shook off his first round hoodoo for the first time since 2005 by outclassing American Heath Slocum by 4 and 3 to set up a clash today with his stablemate Ross Fisher.
It was just as easy for McIlroy, who overcame a shaky spell early on to ease to a comfortable 4 and 2 victory over American star Jonathan Byrd.
On a day when defending champion Ian Poulter was furious with himself after losing on the 19th to Stewart Cink, McDowell was relieved to get over the winning line for the first time since he beat Darren Clarke in the opening round at La Costa six years ago.
“I’ve had my bags packed by noon here the first two years and it’s a horrible feeling driving out of that car park that early,” McDowell said.
“I am just glad to get a round under my belt.
“Okay, I have a tough game with Ross but this win kind of takes some of the pressure away and I can go out and play some golf now.
“Ross has played well here before and I have my work cut out but I feel I can do the job.”
McDowell struggled with his game in practice and on the range before the start but while he lost the first after overshooting the green, he was soon motoring into a comfortable lead.
“I hit it well off the tee, hit a few decent iron shots and holed a few nice putts. But every match is tough and I have got to prepare myself to play one of my good friends. Ross a great match player and has a good record in this tournament so I will have to play well to beat him.”
Fisher was a 4 and 3 winner over Australia’s Robert Allenby.
McDowell lost the 14th to a birdie but parred the next two holes to ease the pressure after first round defeats in 2006 and the last two years.
If McDowell was pleased with his win, Poulter was livid about losing to Cink having held a two up lead with four to play.
“Am I disappointed? I am f***ing pissed,” Poulter said after losing on the 19th. “Does that help? I am pissed at myself for not doing my job. I had my chances to shut him out and didn’t.”
McIlroy faced a tough opponent in Byrd, who reached the third round on his debut in 2008.
After halves in birdie at the second and bogey at the third, the Holywood starlet moved into the lead when he hit a 323 yard drive to the edge of the fourth green and chipped in for an eagle two.
Pointing to his eagle as the turning point, McIlroy said: “I got off to a shaky start and missed a couple of greens but the two on four sort of settled me down and I never looked back after that.”