Lee Westwood outgunned by Rory McIlroy in epic duel
Rory McIlroy beat Lee Westwood 3&1 and headed off for a tilt at becoming World No 1.
Westwood, meanwhile, trudged off the green to try to motivate himself to play Mark Wilson in the runners-up match, otherwise known as the losers final. Wilson lost his all-American semi-final by 2&1 to Hunter Mahan.
There was plenty of warmth in the valley of Dove Mountain once the sun had risen over mountains but none of it was shared between McIlroy and Westwood. They gave each other no quarter. Nothing. Indeed, Westwood signalled to McIlroy to hole out from no more than 18 inches to win the 5th. So that was nice and friendly. But McIlroy refused to be intimidated. Bragging rights went to the Northern Irishman. A score settled, perhaps. And a point made.
It was impossible not to indulge the gunslingers analogy as McIlroy and Westwood moseyed through the cacti onto the first tee against the backdrop of the Tortalitas mountains. They could have been cowboys swinging through the doors of a saloon bar. Rory the Kid and Westwood Earp fixing for a fight.
All that was missing was an Ennio Morricone movie score blasting out of the PA system and some good-time girls swishing their Sunday best dresses. Instead we got golf's universal uniform: beige chinos, polo shirts and a self-importance of Blazers (the collective noun for officials).
There hadn't been so much as a glance between them on the practice putting green. There was an early morning chill in the air and it wasn't just the temperature. The Kid and Earp forced smiles as they posed for a sepia photograph with the trophy. They looked at each other as if to say: "Howdy, playing pardner". Or maybe it was more like that Sparks song from the 1970s: "This town ain't big enough for the both of us. And it ain't me who's gonna leave."
But that's what match play is all about. Look your rival in the eye with a death stare and aim to take him down.
There was a ripple of applause from the early risers who had come to witness this pistols at dawn duel in the desert. Their clapping sounded like the moment milk is poured on rice crispies. Maybe they'd actually brought their breakfast with them for this 7.20am tee-time.
McIlroy drove off first: bang, 3-wood straight down the middle of the fairway. The first shot had been hit in anger. He stood back and folded his arms to see if Westwood could follow that. Bang: big booming drive that just bounced into the rough. But no problem. Both players were clearly pumped. Both twirled their drivers like sharpshooters spinning their Colt 45s around their fingers before slotting them back into their holsters. OK, stuffing their drivers back into their bags.
The first hole was halves in pars but Westwood then raced to a three-hole lead courtesy of McIlroy messing about in two bunkers and missing a short putt. The Englishman had the swagger, his sergeant major strut. McIlroy was being bullied.
Not so fast. The best way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him and hit back. McIlroy went on a scintillating run of six birdies in eight holes from the sixth to go 3-up at the 13th, where Westwood drove his ball into a woman's sweater. His caddie Billy Foster said to her: "Would you mind walking 250 yards forward?" Still time for banter in the heat of battle. The poor woman wasn't the only one feeling hot under the collar. Westwood was overheating in the desert. In that comeback run, McIlroy rammed home 77 feet of putts. This was turning into a golfing version of Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur.
This match had everything: booming drives, dazzling chips, birdies rattling in as if this were the Ryder Cup, air punches, and even a motivational, "get in there" F-word from Westwood as he holed out to halve the 11th.
McIlroy got lucky at that hole when his second shot at the par five bounced along a cart path. It could have ended up behind a cactus. It didn't. He got a lucky break.
Westwood was fighting to the death, as you would expect from the World No 3. He drove his ball at the short par-four 15th to 20 feet and slammed in the putt for eagle. McIlroy's lead was back to two holes.
It was Westwood's first hole under par since his birdie at the 4th. But McIlroy closed out the match with a par at the 17th as Westwood's chipping let him down again. "Rory made a couple of big putts on me and the 11th was a big turning point," Westwood said. Commentating for American television, Nick Faldo said: "I felt the tension between them.
That defeat will have hurt Westwood. He may well be back off the wagon by now, while McIlroy looks more and more like the new Tiger Woods.